I've had problem-solving on the brain today. This afternoon I participated in a telephone conference with two professionals who will be involved in Bud's developmental assessment next month. They asked a lot of questions to try to get a sense of who Bud is, and they asked me about his problem-solving skills. We talked about him teaching himself to tie a knot, and about his creative problem-solving when improvising characters for his pretend play.
I also told them about Bud's struggle with this week's school homework. The exercise involved a grid with the numbers 1 - 100. I was instructed to choose two numbers and say, for example, "I'm thinking of a number between 10 and 20." Bud would guess a number and if it wasn't my number I would instruct him that my number was "higher" or "lower" until he guessed it correctly.
Bud was baffled by the activity.
I started small: "I'm thinking of a number between 7 and 9." Bud's first guess was 15. His second guess was 9. I tried to show him visually, pointing to 7 and sliding my finger to the right as I said "hiiiiiigher than 7," then pointing to 9 and sliding my finger to the left as I said "looooooower than 9." Both times I left my finger on the number 8.
Bud guessed 5.
I tried to reframe the problem, using different terms - more than/less than, bigger than/smaller than - but it wasn't happening. We moved on to spelling words, and Bud was much more successful.
After I recounted the homework experience to the clinic professionals, I found myself thinking about it and wondering what problem was at its core. Was Bud having trouble responding to questions under pressure? Or was it the conceptualizing of the question that he found challenging?
So tonight I tried another problem-solving experiment. Earlier in the day, I'd purchased a toy harmonica for him (he's been wanting one because Curious George plays one in a favorite episode.) I entered the room with the toy behind my back and said, "I bought something for you today."
"What?" Bud asked.
"See if you can guess," I said. "It's something you use your mouth for."
"Twizzlers," he said, almost immediately.
"That's a good guess," I said, "But it's not Twizzlers."
"Cookies?" he asked.
"Nope," I said. "It's not something you eat."
"It's what?" he asked. "Snacks."
"It's something you use your mouth for, but you don't eat it."
Bud thought for a second, then guessed, "Juice?" (Clever boy! You drink juice; you don't eat it.)
"Good guess, Bud! But this is something you don't eat, you use your mouth for, and you blow."
"Balloons!" he guessed.
"Great guess!" I said. "But it's something you don't eat, you use your mouth and blow and make music."
Bud thought again, then smiled and said, "Harmonica!"
He was delighted to learn that he was correct, and immediately set about trying to figure out how to play Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, which I taught him to play on the glockenspiel, and he taught himself to play on the xylophone, keyboard, and toy clarinet.
So, I think it's the concept of the homework that is baffling to Bud. Quite frankly, he probably inherited his aptitude for math problems from his mom.
The problem-solving, on the other hand... the problem-solving is not a problem.