Developing a problem solving mindset early on...

It is not enough if your child can read and comprehend. He or she must learn to ask questions based on the text, take a step back to observe all the relevant facts in a story or article and anticipate what could happen next. The first step to problem solving in real life is asking questions to assimilate as much as information as possible. It is not something that can be learned overnight.

To derive benefits from reading for pleasure, children must be shown how to analyse the stories they read, take a pause, ask questions about the approach, imagine what could happen next and so on. These are important skills to develop not just from the point of view of 'creative writing' but also for the purpose of developing problem solving skills.

Ever Given (or Evergreen) Ship Blocking The Suez Canal- a problem that has never ever occurred.

Problems that have precedent have records or living persons or stories to guide one through the same problems. However, problems occur all the time across fields that have no precedent whatsoever. Case in point is the Ever Given ship blocking several ships from passing through the Suez Canal.

The Suez Canal was built to enable easy passage of ships to cut down shipping time and costs in the process. In the absence of this canal, ships coming from Europe heading towards Asia will have to go all around the African continent to reach the Asian continent. The Suez Canal serves as a short cut. Needless to say it is common to for ships to pass through this passage regularly. The block caused by the Ever Given ship caused many ships to wait for several days causing inordinate delays and disrupting several operations.

How would analysing fiction or story books help in solving unprecedented problems as this one?

Taking a pause to ask questions about the author's approach helps in developing the ability to think, question, find clues that could potentially lead to viable solutions. In the case of the ship blocking, something caused the ship to block the passageway. High winds and sandstorms made visibility poor. Did it cause the area to become shallow? Was it the wind as the ship's crew claims? What is preventing the ship to sail? Sand? The obvious thing to do is to free the ship by digging out the sand. But this is a massive ship. Massive equipments have not been made to remove sand in such large quantities. This has never happened before.

Imagining what could happen next

A real life story that made the world watch sitting at the edge of the seat wondering what would happen next. The teams on the ground were visualising possible solutions or should we say imagine? News kept coming in about failed attempts. When the obvious solutions failed to work, out of the box solutions were reached out for. Reduce the weight on the ship by removing some containers. Easier said than done considering the weight and size of the containers. How about using tugs to move the ship? How many would we need? With no right answers 13 tugs were sent, dredgers bought in to dig sand. They even started using water power from the tides to move the ship. The ship however, refused to budge. What else could be done? All known possible solutions have been implemented with out much effect. With no more solutions visible, it just meant continuing efforts as suspense grew. Nail biting moments in story books teach a reader that sometimes when problems pile on even after the protagonist takes steps, one simply has to keep moving and wait for something unexpected to happen at its own will.

The recent debacle shows how these least expected possibilities can make solve big and difficult problems. As in our example, the moon played a role. How did the moon play a role? you ask? Is this some kind of a fairy tale you ask? Turns out its science! It was the day of the 'Worm Moon'- a time when the moon is closest to the earth and hence looks a lot bigger. The moon's gravitational pull caused high tides thus enhancing water power which helped in dislodging the ship.

Analysing fiction enables the reader to see the big picture with all the characters in connection with core problem of the story and anticipate what could happen next or what could be done solve the problem in a story. After all every story book has a problem which is what serves as a hook to engage the reader further. If one can only read and comprehend but not have any takeaway from the book either in terms of enjoyment or interesting perspectives, reading as an activity becomes banal.


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