Helping Children Solve Problems Through Play



Some time ago at a networking event we were encouraged to describe our businesses in just a few key words. After I came up with


“I help children solve problems through play'”


I began to notice that I wasn’t losing peoples’ attention and that the conversation naturally continued. I used to give much longer explanations that often left people confused – I think that can be the trouble when you are so used to something you forget that not everyone thinks like you!

Helping children solve problems through play is pretty much what it says it is.

However, the notion of ‘problem’ may just differ a little between adults and children… they could be

  • social – such as when inviting others or being invited to join others in their play
  • physical – managing to open, close, fit, arrange things to fit
  • emotional – recognising different feelings and regulating personal needs
  • cognitive – learning skills including counting, reading, posing questions about the world around us

or even,  fit into neither or these categories, or into all of them at the same time.

What inspires me is the memories of being very young and just being in a hurry to grow up….often feeling

doubtful, insecure, shy, embarrassed or misunderstood 

by my attempts that may have fallen just a little short off the mark…

It is only

Time – Experience – Repetition – Encouragement – Persistence 

That helps children learn to believe that they are

Certain – Secure – Confident – Recognised 

as people in their own right with their own unique sense of who they are….




If you want to know yourself, spend some time with a child..

Play can become quite a serious and sometimes hotly contested topic. Until you know the exquisite pleasure of getting out of the way and really letting children play it can be a little difficult to decipher. Even as a teacher of preschool aged children I have to stop myself from doing two things


  1. ‘Over thinking’ the danger that might potentially cause accidents or injuries
  2. Getting too excited and adding my two cents worth before a child has the chance to share their understanding with me or other adults 


Speaking with a very experienced colleague we were sharing some of our observations made when giving children genuine opportunity to discover and explore open ended materials in the outdoor setting,


we both took a moment to really enjoy discussing the totally unique ways children differ in their ideas and problem solving  based on their experiences, preferences and creativity…



"You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation" - Plato


That is why I love and value play as so highly in a world we are discovering that our own sense of self is constantly waiting to be discovered and shared in our every day lives.

Spending time engrossed in play with children and adults reminds me that life is meant to be enjoyed and is a beautiful and natural way to help us connect and express what makes us who we are from the inside out.

Learning the ‘rules of play’

Do you hold a particular view of play?

I have been creating visual posts to share some of my favourite quotes of play and this one is very telling. I found it to be a fun way of inviting conversation about play and attitudes towards play as it is such a vital part of my work with children and adults.

It has prompted some interesting and thought provoking questions which I intend to answer in this, and future posts.


What does it say if you don’t like games?

Can you play a game and not have winners and losers?


Attitudes and about winning and losing are certainly formed during play in young children.

Play helps develop positive attitudes and supports learning of strategy and problem solving through practice and repetition.

"You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation" - Plato

It is possible that what we don’t like about play is the raw emotion that can be attached to it.

Not every person is a gracious winner or loser and for some it can lead to avoiding play altogether.  It can be frustrating, scary, sad or simply uncomfortable if rules are broken and arguments break out during play.

It is worth mentioning there are aspects of games that also require team work and collaboration, not only competition. Modelling and demonstrating positive attitudes invite joyful exchanges where learning can occur alongside fun and enjoyment for all.

Offering genuine support and encouragement and opportunities to learn and grow are vital for all players through unstructured play; in which skills are transferrable to games with rules. Although this takes time, practice and patience, it is worth the reward!

Walking the tight rope


Do you ever feel you have to have everything all ‘together’? It is totally unrealistic to think this is possible. It is only when we pause that we realise this is true.

I have recently begun a very special project supporting small business owners in which as a trainer I have ‘cleared my schedule’ to lock in my commitment to serve and teach for the next 12 weeks.

As I am still working part time teaching with children and seeing clients privately I felt unsure for a moment that I was going to burn the candle at both ends.

Once the teaching started though there was a genuine peace that I felt, knowing that I don’t have to walk the tight rope feeling anxious, but more importantly on top of the world and looking straight ahead.

I know this is true when I remind myself that I am supported whilst I support others and I am very grateful to know this.

It is absolutely worth remembering that this thing called life, we are all in together.


Make sure you are reaching out for friendship and support – there are many words of wisdom that friends, family, mentors and others can remind us of when we momentarily  forget.

silhouette of four people against sun background
Photo by Dennis Magati on

Outdoor play – Safety vs Risk?


The atmosphere is flowing, relaxed and there is barely a mention of time.


I love that appetites are stimulated by fresh air and movement and that the end of the session is guided by the position of the sun in the sky.

In my own childhood outdoor play was enormously valued and encouraged by my family and extended family, so I have sometimes struggled with the idea that it is a place to ‘let off steam’.

For the past few months I have been a witness to some of the most incredible learning and discovery right before my eyes during our outdoor play sessions.

It is not surprising that I would see and hear this when amongst the children as they have responded so intuitively to their beautiful surroundings instantly each visit.

There is no time to waste when there is wealth of opportunity around them to feel uninhibited with a canvas of green all around them.

Once signed in, the children virtually leap to the first tree before them and scale it to a height they feel comfortable with.

For children who may have any slight hesitation or less interest in tree climbing, there are lots of spaces to get lost, to create art with natural materials or to simply enjoy getting their hands in the dirt or sand.

Only occasionally there might be a child who finds themselves faced with a challenge- but there is literally something ‘in the air’ as they find their confidence and courage to stop and consider their next move back to safety.

In this serene setting there is a veil of calm that cloaks us, and nothing seems to be hurried or rushed in any way.

The children seem to be able to solve their dilemmas simply, and any instruction from adults seems minimal because they are listening to themselves and taking action.

One recurring experience that describes this is when a child may have climbed to a new height they haven’t encountered before, but are easily able to pause, consider their next move and continue on with their play.

Within a matter of moments, they are ready for us to step back and let them return to a space that adults don’t need to be!

Best of all is seeing the children enquiring, engaging and enthusiastically driving much of their own learning independently, and easily connected to our precious planet, knowing that this is part of the foundation for their whole life ahead of them.