Want Good Problem Solvers? Get Started with this Buoyancy Activity!


Problem solving skills can be developed in any child through modelling and practice. I teach my toddlers how to problem solve with the same method as my school age children.  My three basic steps are;

  1. What do you KNOW?

  2. What can you TRY?

  3. Who can HELP?

Today I’ll be sharing a buoyancy activity you can do with your preschoolers up to school age children. Next week, I’ll share this same problem solving strategy and show you how it applies to helping toddlers reduce their frustration levels.

Our homeschool co-op group is working on the concept of buoyancy.  One of our creative mamas gave the children the challenge of constructing their own boats.

Each boat was to be designed, built and then tested in a bin of water.  Before the children starting choosing their boat building materials from a table of supplies they completed a ‘Sink or Float?’ activity station.

Step One- What do you Know?

Many of the children already had some knowledge about what materials would float and what would sink but they all loved the experimenting process.

They had a pile of objects (metal spoon, plastic lid, wooden pencil, coin, feather, craft foam, etc) and had a chance to test each object in a bin of water.

With this knowledge fresh in their minds they then chose materials from the supply table and got to work on building their boats.  The ‘Sink or Float’ activity helped remind the children to use what they knew about buoyant materials to choose their boat supplies.

boat building-resized

Step Two- What Can You Try?

Step two is when I encourage the children to try something.  Try out an idea. If it doesn’t work, try a different idea.

I want them to get into the habit of experimenting themselves instead of waiting for an adult to solve their problem for them.

Some personalities love to experiment while other children are reluctant to give it a try themselves. For the reluctant kids formal problem solving activities, like this boat building one, are an excellent way to practice the art of ‘trying’.


There were bins of water available, for the children, to try out their boats to test their buoyancy level.  The children then modified their boats to try to get them as sturdy as possible.


Step Three- Who can Help?

Problem solving can be a tricky skill to acquire when you are young and lack knowledge, experience and patience. The third step I teach my children is to ask for help.

I encourage my daycare children to ask a buddy first and then ask me.

I will gauge how the child is managing their emotions with the problem and either give them an idea to try, or point them towards the solution. I want them to experience success during a problem solving session before they get too frustrated at the process.


The homeschooling mama leading this activity used marbles to test the boats buoyancy once the kids were satisfied with their designs.  We all counted to see how many marbles the boat could hold before it sunk.


Children who develop problem solving skills at a young age are able to overcome obstacles with a positive attitude.  Practicing problem solving skills with a formal activity (like boat building) is one way to show children how competent they already are at solving problems.

Once kids view themselves as good problem solvers they are willing to tackle larger problems independently before asking for help.  This is the path we want our children to be on!

Our children are the problem solvers of tomorrow.  Today, …how to zip a coat: tomorrow, …global warming!