How Play Can Help Your Child Get Ready for School: Problem Solving


How Play Can Help Your Child Get Ready for School: Problem Solving

July 28, 2023

“What does my child need to know to be ready for kindergarten?” As a kindergarten teacher, this is one of the most popular questions parents ask me — and my answer might surprise you. Most parents expect me to say, “Make sure they can identify their letters,” “They need to be able to count to 100,” or “They should be able to write their first and last name.” None of those are as important to me as one vital skill. A skill that most incoming kindergarteners lack — problem-solving!

Why is this so important? At the beginning of each school year, I love to observe the way children interact with each other. What do they do when two of them want to play with the same toy simultaneously? Most often, I see them yelling, grabbing, crying, and sometimes even hitting to try to get the toy for themselves instead of offering to take turns or play with it together in a new way. It takes a long time for most kindergarteners to learn how to solve these problems in more productive ways. Just as we teach them to read and write, we need to teach them how to solve their own problems.

How can you set your child up for success in these situations? Make sure you provide your child with toys that promote imaginative play! These are often the toys that children argue over the most in my classroom. They each want to play the game in their own way. Help them understand that there are many different ways to play the game and give them time and space to try to work it out for themselves. Facilitate the conversation by offering ideas of ways to share or take turns. Start by giving them two options, such as “Do you want to let her play with the cash register for 5 minutes while you do something else, then you can play with it for 5 minutes later? Or maybe she can be the cashier and you can be the customer buying groceries and then you can switch?” Offering ideas will help them make a choice that they are both happy with. Eventually, they will be able to come up with their own solutions - often solutions you would never have suggested. 

My 5 Favorite Toys for Promoting Problem-Solving Skills

Here are five of my favorite toys that promote social problem-solving skills. All of these toys help children practice patience and turn-taking,  come up with creative new roles to play when another child chooses the job they want, and learn flexibility in the way other children may want to play. 

1. Get Well Doctor’s Kit Play Set

When children play with this set, they are doing more than just pretending to be a doctor or patient. They are practicing their empathy skills, showing kindness through their caregiving, and practicing using descriptive language as they explain to the doctor what they are feeling. 

Melissa & Doug Get Well Doctor Activity Set

Help them solve problems by suggesting these roles: 

  • Child 1: Doctor, Child 2: Sick or injured Patient
  • Child 1: Doctor, Child 2: Nurse - using stuffed animals as the patient
  • Child 1: Doctor student, Child 2: Doctor teacher
 2. Restaurant Play Set

This is a great set for practicing communication in real-life situations. Children can gain confidence when ordering food at a real restaurant by practicing different scenarios during playtime. It is also a great way to practice table manners!

 Melissa & Doug Diner

Help them solve problems by suggesting these roles: 

  • Child 1: Busy waiter, Child 2: Cook who is out of everything
  • Child 1: Waiter on their first day, Child 2: Grumpy, unhappy customer
  • Child 1: Meal Cook, Child 2: Dessert Cook 
3. Fill & Roll Grocery Basket Set

    This is another great set for practicing real-life problem-solving skills. What can they do if the store is out of their favorite food? What if they can’t find the right aisle they are looking for? Do they have enough money to buy the food they need? 

     Melissa & Doug Fill & Roll Grocery Basket

    Help them solve problems by suggesting these roles: 

    • Child 1: Cashier, Child 2: Customer paying for their food
    • Child 1: Parent,  Child 2: Child who asks for everything
    • Child 1: Stocker, Child 2: customer trying to find something

    Bonus Tip: Add to this set by saving boxes and cans from your kitchen! 

     4. School Time! Classroom Play Set

    Playing school is a fun way for children to practice some of the skills they are learning in the classroom, but it is also a good way for them to open up about what may be going on at school. Watching how they play can tell you a lot about how other kids are treating them at recess, how they feel about their teacher, and how confident they are in the classroom.

     Melissa & Doug Classroom Play Set

    Help them solve problems by suggesting these roles: 

    • Child 1: Teacher, Child 2: Student who doesn’t follow directions
    • Child 1: Student who is really good at something, Child 2: Student who needs help

    Child 1: Teacher, Child 2: Principal (using stuffed animal students)

    5. Slice & Stack Sandwich Counter

      This is another set to play with to practice ordering food in real-life scenarios. You could even combine the Slice and Stack Sandwich Counter with the Restaurant Play Set or to play along with the School Time! Classroom Play set as the school cafeteria. The possibilities are endless!

       Melissa & Doug Slice & Stack Sandwich Counter

      Help them solve problems by suggesting these roles: 

      • Child 1: Waiter, Child 2: Customer
      • Child 1: Cooking Show Host, Child 2: Co-host
      • Child 1: Cafeteria Worker, Child 2: Student at school

        Shop our whole collection of pretend play toys here.