Program Overview

The ICPS lessons are presented in the form of games, role plays and puppet experiences, all focused on developing students’ interpersonal cognitive problem-solving skills. The ICPS skills include:

  • Use of pre-problem-solving vocabulary and skills
  • Identifying feelings in self and others
  • Developing alternative solutions to problems
  • Use of consequential thinking
  • Means-ends thinking

ICPS skills are introduced sequentially to promote optimal skill acquisition. Similarly, program lessons are differentiated for different grade levels.

ICPS lessons should be conducted at least 2-3 times per week for a period of 3-5 months. To provide an opportunity for all children to participate, preschool and kindergarten lessons should be conducted in small groups of 10 or fewer students. From first grade on, it is more feasible to conduct the lessons with the whole class.

ICPS skills focus

Social and Emotional Literacy

Naming and interpreting one’s own emotions and those of others and practicing positive relationship skills.


Awareness and sensitivity to people’s feelings.

Alternative Solution Thinking

Ability to generate a variety of solutions to interpersonal problems.

Consequential Thinking

Ability to recognize the impact of one’s behavior upon others, in light of what might happen next.

ICPS Dialoguing

An approach that helps children associate how they think with what they do and how they behave

Means-End Thinking

Ability to plan sequenced steps toward a goal, recognizing obstacles that might interfere with reaching that goal and that it takes time to reach a goal.

Understanding Motives

Recognition of various possible reasons people act the way they do.

Recognizing Mixed Emotions

Ability to feel opposite ways about the same thing, understand different degrees of intensity, and express feelings to others.


According to the Collaborative for Academic Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL), Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is “the process through which children and adults acquire the knowledge, attitudes and skills they need to recognize and manage their emotions, demonstrate caring and concern for others, establish positive relationships, make responsible decisions and handle challenging situations constructively.”

ICPS is a program that supports SEL in young children. Research on ICPS has demonstrated the effectiveness of the program in reducing impulsivity and improving students’ social skills and problem-solving skills. Research indicates social and emotional learning contributes to reductions in youth substance abuse (Botvin, Baker, Dusenbury, Botvin, & Diaz, 1995) and interpersonal violence (Grossman, Neckerman, Koepsell, Liu, Asher, & Beland, 1997) and is associated with improvements in mental health (Greenberg, Domitrovich, & Bumbarger, 2001; Durlak & Wells, 1997).

SEL can also support academic achievement. One meta-analysis found quality SEL programing to be associated with an 11-point increase in academic achievement test scores (Durlak, Weissberg, Dymnicki, Taylor, & Schellinger, 2011). Other studies have found the quality of students’ early peer relationships to be predictive of academic achievement in late elementary school (Buhs, Ladd, & Herald-Brown, 2010; Flook, Repetti, & Ullman, 2005) and social, emotional and decision-making skills at seventh grade to be predictive of high school achievement scores (Fleming, Haggerty, Catalano, Harachi, Mazza, & Gruman, 2005). These findings support the need to include quality SEL as a component of district-level and school-level plans for improving student achievement.

To assist schools interested in SEL, CASEL conducts regular reviews of school-based SEL programs. ICPS has been recognized as a CASEL SELect program since 2002.

ICPS training emphasizes the following pre-problem-solving and problem-solving skills:

Pre-problem-solving skills

  • Vocabulary word pairs
  • Feelings and preferences
  • Listening and paying attention
  • Sequencing and timing

Problem-solving skills

  • Alternative solution thinking
  • Consequential thinking
  • Means-ends thinking or sequential planning (8+)
Little girl crying in the playroom

Note to third grade teachers: For students who are below third grade level, or who have never been exposed to ICPS in earlier grades, the kindergarten primary manual is appropriate. For students at or above third grade level, or who have been exposed to ICPS in earlier grades, the intermediate primary grades manual is appropriate.

ICPS Curriculum

I Can Problem Solve (ICPS) is a Pre-K-5 program designed to build interpersonal thinking and problem-solving skills. The program offers three curricula for preschool and elementary school: ICPS for Preschool and Kindergarten (children ages 4 and 5), Primary Grades (Grades 1 and 2, or Grade 3 students who have never been exposed to ICPS) and ICPS for Intermediate Elementary Grades (Grades 3-5).

