Today I’m sharing a fun **problem solving** activity for first and second grade. My incoming second grader loved it!

In my ebook, Top 10 Secrets to Great Teaching, I wrote about the importance of making math more than computation. To help our children understand math concepts, they need more than worksheets and a list of facts to solve. They *also* need opportunities to solve problems.

That’s why I created this free problem solving activity. I used our red, blue, green, and yellow counting bears, but you could use any manipulative in those colors. Even scraps of colored construction paper would work! You can also use the printable paper bears in the free download at the end of this post.

## Problem solving with bear counters

I created a set of twenty problem solving cards. Then I printed them, cut them apart, punched a hole in the upper left corner, and put them together with a metal ring.

Here are some sample cards. Some are easy, like this one:

You have 6 bears. 3 are red. The number of red and blue bears is equal. How many bears do you have of each color?

Some are a little harder:

You have 9 bears. The first, last, and middle bears are red. You have a set of three yellow bears after the first bear. The rest of the bears are green. Put your bears in order.

And some will really make your child think!

You have 10 bears. You have an odd number of green bears. You have 1 yellow bear and 1 red bear. Your number of blue bears is one more than the total number of green and yellow bears. What bears do you have?

When you print front to back (flipping on the short edge), you’ll find the answers are right on the back. Perfect for self-checking!

My Seven loved these, and it was fun to watch her think and work out the problems. Some of the problems were easy, but others really challenged her.

### Tips for helping your child solve these problems:

- If your child is confused and unsure what to do, ask, “What do you
*know*?” It may be that you will need all four colors. If so, get out one of each color; you know you’ll need at least that much. - Have your child start from the beginning. “Let’s go back and read the clues again.” Stop to check your work after each clue.
- Encourage your child to use whatever strategy works for her. She might use her fingers, think in her head, or make a model of the answer with her bears.
- Before your child flips the card to check her answer, have her read each clue one final time to make sure that she solved the problem correctly.

### How to use these cards:

- They’d work great as a classroom center. Since they’re self checking, children can work without your constant intervention.
- These would be a great homeschooling math activity for when you are teaching another child.
- If you’re like me, and neither a teacher nor full-time homeschooler, pull these out after school for some enrichment.
- Use these as an extension in the classroom for children who breeze through their math work.

Print on card stock (so you can’t see the answer through the card), and be sure to print front to back so that it flips *on the short edge*. Enjoy!

**More resources**

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© 2014 – 2016, Anna G. All rights reserved.

Kain Huber says

So nice, thank you! Regards, Karin

Anna Geiger says

You’re welcome, Karin!

Peggy Hakanson says

Great examples of how to teach kids critical thinking skills in applied math!

I am teaching my 2.5 year old grandson similar problems already. Some children are ready sooner than others, but if adults try showing them earlier, kids will benefit more.

Anna Geiger says

Yes, this sort of activity can certainly be adapted for younger children as well.

Selena @ Look! We're Learning! says

We have counting bears, but I was running out of ways to use them. Thanks for these!

Anna Geiger says

You’re welcome, Selena – thanks for checking it out !

Amanda Boyarshinov says

Problem solving is so important. These would be great for parents to print out and keep in a diaper bag or purse (along with some bears) for doctor appointments or while waiting for food at a restaurant!

Anna Geiger says

Great idea, Amanda! I’ll have to remember that. 🙂

Heather Carlson says

I L-O-V-E these and I LOVE Amanda’s idea of keeping them in a purse/car bag. It is so wonderful of you to share, Anna. I have a 3 week old and just don’t have time to come up with ideas that my other kiddos will enjoy – this is PERFECT!!

Anna Geiger says

Thanks so much, Amanda, I’m so glad you can use these! I know how hard it is to adjust to life with a new addition… any extra time you have needs to be spent sleeping!

Tara Naveen says

My baby girl orally she says upto 30 but she won’t find out numbers from 11 to 30..if I ask her to show number 12.. She say 2.. And she had problems in finding out right number..

Anna Geiger says

Children can count before they recognize the numbers, so this is normal. If you do a lot of counting activities, she’ll get it when she’s ready. You can try playing with my dump truck counting mat and my monster number cards. You’ll find them on the Free Printables page.

Irena says

Thank you for sharing. My son with ASD found this enjoyable and it’s great with teaching data processing skills.

Anna Geiger says

I’m so glad to hear that, Irena!

betsy mcNally says

Anna- I have been a huge fan of your site for some time now. I am a Veteran Kindergarten teacher of 18 years and have been a stay at home mom since 2010 with my son Kyle. He was diagnosed with Autism at 2 and 1/2 and I have been home working with him ( along with a great B to 3 team and preschool team to prepare him for kindergarten ( which will be here in 3 weeks!) I began tutoring a few years ago and have been able to tutor children ages 3-7 of all different abilities and levels and find your website so helpful and filled with such amazing activities! I refer to this site multiple times a week and cannot express my gratitude for these amazing gifts. I hope to one day create something like this, which I know you I am sure have taken years to produce this site. I am wondering, do you ever travel and give live workshops or present anywhere? It would be an honor to meet you someday and go to one of your workshops. Thank you again, your ideas and games are doing wonders for the young minds that I teach! Best- Betsy McNally

Anna Geiger says

Hi Betsy! Thank you so much for your kind words. I did a lot of presenting at teacher’s conferences when I was a single teacher, but I have had to decline offers since having children. We don’t have grandparents nearby, and it would be very hard to find childcare/transportation for our children if I would be out of town (and for my husband to continue working, ha!). Also, I often have a newborn, which makes it somewhat impossible for me to be gone. It’s a dream of mine though – so you never know. But I think it would be a long ways out!

Jody says

I just discovered these this morning-printed, cut, laminated, and we ran through a few this morning for problem solving..they are amazing!!!! Thank you so much for creating and sharing these. Do you or could you have more in the works?

Anna Geiger says

I’m so glad you can use them, Jody! I would love to create more of these, but right now I’m working on some early learning projects and just don’t have time. I would expect more of this type of thing in the future, but we have a new baby coming in a few months, which will really slow me down. 🙂 So… not any time soon, I’m afraid!

Beth says

Having found your website recently, your information has been instrumental in helping me teach my son. So I want to thank you for everything you’ve done. Whenever I’ve hit an obstacle and can’t seem to explain something to him in a way he understands, your website has helped me tremendously. But now I have one more obstacle and I can’t find anything on your website to help me with this, so I thought I’d ask you here. I’m having trouble getting my almost 6 1/2 year old to understand the concept of counting onward instead of starting at 1 every time. We will have some objects in two separate bowls and we are trying to make 7. The first bowl has 4 objects in it, so he writes “4 + ” = 7 on his paper. Then I ask him to count the remaining objects in the other bowl, which is 3, and every time he starts at 1 instead of 5. I have tried to tell him, “You already 4 objects, so you don’t start at 1, you start at the number that comes after 1.” But so far, there is no understanding of what I’m saying. Help!?

Anna Geiger says

Hi, Beth! I don’t have any counting on posts yet, but This Reading Mama has a super helpful one! I think you’ll find some good strategies here: http://thisreadingmama.com/counting-on-activities-printables/

Valentina says

They’re beautiful, thanks for sharing.

Anna G says

You’re welcome, Valentina!