Clark Elementary's FLL team coding together. Photo credit: Adrienne Unertl.

Life skills for children make all the difference. And sometimes life skills can be taught in surprising ways. For example, through fun with coding. So today we're going to reveal the expected (and unexpected!) life skills students pick up while embarking on their computer science adventures.

Beyond life skills, coding for kids also provides students with advantages for their future careers. Technology, such as smartphones and computers, is such an integral part of our daily lives. By mastering the skills to create technology, they'll be well equipped.

10 Life skills for children that can be learned through coding

There are a handful of life skills students gain beyond the obvious, while learning to code. Many of these skills go on to benefit them on a daily basis. Here we take a look at a few, from critical thinking to determination, and more.

1. Critical thinking is a life skill for kids

Your child might begin with no prior knowledge of coding, so along the way they're sure to pick up critical thinking skills. On this journey, they will learn to program the same result using different blocks and compare each other’s code to see each other’s thought processes. When someone gets stuck, the group will get together. They'll ask what worked and find out where it went awry.

Furthermore, they'll be challenged to write “pretty code”, meaning writing code most efficiently, or using the least number of blocks. When students make their code “pretty”, it’s easier to debug and others can understand it quickly.

2. Perseverance is another life skill

Throughout hours of education, students are not always going to get the program correct on the first try. This can be really frustrating for a number of students, because they are good students and used to everything coming easily to them. All of a sudden, they might be “struggling”.

Really what they will learn as a result is to keep working at the problem and not give up. Your child will soon realize that nothing is “hard”, just “challenging.” And that it can always be worked through together. Also, they'll get an amazing feeling once they figure it out!

3. Problem solving

Students begin to look at coding challenges in new ways. No longer about just solving a puzzle, it will become a challenge to break it into smaller steps. And then write succinct code. They will start to ask each other questions, such as: “Should I solve it this way or would it be better to do it another way?” Sometimes they even physically walk through some of the puzzles and then sit down and code their movements.

Often, children will talk out loud, guiding themselves through the puzzle of the code. They might event look at each other’s code. Not to cheat, but to understand what someone else did that is working. They become good at asking very specific questions and finding patterns in their code. Then replacing the patterns with loops. They learn about conditionals and if-then statements.

4. Processing skills are a great life skill for children

Because of coding classes, students begin looking at the world different. And thinking about way to improve what they are doing. Sometimes that means they even become more engaged in other areas of school work.

As just one example, there was once a student who, on timed math fact games, didn’t get done as quickly as other students even though we knew she knew the information. However, if we had her code a puzzle on the computer for 15 minutes before she started the math game, she was able to complete the math game as quickly or quicker than other students. Therefore, by coding first, her brain became more engaged and allowed her to process other things better!

5. Courage to try new things

Coding classes sometimes cover more advanced concepts than the students' grade level. By preparing students and incentivizing them to learn one skill in order to move to the next, they quickly learn they can try new things. As just one example, we told students "if they were willing to go on this journey with us we would purchase a LEGO EV3 kit to program." As a result, kids become eager to eat up the new material in a safe environment, and rarely complained. They just thought it was new material!

You will quickly find that students begin asking how to program more and more complex things to make their games more realistic. Students will no longer fear asking, “What do you think would happen if we did this?” They just try it and if it doesn't work, they try again. If it does work, they share with their classmates to help them learn new skills.

6. Determination is a critical life skill for children

Children's determination soars as they decide they want to solve puzzles. They become more confident. Once they know they want to program a sprite, in Scratch, for example, the question then just became “How?” By consistently trying to find the answers, they learn to figure things out.

While some days will seem unproductive, children will learn that if they really want something they have to work on it and through it. They'll realize they can debug and solve their own problems, no matter how big or how small.

7. Creativity is taught through coding for kids

Students learn to express their creativity through coding, by creating their own projects. For example, they can design their sprites and backgrounds. In addition to adding customized music, and creating their own themes. Basically they design their own stories. As they add more and more details, their engagement will soar.

8. Meaningful context

While coding, students put meaning to learning. They start to understand how important the context of their coding is, and can apply the learnings to similar contexts. For example, once students learn how to program an artist to draw different shapes, they can also figure out how to make a robot move.

Once they learn about movement, they can dig in to get very specific with movements. For example, they might want to make their Scratch sprite glide over a concrete space. Often, by vocalizing their questions, they will break their own thought process into the steps needed to succeed. They find a purpose for what they are doing, by understanding the broader environment.

9. Math skills

Students pick up math skills through coding through many puzzles. For example, drawing shapes creates conversations about angles, degrees, and sides. They'll learn there are 360 degrees in a circle, discuss the number of sides in a hexagon, and the difference between an interior angle and an exterior angle.

They'll also learn about the four quadrants in Scratch, so that they understand why X is negative in the upper left-hand corner and Y is positive. They'll learn about sequencing, and how order of code, just like order of operations, is important. Math will take on a whole new meaning for students!

10. Overcoming gender barriers

When students learn to code with others, gender becomes less of a barrier. Each student can identify the concepts in which they excel, and begin to rely on advice from each other. Eventually students quit asking the teacher questions, and become a community of coders recognizing each has something to offer. So all kids learn together, and help each other test and debug their games. Which improves their relationships outside of the classroom as well.

Coding teaches so many life skills for children

As students learn to code through online classes, in disciplines such as robotics for kids, they pick up many more skills that benefit them throughout their lives.

Students become confident, productive, and thoughtful learners. They learn to understand that life is full of challenges to overcome. They become ready to embrace new opportunities even when they aren't sure they are ready for them.

Up next, discover STEM learning ideas to get kids excited about all that computer science education has to offer.

Written by Adrienne Unertl, the 2017 Wyoming Elementary STEM Educator of the Year, who's taught over 600 students in small, project-based classes focusing on STEM, computer science, and more.