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Size of the problem is a social skills concept that teaches our students to identify the size of a problem so that they may figure out how to deal with that problem in an appropriate manner.

Think… a problem such as a broken pencil versus a fall from the monkey bars that breaks a child’s arm. Both are problems, but both have vastly different consequences. Understanding the size of the problem also means we need to adjust our reactions and adjust the way to deal with each problem.

Wondering how to help your preschoolers understand size of the problem? Read on to learn more …

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Before we jump into the nitty gritty of teaching your students about size of the problem, I want to make sure you have a chance to grab my free templates that will help you plan your next SEL lesson. Just click on the image below and download them today. These free downloadable cheat sheets and planning template will make planning any SEL lesson a breeze!

What is the size of the problem?

As mentioned in the intro, size of the problem is a social skills concept. It is used to help students identify the severity of their problems. Identifying the severity of the problem helps students choose the appropriate reaction or response. 

Why is it important to teach the size of the problem?

I want you to imagine 20 preschoolers all busily walking around the classroom, playing with blocks, in the home corner, completing a painting or reading books in the book area. All at the same moment, they all stop and come running up to you with a problem. Their paint spilled, Jimmy took their doll away, and they hit their head on the bookshelf. 

You know that this can easily be an average day in our preschool classrooms! Teaching students to determine the problem’s size can help reduce the need for you to manage every single problem in the classroom!

Our young learners really need to learn that not all problems are the same, so our reactions and strategies to deal with those problems will vary accordingly. Once you identify the size of the problem, it helps with emotional regulation and helps with problem-solving too.

It’s important to give students the common language needed to describe their problems and reactions and help them identify solutions. 

What are small problems for preschoolers?

When we talk about small problems with preschoolers, we normally let them know that these are problems they can solve on their own. Also, they often result in only a small reaction or absolutely no reaction at all. 

Some examples of small problems are: 

  • Not getting to stand in the front of the line.
  • Breaking a pencil or crayon.
  • Someone bumping into the child while at their cubbies.

These activities may upset the student, but they can deal with them appropriately, and the emotion may show up for a short time or not at all.

What are medium problems for preschoolers?

Medium problems require the student to think and may require help from others like a parent or a teacher. There is often some sort of reaction like crying, whining, or using words to show emotion like “ouch.”

Some examples of medium problems are: 

What are big problems for preschoolers? 

Big problems are serious events that require help from many people and this may include doctors, police, firefighters, teachers, etc. Big problems often have big reactions like screaming, crying, running away, hiding, etc.

Some examples of big problems are:

  • Being really sick.
  • Breaking a bone.
  • Getting into an accident.
  • Losing a loved one.

Depending on the size of the problem, students can use a variety of different coping skills. There are many to choose from, and you want to work with the student to determine which skills can help them in certain situations.

I’ve helped my students through many different size of problem scenarios, and I’ve gathered a few of my favorite calm down techniques over the years. I have found it helpful to teach different calm down techniques throughout the school year and integrate them into our day so that they may have a repertoire of techniques to choose from when they need it.

Techniques that I have found useful are:

Calm down techniques can help students with self-regulation and encourage them to find ways to deal with their emotions in a helpful way. 

Big Problem Little Problem Scenarios

5 Easy Ways to Teach Size of the Problem in Your Preschool Classroom

There are plenty of simple ways to teach size of the problem to preschoolers, which will help them not only in your classroom but also in life. 

1. Visuals

Preschoolers learn through all their senses. One way you can give students a visual representation of this concepts is to use 3 different-sized containers or 3 different-sized balloons to explain how problems come in all different sizes. Fill the containers with colored rice, or blow up the balloons in front of them. Discuss how the less air or less rice means the smaller the problem, and the more rice or air, the bigger the problem. 

You could also watch a YouTube video or read a story. There are tons of great options!

YouTube Size of the Problem Videos

Big Problems and Small Problems

Big Deal Little Deal

Big Problem vs. Little Problem

Size of the Problem Books

The Problem with Problems

Don’t Squeal Unless It’s A Big Deal

Big Problems Little Problems

You should also take a look at this list of self-regulation books

Image for calming strategy cards for preschoolers
These gorgeous calming strategy cards show 53 different ways children may choose to calm down. Perfect for Pre-K and Kindergarten students. Print, laminate and place in your classroom calm down area or use with individual students when needed.

2. Use Scenarios

Discussions are some of the best ways to help teach students important skills. Write down common scenarios that may happen in preschool & together as a class, and sort them into the different containers. 

List of common scenarios in preschool:

  • Forgot your drink bottle
  • You don’t know what you are supposed to be doing.
  • Someone pulls your hair.
  • Name-calling
  • Your shoe lace is untied.
  • You miss your Mom.
  • Your dog is in hospital.

3. Highlight Possible Reactions

When learning about the size of the problem, you want to ensure you give students the opportunity to talk about how they would react to different situations. Remember, some students will react one way, while others will react differently. Ask your students to think of possible reactions to problems & write them down on the board or slips of paper.

Example: Ask for help, forget about it, take a deep breath, speak to a teacher, cry, etc. 

After they have given reactions, put up different scenarios and decide which reaction matches which problem. After that,  match the possible scenarios/reactions to the size of problems.

4. Role Playing

Role-playing can be super helpful here, and can also be a lot of fun! Try picking a random problem out of a hat & pick a random reactions out of a hat. Example: You lose a pencil, and your reaction is falling on the floor, crying hysterically. Now role-play it, you’ll surely get a laugh, and it will start a wonderful conversation about the types of reactions each problem should have. 

You can also Role-play a problem. Once you (or students) act out different problems, discuss with students – What is the problem? What is the size of the problem? Possible ways to deal with the problem.

Picture Prompts to Promote Discussion Around Kindness, Friendship, Conflict Resolution, Respect

5. Reinforce Learning

After you and your students have learned about the problem’s size, practiced, and discussed it. You want to ensure you are constantly reinforcing their learning. 

Some ways you can easily reinforce learning are to: 

  • Display the size of the problem poster(s) so students can see it and be reminded.
  • Use worksheets
  • Spend time with your students, observing and supporting them in their day. Discuss what you see at the end of day group time. 
  • Use the language introduced (small, medium, big problem, etc.) and make it part of your classroom language and culture. 
  • Send a note home to families. Provide a common shared language around the size of the problem.

Size of the Problem Matters

When teaching the size of the problem, you want to make sure you teach this concept in fun and interactive ways. Remember to continue the learning even after the lessons. Displaying information, practicing the skill, and building that connection to home so that families know how they too can reinforce the concept at home.

Looking to help your students with Managing Feelings and Emotions? Check out these blog posts below:

5 Reason Why Teaching Preschoolers to Identify Emotions is so Important

8 Ways to Help Preschoolers Identify Emotions and Manage Them

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Hi! Welcome to Spark Interest with Sara!

I am a preschool teacher, a curriculum designer, a course creator and a mum to a gorgeous boy who keeps me on my toes! 

Creating and sharing inspiring educational resources and courses for teachers and parents is my passion! I wake up every day excited to be able to be part of nurturing young minds and hearts! 

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