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How to teach problem solving to children with the Stop and Think approach


How many times have you heard a parent tell his child ‘think of what you’re doing for a moment’? It might seem an obvious comment to make when your child is driving you crazy with some nuisance, however, it isn’t that obvious.


Cognitive neuroscience research tells us that there are connections in our brain which allow quick, fast responses to intuitive solutions – for example, catching a ball. It also shows us that the prefrontal cortex can inhibit these automatic responses to allow a much slower response, in other words, problem solving.


Young children, being such, are more prone to intuitive actions, and although these might often be correct, they may at times require to be rectified with the STOP AND THINK method. In both math and science for example, children must learn concepts that are counter intuitive. For example, dolphins are mammals and not fish, 5 is bigger than 2, but -5 is not.


In 2018-19, The UnLocke project designed a trial study with the aim to implement a training intervention, in schools, that would encourage children to engage their more analytic side when solving maths and science problems. A total of 6672 children in Years 3 and 5 coming from 89 schools in England took part in this project. Although results were mixed and the experiment was carried out on a rather short period of time, ‘when considering maths and science separately, Stop and Think led to an equivalent of 2 additional months’ progress in science and to an equivalent of 1 additional month’s progress in maths’. Additionally, teachers reported how children’s social skills also benefited from this method, allowing them to develop more consideration and attention to others.


While studies within a learning environment are still underway, Stop and Think has proven to be a successful educational method at many levels. It encourages all children to stop and consider the problem they are faced with, to come up with different solutions, and to try them out. Self-discipline, self-control, self-confidence, independence, responsibility – these are just a few of the positive outcomes that can come out of this method. It is not surprising then that this methodology has been applied to autistic children. I think this book Whole Body Listening Larry at Home has some great tips for all children with learning difficulties.

So when next facing one of your child’s tantrums or having to rectify a mistake, rather than saying ‘this is wrong’, consider saying ‘this might not work, do you know why? Are there better ways to do this?’, or ‘why are you tired? What can we do next time to prevent this?’.

Remember, the Stop and Think method also applies to adults!!



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