Heather Sanders

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April 2013



Teaching Problem Solving Skills

Written by , Posted in Everything Else, Homeschooling, Kids and Parenting, Reality

Teaching Problem Solving Skills

Last year I confiscated this pencil from Kenny as he tried to use it to write his Spelling words. My rationale was entirely selfish – he was taking too long to write each word due to the near absence of a place to grip, and I had things to do.

This is where you glean that I am not a selfless, patient homeschooling Momma. You are correct. What I am is a parent navigating my own personal growth while simultaneously encouraging the same thing in my children. We live and learn together. It’s life.

Nearly everyone will agree that parenting is hard, and many assume they could never homeschool, but the truth is that homeschooling is parenting and if you can parent, you can homeschool. Not that you want to homeschool, or even that it is feasible given your particular situation, but that you can.

Homeschooling, like parenting, involves teaching problem solving skills to children, but what I have witnessed as my children have grown older is that if I step back and allow them to eke their way through their own problems, they are naturally more personally invested. In other words, they “own” it. So, they work harder, stick to the task longer, and often reach the same conclusions as me, albeit through a different route than I would have mapped-out for them. The added benefit is they grow in confidence as they realize they solved the problem on their own.

At times, as is the case with Kenny and his incredibly shrinking pencil, kids create meaningful problems of their own to solve.

The Amazing Shrinking Pencil

If this was my pencil, I would toss it straightaway. It’s actual eraser has been replaced, and it is too short to comfortably hold when writing.

The thing is Kenny disagrees, and it is his pencil, not mine. He values it for whatever reason 10-year-old boys choose to value things, and he wants to continue using it until it is down to the ferrule.

This time, unlike last year, I decided to back off, and not complain about the time or effort it took him to use the pencil. In all honesty, I was somewhat curious where his mini-experiment would take him.

His first problem was that the pencil was too short to sharpen with the wall-mounted sharpener in the garage. His solution was to sample all the plastic, hand-held sharpeners in the house until he found one that worked.

Nearly a Pencil Shaving

His second problem was positioning his fingers to hold the pencil while still managing to churn-out legible handwriting on his current Spelling words. His solution was to move his fingers nearly to the tip of the pencil in order to give him more grip. He observed that it made his hand cramp, and he had to work much harder on his cursive.

Almost Unsharpenable

The next day, the hand held pencil sharpener was no longer an option because Kenny could not get enough of a grip to twist the pencil in the sharpener.

One way to sharpen a pencil.

Then, the idea popped into his head that if he took the shavings holder off the wall-mounted sharpener, he would only have to turn the handle, not the pencil.

I personally have another problem for him to sort out later – cleaning up the shavings on the floor below.

Hardly anything but the ferrule left on this pencil.

It worked. He shot me his “I told you it’d work” grin, and decided to break for lunch.

BBQ chips dipped in peanut butter.  Anyone?

He also makes his own lunch. Like the minuscule pencil, BBQ chips dipped in peanut butter would not be my choice.

How to write with an incredibly shrinking pencil.

With an increasingly shredded eraser, and only the pencil’s ferrule to grip, I watched him struggle to write in his Anatomy journal. Was he frustrated? No. Did he give up because it was too hard? No. Did he whine or fuss or complain? Not once.

Instead, he read, wrote, and laughed all the way through Anatomy, and later, Math. And yes, he was massaging his hand all along the way because it hurt to keep pressing on.

I didn’t have to teach him problem solving skills – nor would I have thought to in this instance. He managed it on his own, with confidence, and felt on top of his game. And also? He has nearly met his objective of using the pencil down to its ferrule.

Heather Sanders


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