Problem solving is a complex cognitive process where people identify problems and develop methods for resolving them. While humans are known for being problem solvers, many animals are capable of this process as well, at least on some level. Learning about the level of ability a person has can provide more information about cognition and higher-order thinking processes. People use problem solving skills on a daily basis and in a variety of settings.
A “problem” can be anything from a set of equations on someone's math homework to a challenge in the workplace. The first step in the process involves identifying, describing, and exploring the problem to learn more about it. Young children may require more time to do this, as their brains have not yet learned to recognize common patterns they might encounter in life. As the problem is analyzed, people can start to explore solution methods that may be effective, eventually developing a plan of action for attacking the problem. If the plan is not successful, a new plan needs to be developed.
This particular cognitive ability can require diverse skill sets, depending on the type of problem. Analytical reasoning skills are important, as are things like pattern recognition and matching and memory recall. Some approaches to education involve presenting people with problems and encouraging them to solve them, with the goal of teaching students while developing cognitive abilities. In a language class, for instance, the teacher might only provide instruction in a foreign language, forcing students to adapt and compensate as the lessons progress, gradually acquiring language skills in the process.
Some cognitive, intellectual, and developmental disabilities can interfere with problem solving. People may have problems with executive function, finding it hard to organize their thoughts for the purpose of managing a problem. Others may not be able to acquire new skills, or could have trouble retaining and developing skills to handle more complex problems. These individuals will be able to resolve issues up to a certain point, but may not experience an increase in their abilities as they grow older.
Parents who want to develop these skills in their children to prepare them for school, as well as future success, can use a number of tactics. Many children's toys require some amount of problem solving skills and reward children both for correct solutions and for increases in speed when it comes to solving problems. Things like reading to children to develop language skills can also help children develop analytical skills, as well as the ability to identify, differentiate, and describe things.