Problem Solving Skills for Kids
Kids of all ages inevitably run across problems. Families and educators can try to directly help solve the child’s problem, but an even better way to help is by teaching problem solving skills!
When we’re teaching children to be problem solvers, we give them a skill set that is an important factor in academic success. Beyond just academics, kids problem-solving skills provide benefits for their future career opportunities, enhance their confidence, and help them find possible solutions to the basic problems they encounter on a daily basis.
Why use coding to teach problem solving?
One of the most fun ways to teach problem solving is through coding. Coding for kids develops brainstorming, creative thinking, and decision-making skills, all of which are necessary for solving a variety of problems.
As kids get older, there are several ways these skills can be taught, but a significant advantage of coding is that it offers the opportunity to introduce these skills at an even younger age. This gives your student a significant head start on their problem-solving skills.
In this article, we’ll show you the problem-solving steps that your student will be learning while they are coding. Let’s get started!
Whether dealing with a coding challenge or their own problem in the offline world, planning is a crucial part of the process.
Children learn to figure out their goal and where they are starting from. From there, they brainstorm ideas for potential solutions, and determine which ones offer the best solution with the least negative consequences.
It all sounds like a lot, but this is why the planning phase is so important to a child’s problem-solving abilities. Next time they lose their backpack, instead of panicking, they will start planning. They will be able to consider options like leaving the backpack behind, searching until it is found, or using something else in place of the backpack – each with its own pros and cons.
Once you have a solution planned out, it’s time to talk about decomposition.
When kids play with toys like legos, they often have instruction manuals where complicated build processes have been broken down into several simpler steps. An important task for programmers is similarly decomposing a process into steps small enough for a computer to understand.
Learning this process is another goal of coding for kids. Decomposition is what will eventually allow them to build more and more complicated projects — including their own games (who doesn’t want to build the next Minecraft?) or other similarly-complex computer programs.
Decomposition is also a crucial skill outside of coding. Whether your student is writing an essay, solving a complicated math problem, or planning a holiday meal, they will benefit from the improved ability to break the task down into smaller chunks that can be addressed in a less overwhelming manner.
With decomposition comes another useful skill: iterative testing.
This is the process of testing each step instead of waiting for the whole project to be complete — allowing mistakes to be caught earlier in the process. It’s always better to recognize an error after an hour of code rather than waiting until you’ve spent days or even weeks on a project.
Coming back to the lego example, when a child checks whether an individual step was done correctly — verifying that it looks like the image shown and used all the right pieces — they are already doing iterative testing. As they become coders, they are just improving on this process by applying their critical thinking skills to design even better tests.
As with decomposition, iterative testing is readily applicable beyond the world of code. Many goals in life take a long time to reach, but you don’t want to wait until the end to determine whether all is going well. Putting together a desk, training for a marathon, and writing a book are all examples of lengthy tasks that can benefit from the iterative testing skills learned while coding.
What do you do when a test fails or when your project is not working correctly? You debug it!
The ability to go from something is wrong to this is exactly what is wrong is incredibly important in coding and in problem-solving for other fields.
The better a child understands the previous fundamentals, the easier debugging will be. A well-designed test makes it easy to spot where a bug occurred, and a good understanding of algorithms and their component parts makes it much easier to determine why the bug occurred.
Once a child knows how to debug software, the real-world applications of that skill are endless. For now, it might mean figuring out why a math problem is not matching the solution. Down the road, careers from plumbing to medicine involve a heavy amount of debugging skills.
5. Finding Help
In the 21st century, help is always at your fingertips — you just need to know how to look for it! This is certainly not just a coding skill, as even unplugged activities can benefit from improved research skills.
Learning how to find help will be beneficial whether your student is looking to solve a specific problem or better understand programming concepts, game design, and other new skills. The real-world applications of this ability are endless — few if any career fields don’t benefit from enhanced web search skills.
This is not strictly part of the problem-solving process, but it’s equally important to help children learn to communicate the results of their problems-solving efforts. Learning to communicate results reinforces the child’s learning and introduces additional social skills such as empathy, storytelling, and persuasion.
The confidence that comes with communicating your successes is a particularly important outcome. It’s one thing to understand the right answer to, for instance, a math problem. It’s another altogether to be confident in your answer and in your ability to articulate it in front of your peers and others.
Equally important is learning to communicate and problem-solve together with other children in a group setting. This is a skill that will help in other group projects as well as when working with co-workers in the child’s future career. Collaborative problem-solving can be learned through regular group coding projects, and another exciting way to enhance teamwork practice can be through kids hackathon events.