Why Kids Should Learn To Code (And How To Get Them Started)
By Erik Missio
Photography by istockphoto/monkeybusinessimages
Jun 9, 2015
Think your kids are too young to learn to code? Think again.
Coding (also called programming or developing) is telling a computer, app, phone or website what you want it to do. Some educators and experts are calling it the ‘new literacy’—a subject so important that every child needs to know the basics to excel in our rapidly changing world.
Four- and five-year-olds can learn the foundations of coding and computer commands before they can even write and spell words. Older kids can learn to code through classes, mentors and online tutorials (see below for learn-to-code resources for all ages).
Learning to code prepares kids for the world we live in today. There are tons of jobs and occupations that use code directly, like web designers, software developers and robotics engineers, and even more where knowing how to code is a huge asset—jobs in manufacturing, nanotechnology or information sciences. However, for most kid-coding advocates, reasons for learning to code run much deeper than career prep.
Four- and five-year-olds can learn the foundations of coding and computer commands before they can even write and spell words.
Understanding Code Helps Explain The World
Today, computing is involved in almost all aspects of our lives, from communications and education to social media, banking, information, security and shopping. Networked computers are capable of controlling our homes’ thermostats and lighting, our cars and our health records.
If grade-schoolers are taught biology and mathematics in order to understand the world around them, then knowing the basics of how computers communicate—and how to engage with them—should be a given.
Learning To Code Develops Problem Solving and Computational Thinking Skills
The skills that come with computer programming help kids develop new ways of thinking and foster problem-solving techniques that can have big repercussions in other areas.
Computational thinking allows preschoolers to grasp concepts like algorithms, recursion and heuristics—even if they don’t understand the terms, they’ll learn the basic concepts (and for parents who don’t understand these terms, this article from Mother Jones explains the basics of computational thinking by comparing it to following a recipe for dinner).
Coding is Fun!
Beyond the practical reasons for learning how to code, there’s the fact that creating a game or animation can be really fun for kids.
Andrew Duff, a father of two from Toronto, introduced his kids to coding though Hour of Code, a series of one-hour tutorials that teach the basics of coding and computer science. More than 119 million people have tried the Hour of Code since it was introduced in 2013.
“My wife and I wanted our kids to be introduced to computer coding, with the hope they’d develop their love of making things,” he says. “They both love video games and making stuff with cardboard, paper and Lego. So when we heard about the free coding lessons, we thought it would be a great opportunity for the kids to see how games are made and possibly ignite a new kind of maker passion.”
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Andrew’s nine-year-old daughter Ava started with a Frozen learn-to-code game from Hour of Code. “I like that it wasn’t too hard to do any of the coding and not too easy either, just the right challenge,” she says. “I’d like to learn how to make my own games, show people how to play my games and help teach other people how to make games too.”
Her seven-year-old brother Jasper agrees. “I did the Frozen games too,” he explains. “Then, I made my own Flappy Bird game. I liked that you could make the Flappy Bird go up or down. I liked that I could make the game just the way I wanted it to be.”
How to Introduce Your Kids to Code
Interested in getting your kids involved with coding? Try searching online for coding camps or courses in your community, or try one of hundreds of online courses, programs and apps that use cool graphics and simple tutorials dressed up as games to help kids learn to code.
A few suggestions to get you started:
- Kids Code Jeunesse: Teaches free computing classes in schools and offers free lessons and resources for parents. If you’d like your child to learn to code in school, have their teacher or principal contact Kids Code Jeunesse.
- National Girls Learning Code Day: On November 7, 2015, girls between 8 - 13 can learn HTML & CSS to make their very first websites. For free!
- Robot Turtles: A crowd-funded board game for ages four and up. Teaches basic coding skills and computational thinking.
- SCRATCH: A program from MIT that lets kids create games and animations without learning programming text—it’s a drag-and-drop way to learn computer concepts and have fun.
- Raspberry Pi: An inexpensive (about $50) credit-card sized computer that can be programmed just like a desktop PC. Can be used as a learning tool and a full-service computer by kids and adults alike!
- LEGO WeDo: The step between traditional building blocks and robotics, this Lego series allows kids to build models with programmable motors and sensor.
- Kodable: Designed for users as young as five, this iPad app boasts the tagline “Learn to code before you know how to read.” It uses games that subtly teach coding with few instructions.
- Tynker: For kids who can already read, this app for Android and iOS helps teach programming logic with visual code blocks.