Each curricula contains 65-83 lessons to be delivered 2-3 times per week over the course of 3-5 months. Lessons initially last 5-20 minutes and build up to 10-20 minutes over the course of the program. Lessons typically include a short activity related to the lesson theme that varies in structure and content but frequently includes learning problem-solving vocabulary or engaging in short problem-solving dialogues that help students use lesson concepts to solve real-life problems.

Home Connections

Parents and other caregivers can be effective agents of ICPS training or reinforce classroom-based learning. Using a complementary curriculum called Raising a Thinking Child, parents can teach and reinforce the ICPS skills and engage in dialoguing with their children. Much like the classroom program, parents who engage in effective dialoging with their children see greater improvements in children’s behavior than parents who only teach ICPS skills.

New! ICPS Preschool and Kindergarten

This new third edition of I Can Problem Solve (ICPS) for Preschool and Kindergarten, includes a total of 65 lessons. This new resource includes the same effective problem-solving approach and updates conceptual issues, lesson content and directions for implementation.

Lessons should be delivered at least 2-3 times per week, beginning with 5-10 minute lessons and building to 10 or 20 minutes over a 3-5 month period.

It is recommended that the preschool program be delivered to students in small groups of ten students or less.

ICPS for Primary Grades

ICPS for Primary Grades includes a total of 83 lessons, each with an easy-to-follow teacher script.

Lessons should be delivered at least 2-3 times a week, beginning with 5–10-minute lessons and building to 10 or 20 minutes over a 3–5-month period.

Small groups of 6-10 children are ideal but we recognize that the program is often implemented with the entire classroom.

ICPS for Intermediate Elementary Grades

ICPS for Intermediate Grades includes a total of 77 lessons, each with an easy-to-follow teacher script.

Each lesson guides children’s learning of essential ICPS vocabulary, concepts and problem-solving skills.

Lessons should be delivered at least 2-3 times per week, beginning with 5–10-minute lessons and building to 10 or 20 minutes over a 3–5-month period.

Small groups of 6-10 children are ideal but we recognize that the program is often implemented with the entire classroom (20-25 students.)

Importance of training with the program books.

  • Learn the necessary skills to train children to become effective problem solvers

  • Experience practice in applying skills necessary to teach ICPS concepts to children in formal lessons/games

  • Learn how evidenced-based research informs implementation of ICPS with children

  • Facilitate ICPS Dialoguing (Practice how to talk to children in ways that help them apply the concepts learned in the formal lessons, when problems come up in real life with peers and adults.) This approach, called “ICPS Dialoguing” is difficult to learn from reading the manual only.

What is ICPS Dialoguing?

ICPS dialoguing is a two-way conversation, which helps the child become an active participant in problem solving. Children are taught to apply skills learned in ICPS lesson/games, such as emotion vocabulary, ICPS word pairs, and concepts to solve problems concerning hypothetical characters. Educators guide problem-solving dialogue using specific questions when real-life problems occur and encourage children to think about the situation using the skills they have developed. Dialoguing helps children associate how they think with what they do and how they behave.

The ICPS dialoguing ladder is a visual representation of four styles of communicating about problems. It is used as an instructional tool to help teachers become aware of their own communication practices and how their communication practices can be improved. When teachers use ICPS dialoguing, the problem-solving level of communication, the result is an improved classroom climate with less conflict and more cooperation.

Rung 4: Problem Solving Approach
Using specific questions, adult prompts the child to think about the problem, how they and others feel and identify possible solutions and their potential consequences before making a choice. Given skills to think for themselves, children feel empowered, not overpowered, are more likely to carry out their own solutions, and think of genuinely empathic consequences.

Rung 3: Explaining Approach
Adult explains what might happen if a child chooses a particular solution. Again, while a positive approach, the thinking about potential consequences is done by the adult. Child may tune out explanations heard many times before, or because they are unable to understand them.

Rung 2: Suggesting Approach
Adult provides suggestions to children to promote socially adjusted behaviors. While this approach is positive, it is the adult who is doing the thinking for the child. Suggestions can stifle the child’s thinking and the child may not think of what else to do if a solution is unsuccessful.

Rung 1: Power Approach
Adult gives orders or makes demands to elicit changes in the child’s behavior. Behavior change is motivated by the external source, rather than the child’s internal processes. The child may comply to avoid punishment, but may still feel angry or frustrated, and may become immune to feeling overpowered.

ICPS Dialoguing Ladder

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