How hard is it to learn the soft skill of problem-solving?

Sixty-two million households watched The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix in the first month of its release. Because of its popularity, interest in chess has shot into the stratosphere. Google searches for how to play hit a nine-year peak and since the show’s debut has added 3.2 million new members. While The Queen’s Gambit is not appropriate for kids, playing chess is because it’s more than a game. Research shows that playing chess improves a kid’s soft skills like creative thinking, abstract reasoning, and problem-solving.

What are soft skills?

Soft skills, also known as non-cognitive skills are the abilities that relate to how we work rather than what we do. They’re complementary to the cognitive or hard skills that are required to complete a task. Employees with well-developed soft skills will be in demand well into the future. The World Economic Forum report The Future of Jobs 2020 states that eight of the ten most important skills recruiters will look for in 2025 are soft skills.

Some of the most in-demand soft skills are:

  • Integrity
  • Dependability
  • Effective communication
  • Open-mindedness
  • Collaboration
  • Creativity
  • Problem-solving
  • Critical thinking
  • Adaptability
  • Organization
  • Willingness to learn
  • Empathy

Soft skills are good for learning

"There's a growing and new understanding of what it takes to be successful as an adolescent and an adult," says Professor Kenneth Dodge, the William McDougall Distinguished Professor of Public Policy and Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Duke University, whose study, Fast Track evaluated the effectiveness of teaching kids soft skills. "It used to be that we thought all it took was academic skills. The conclusion that we would make is that these [soft] skills should be emphasized even more in our education system and in our system of socializing children.”

The Northwestern University  2018 study of high school students in Chicago proved the benefits of developing soft skills in kids. It determined that the schools that focus on developing a kid’s soft skills are producing students with higher grades, fewer absences, and fewer disciplinary issues than the schools working on only improving test scores. The rates of graduation and college attendance are higher as well.

Problem-solving adds more skills to the equation

While problem-solving is listed as its own soft skill, to be effective it combines several including communication, creativity, critical thinking, and adaptability. It’s transferable because it helps kids not only achieve in learning, but manage interpersonal relationships, and resolve conflicts.

Learning to problem-solve increases resilience and enables a kid to look at a challenge from a fresh perspective. Knowing they can solve a problem encourages them to take healthy risks.

A kid who lacks problem-solving skills may freeze in the face of a conundrum and back away from even trying to find a resolution. They don’t consider the possibility of more than one solution.

To solve a problem, find the why

Businesses use a concept called the Five Whys to get to the root cause of a problem. It works for kids, too. With each why they ask, your kid digs deeper to figure out the origins of the issue.  Prepared UNBOXED Guest Master Teacher, Aidan O’Dowd-Ryan who designed the curriculum for the UNBOXED digital learning kit, The Science of Bread explains why a kid should ask why, “Asking why is the biggest thing a student can do scientifically. It’s the methodology they should take to approach a problem.”

Once the problem is identified Aidan suggests designing some ways to test an answer and then try them out. “If it doesn’t work, try something else,” he says “It’s an iterative process.”

This productive struggle develops growth mindset as your kid figures out what works and what doesn’t. Ultimately they develop new and improved strategies.

The Science of Bread is just one of Prepared UNBOXED’s digital learning kits for kids in grade 4 – 9. Each has been developed using the best of learning science to combine academic enrichment with social-emotional skill development.


Solve problems with SODAS

Boys Town, the Nebraska-based organization that provides services for at-risk youth, developed a strategy for problem-solving called the SODAS method.

SODAS is an acronym for






The SODAS method is a structured approach to problem-solving that helps kids think through the advantages and disadvantages of each solution they consider. Use this to work through SODAS with your kid.

The earlier your kid learns to problem-solve, the more confident they’ll feel as they face more challenges ahead. Encourage them to reflect on their solutions. It’ll help them understand not only what works, but who they are, what they care about, and how they might grow.