• Julia Kallmes

My Favorite Social-Emotional Lesson

Over the years, I have implemented many lessons aimed at helping children solve problems, manage strong emotions, and avoid tantrums. Of all that I have tried, this incredibly simple lesson remains my favorite.


Humans young and old are susceptible to overreacting to problems. However, I find it unhelpful when others call out my irrationality. Being told that I am overreacting is a surefire way to make me even more irritated. Children feel the same way. If we scoff at or minimize their distress, we will most likely increase, not decrease, their frustration.

That said, children become upset a very small and--dare I say--silly things. How can we empower them to work through an issue without diminishing the importance of their feelings?

The Lesson: Small, Medium, and Big Problems


  • small, medium, and large block (I use cubes from the Montessori Pink Tower)

  • coloring sheet:

Download PDF • 70KB

What I Say:

We all encounter problems; it is a part of life. Some problems are small. Hold up the small block. Some problems are medium. Hold up the medium block. And some problems are big. Hold up the big block.

A problem is small if we can solve it ourselves. For example, what if two children want to play with the same toy? How can they solve the problem? Elicit answers like "share" and "take turns."

A problem is medium if we need help. We can get help from a friend, sibling, parent, teacher, grandparent, aunt, uncle, etc. For example, what if you drop a glass bowl on the floor, and it shatters into one hundred sharp pieces. What can you do? Ask for help!

A problem is big if we need a professional. For example, if we are really hurt or sick, we need the help of a doctor. If our toilet is broken and we cannot fix it, we need the help of a plumber. One time, I tried to move a piano, and it was too heavy. I called a professional piano mover!

Here is a coloring sheet that can remind us about problems. Read the text. Invite the children to color it.

Follow-Up Activities

  • Sit in a circle and pass a speaking piece around. Invite children to share about a small problem that they had and how they solved it. During a different circle, repeat for medium and big problems.

  • Give each child a small, medium, and big block. Give an example of a problem, and have them hold up the block signifying the size of the problem. If there is disagreement, have the children explain their thinking. Truly, what is a big problem for some is a small problem for others.

  • Talk about the size of problem in books that you read together. Good books for this particular lesson include Llama, Llama: Time to Share, Knuffle Bunny, and Maisy Goes to the Hospital.

Applying the Lesson in Life

When a child encounters a problem, ask, "Is this problem small, medium, or big?" Thinking about this question will help them know how to proceed.

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