Dissertations and Theses @ UNI


Open Access Dissertation


Problem solving in children; Toddlers--Education;


This study focused on the use of problem-solving strategies among toddlers using a qualitative research approach, and more specifically the case-study research design. The following three research questions were investigated: (1) What behaviors do toddlers exhibit as they begin their exploration with Contents and Containers?; (2a) What intrapersonal differences, if any, do toddlers display in their problem-solving approaches with Contents and Containers materials over the ten-session period?; and (2b) What interpersonal differences, if any, do the three toddlers display in their problem-solving approaches with Contents and Containers materials over the ten-session period?

The participants of this study consisted of three toddlers ages 18, 21, and 23 months who attended a daycare center in a mid-size town in a Midwestern state. The toddlers interacted freely with Contents and Containers, which is an open-ended curriculum using commonly available materials including plastic containers of various sizes. The researcher analyzed existing data in the form of video recordings of the toddlers using materials twice each week for five weeks, yielding ten one-hour long sessions. The toddlers had been videotaped for a research project conducted by an early childhood center affiliated with a state university.

Findings from this study indicated that toddlers’ problem-solving included a range of behaviors such as exploration, repetition, experimentation and finding solutions through strategies such as trial and error and means-ends analysis. Changes in problem- solving strategy use, namely from trial and error to means-ends analysis were observed both within and between the toddlers over the ten-session period.

There were also themes that emerged from this study about problem solving including intentionality, competence, curiosity, perseverance, and reciprocal interaction between play and skills. Implications for parents, daycare providers and preschool teachers for fostering and supporting problem-solving thinking and behavior among toddlers are provided. Also, recommendations for future research directions to build upon and extend the findings of the present study are offered.

Year of Submission


Degree Name

Doctor of Education


Department of Educational Psychology and Foundations

First Advisor

Radhi Al-Mabuk, Chair

Date Original


Object Description

1 PDF file (xi, 159 pages)



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