Whether playing sports, doing chores, or completing homework, children encounter challenges in their daily lives just as we all do. But unlike us, children are still developing the tools they need to face these challenges, so we need to do whatever we can to encourage them.
One of the most useful tools for children to develop is skills for critical thinking and problem-solving. Research suggests that teaching problem-solving to children can improve their mental health and reduce the risk of developing long-term psychological issues. The question is how to teach such abstract skills to young children.
Coding is the act of writing instructions for a computer to perform a task. This discipline naturally encourages problem-solving and develops more logical thinking. Coding can help children understand advanced technology and navigate in the digital age.
Problem-solving in coding
A child must undergo the problem-solving process to complete a coding task or project. This process involves going through a specific series of steps, which are:
1) Defining a problem and setting a goal
The codes a programmer writes do not always work on the first try. Failure on the first attempt is a normal part of life as well as coding, and young coders often approach this challenge the same way young children do: focusing on quick, short-term solutions rather than taking their time and thinking about the big picture.
Coding teaches the value of this approach by starting with determining your goal. Common goals in coding include:
- bringing an idea to reality
- fixing broken code
- improving an existing coding framework
These goals map neatly onto many other areas of a child’s daily life, whether they’re playing games, working in the classroom, or helping around the house. Through coding, children can learn how to identify their goals and how they relate to the problems they’re trying to solve.
Once you have a problem in mind, brainstorming is the next logical step. This is a great way to encourage problem-solving in children because it taps into their creativity and free expression to find as many solutions as they can imagine. Some will be sillier than others, but that’s all part of the process. Besides, any coder will tell you that it doesn’t matter how silly a solution is so long as it actually works.
Decomposition involves breaking down a complex process into simple steps that are easier to tackle. This step is crucial for identifying errors in the coding framework.
As an example, suppose a child’s goal is to get a cookie, and their solution was to buy one from a store. Working with the child to decompose all the steps involved in going to the store to buy a cookie can help them see the gaps in their reasoning. (“How would you get to the store? What would you use to pay?”)
Decomposition allows children to take on more complicated coding projects, like developing computer games, which in turn gives them a great sense of accomplishment. However you apply it, breaking complex tasks down into more manageable chunks is a valuable skill to have.
4. Picking a solution (decision-making)
With a defined problem, a set of potential solutions, and a breakdown of the plan for getting from one to the other, it’s time for the young coder to make a decision. This can involve weighing pros and cons individually or it can be part of a larger group discussion. In either case, coding gives children the opportunity to work through the decision-making process on a small scale to help prepare them for making bigger decisions throughout their lives.
5. Testing the solution
This step is the logical counterpart to decomposition: once the solution is built, each step in the process needs to be tested. A particular testing method used in coding is called iterative testing and involves testing smaller chunks of code individually to make sure they work. Taking this approach means that coders do not need to wait until the entire project is completed to detect errors and make adjustments, which makes the entire process more efficient in terms of both time and effort.
Thinking in these terms is a skill children can use beyond coding. They can consider their immediate actions and evaluate whether they are helping them achieve the desired goal. Take tidying up in the classroom, as an example: if the goal is to keep the cloakroom organized, each child contributes to that goal by putting their own things away; if someone leaves their coat on the floor, that immediate action can be reflected on in light of the larger goal.
In coding, debugging usually comes after a test fails or as the result of a newly uncovered issue. The key is to know the exact problem, instead of just knowing that there is a problem. The debugging process in coding usually involves using a well-designed test to spot the bug or error.
To debug successfully, children must have a good understanding of the different parts of the coding framework. In real-world applications, evaluating is equivalent to debugging. When children learn to evaluate solutions and outcomes, it will help them “debug” their own behavior to recognize whether they have made the best possible decision.
Logical thinking in coding
Logic is the foundation of all computer programming. Coders must write their programs with the correct syntax (structure) and semantics (meaning) in order for them to work.
When children start to code, they will learn that they need to execute steps in a particular order for their program to solve the target problem. This includes writing formulas, creating conditional statements (if A, then B, C), and defining variables. All of these tasks require logical reasoning.
The logic of coding is the same used in mathematics (math itself is just one kind of logical system). Thus, children who practice coding have a higher chance of improving their math skills.
Aside from learning the logic of writing codes, children who code can also learn a different kind of logical reasoning that is considered a soft skill. This kind of logical thinking affects personality traits, builds work habits, and develops life skills for kids.
Children who think logically, can:
- analyze information
- make decisions
- plan carefully
- pay attention to details
- solve problems
- justify their decisions
Logic and problem-solving skills are not just important for children to get high marks in school. These skills are also key to managing their everyday life. Studies have shown that logical reasoning and problem-solving abilities can be particularly beneficial for children with disabilities.
If solving problems is difficult for children, they may avoid facing problems altogether. They may also not be able to make better choices and reflect on their actions. Poor problem-solving skills lead to a lack of self-confidence to take on challenges and build good relationships.
Coding has the power to transform children into logical thinkers and superior problem solvers. Therefore, parents and educators must do their part and provide plenty of opportunities for children to code and enhance their logic and problem-solving skills.