Preschool Thinking Challenges

Encouraging little ones to think, really think is tough. They are used to having challenges solved or at least vastly simplified for them. Often, when they find something tricky, your instinct is to just step in and help. I’m definitely guilty of this. It’s hard to watch them struggle but it is these struggles that teach them so much.

With this in mind, I thought I’d set my girls some challenges for World Thinking Day. When it comes to learning, I know my strength and passion lies in literacy. This has rubbed off on the girls and they are blossoming into passionate little early readers. Book and stories are the backbone of our day. To change the focus, I wanted to offer more STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) problems. In particular I wanted to develop the following three thinking skills.

  • Understanding cause and effect
  • Developing logical thinking
  • Solving simple problems independently

We do lots of little challenges in our day to day life. They match socks, sort toys, play with puzzles and jigsaws and compare foods. These are all offering them the opportunities to develop key thinking skills. However they are not open ended nor do they require much logical thought.

Here are three tasks I set my girls to see how they’d fair.

Cross the Water

Equipment : Two ‘stepping stones’ These can be sheets of newspaper but we used t-towels.

We have a sofa at one end of our lounge and a chair the other. I asked the girls to sit on the sofa and explained that the carpet was now water and they needed to try and get to the chair without getting their feet wet. Initially they looked very confused but when I handed them the t-towels and told them that they could use these to help, Emily immediately laid one down and stepped on to it. Jessica followed.

Then they were stuck. They looked to me for help and it was hard not to tell them what to do but I didn’t. Instead I just asked them questions. What are you going to do now? How could you get to the chair. Even when they did use the second ‘stepping stone’ they still weren’t entire,y sure what to do next and Emily did just try and make a dash for the chair. After a few minutes they got the hang of it and even realised they could hop onto another sofa to get there quicker.


Build a boat

Equipment: Straws, elastic bands, blue-tac, foil, lollipop sticks and sponge pieces

After presenting the girls with their own set of equipment, I knew before we even started that this challenge would be a stretch. However the trays of water were enticing to the girls and soon they began experimenting with the different items to see which would sink and float. They knew they needed to use these to build their boat but struggled to actually construct anything. In the end, they chose the equipment they thought would work best and Mummy and Daddy made their boats. We found some plastic character to see if their boats could hold them.


Marshmallow sculpture

Equipment: Mini marshmallows and toothpicks

For our final challenge, I asked the girls to try and build a tower with the marshmallows and toothpicks. Straight away Jessica started to construct by pushing the sticks into the marshamallows and trying to get them to stand up. With a little bit of direction, her triangular sculpture stood up well. Emily’s was much more randomly made but both enjoyed eating their creations.


Although none of the tasks were completed entirely independantely, I definitely pushed them to think more than I normally would. I made a conscious effort not to step in and offer solutions but instead tried to guide their own ideas. Overall, I think the girls developed the three skills I was focusing on.

Have you set your preschoolers any similar challenges? Do you, like me, step in too quickly to solve problems for them? Why not try one of these challenges with your little one.

LeapFrog Activity Book: Scout and Friends Maths and Problem Solving


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