STEAM is a vehicle for children's social emotion development. Read the blog post and learn how to suppor children's problem solving skills within STEAM learning activities.


Dr. Yvette Mere-Cook works as a Child Development Demonstration Lecturer and Preschool Program Coordinator at the Early Childhood Lab at the Center for Child and Family Studies at the University of California at Davis.  Dr. Mere-Cook teaches courses in early childhood education and draws from her 20+ years as a pediatric occupational therapist in hopes of preparing and inspiring students to pursue work that contributes to opportunities and access for children with disabilities. Her research and service pursuits focus on investigating ways to close the opportunity gap for young children’s engagement in STEM learning, including embedding the Engineering Design Process and teaching the steps of the problem-solving process within STEM contexts within inclusive preschool classrooms.

Hsiuwen Yang's headshot

Dr. Hsiu-Wen Yang is a technical assistance specialist and research investigator at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, UNC-Chapel Hill. She received her master’s degree in Occupational Therapy from the National Taiwan University and her PhD degree in Special Education from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her research interests include early intervention, family-centered practices, parent coaching, inclusive practices, and social-emotional development.


Dr. Jessica K. Hardy received her Ph.D. in early childhood special education from Vanderbilt University and her M.Ed. and B.A. from the University of Florida.  She taught in Portland, OR as a Head Start teacher and an early childhood special education teacher.  Jessica’s primary research interests are evidence-based instructional practices and early childhood coaching and professional.

Within high quality inclusive early childhood programs, practitioners intentionally design environments and instructional practices to support young children’s social, emotional, and cognitive development (DEC, 2014).  Learning Areas in the classroom often include open ended materials that invite children’s engagement in concepts related to science, technology, engineering, art, and math. Within these STEAM learning opportunities, practitioners embed instructional practices that promote children’s emotional competency, friendship skills, and conflict resolution.  One such practice centers on the problem-solving process.   

According to Diamond (2019, p. 108), problem solving consists of  

“a complex set of skills in which children demonstrate the ability to (a) recognize the occurrence of a problem, (b) seek and implement solutions to solve the problem, and  (c) engage in reflection in order to determine the effectiveness of the applied solution.”   

For young children at risk for or with disabilities, learning, engaging, and applying the problem-solving process within STEAM Learning Areas could positively impact social development and self-determination (Cote et al., 2014). Research suggests that direct instruction with the use of visual-based supports (e.g., picture cards, posters) promotes the learning of the foundations of the problem-solving process with preschool children with disabilities (Diamond, 2012; 2017). 

The use of visual-based supports as tools for direct instruction for children with disabilities is often used by teachers to address behaviors that impact learning (Rhodes, 2014). As an early childhood multi-tiered system of support or MTSS, the Pyramid Model for Promoting Social and Emotional Competence for Infants and Young Children (NCPMI, 2022) provides practitioners solution kits to address a number of challenging behaviors by focusing on the application of the problem-solving process. Through use of pictures within solution cards, the Pyramid Model offers teachers a research-based intervention for classroom-wide implementation (Hemmeter et al., 2014; NCPMI, 2022).   

The soft skills of collaboration, cooperation, empathy, and problem-solving are intertwined within early STEM learning experiences. Therefore, they provide a natural context for promoting both emotional competency and social development. The use of Solution Kits allows for all young children to access the problem solving process to resolve conflicts with children by providing them with visual supports to arrive at a solution. Take the following vignette as an example of how a teacher can use the Solution Kits to support children’s social emotional skills within an inclusive STEAM context.   10846921487?profile=RESIZE_400x

 How Solution Kits Are Used in the Classroom:  In our inclusive preschool classroom, we have the solution kits hanging throughout Learning Areas for children to access and for engaged adults to offer children when conflicts arise. For example, Tommy and Jill were creating structures within the Block Area. Tommy was building a tower and Jill constructed a road for her school bus. As Tommy placed the final block on top of his tower, Jill grabbed the block and said “This is mine!”  Tommy’s tower came crashing down and he began to cry. The Lead Teacher came over and began to engage Tommy and Jill in the problem-solving process. Using a calm tone, the teacher began to listen to the children and acknowledged both of their big feelings and emotions. The teacher then grabbed the Solution Kit Cards and began to ask the children, “How can we solve this problem?”. Jill began to scroll through the pictures. Tommy became interested in helping Jill decide how they could resolve their conflict. In the end, they decided to work together to build a city that included a large apartment building as well as a road and ramps for buses.   

















Division of Early Childhood (June 6, 2014).  Position Statement – Role of Special Instruction in Early Intervention.  Retrieved from 

Cote, D. L., Jones, V. L., Barnett, C., Pavelek, K., Nguyen, H., & Sparks, S. L. (2014). Teaching Problem Solving Skills to Elementary Age Students with Autism. Education and Training in Autism and Developmental Disabilities, 49(2), 189–199. 

Diamond, L. (2012). Problem solving interventions: Impact on young students with developmental disabilities (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Database. (ISBN 1267568003) 

Diamond, L. L. (2017). Problem solving in the early years. Intervention in School and Clinic, 53, 220–223. doi:10.1177/1053451217712957 

Diamond, L. L., & Hsiao, Y.-J. (2019). Picture-Based Situation Cards to Support Problem-Solving Skill Development for Young Children With Disabilities. TEACHING Exceptional Children, 52(2), 107–115., Anderson, Wimmer, 2021;  

Fox, L. (n.d.)  Program Practices for Promoting the Social Development of Young Children and Addressing Challenging Behavior 

Hemmeter, M. L., Snyder, P. A., Fox, L., & Algina, J. (2016). Evaluating the Implementation of the Pyramid Model for Promoting Social-Emotional Competence in Early Childhood Classrooms. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 36(3), 133–146. 

Lentini, R., Anderson, R., & Wimmer. A. (2021).  We Can Be Problem Solvers!  National Center for Pyramid Model Innovations. 

National Center for Pyramid Model Innovations (2021, January 31).  NCPMI Fact Sheet. 

Rhodes, C. (2014). Do Social Stories help to decrease disruptive behaviour in children with autistic spectrum disorders? A review of the published literature. Journal of Intellectual Disabilities, 18(1), 35–50. 

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