Teach Your Kids to Code
Public schools have jumped on the teach-kids-to-code band wagon recently. After-school clubs, summer camps, elementary school coding classes, and high school computer science courses are just some of the venues where kids learn to code.
Worldwide, countries are placing high importance on teaching kids to code. Estonia and the U.K. are just a couple. For example, the ProgeTiiger program in Estonia wants to teach coding basics to all first graders in the country, and the U.K. has also placed a high priority on kids learning to code early.
Children are learning programming languages earlier and earlier. So, how young should a child learn to code? Is it the age which they enter high school, middle school, elementary school, or even younger? You’ve probably read to and with your babies and toddlers to keep their screen time to a minimum, so at what age is it appropriate to start teaching kids how to code?
It is the conclusion of some research that teaching kids to code before they can learn to read and write does not make sense. Still, some pioneering teachers are proving that this just isn’t true. J. Paul Gibson was a programming teacher at the university level in Ireland. He told Brendan I. Koerner of Wired that “’Children aged 5-11 have so much potential for learning about algorithms and computation that it would be a shame to wait until they are teenagers before we teach them the foundations.’”
Your child doesn’t need to wait until high school to start learning the basics of coding. Young app and website creators are taking the tech world by storm. Gibson was tired of having his 18 and 19 year-old students in 1998 know less about programming than he did at age 12. That is when he began teaching coding to younger students.
Elementary and middle schoolers have been creating great games and apps for years. We know that they can create great products early in life, so that kids are well-equipped with coding knowledge by the time they enter high school. In fact, Erik Missio of CBC.ca holds that kids can learn the basics from the time they are four or five years old.
Research on second language acquisition suggests that it’s a good idea to teach children another language as early as possible. Their brains can better create “procedural” memories, which are memories that are easy to recall. “Declarative” memory, on the other hand, is used to amass facts, and you have to use a significant amount of mental energy to access those memories. This isn’t so helpful when you have to quickly conjugate a difficult verb in a language that is not your native one. If you learned the verb when you were young, though, you won’t have a very difficult time conjugating it because your procedural memory was stronger as a child than it is as an adult.
Coding lessons for young children do not really focus on memorizing how to use certain tools. They emphasize learning the basic concepts of programming that include sequencing, conditional statements and debugging. When kids learn the rules and conditional statements necessary to create something, they can put them all together and make a new video game, website or app.
In elementary school, the coding teacher doesn’t just place kids in front of computer screens to learn how to write line after line of code. Teachers can employ many activities that don’t use a computer at all to teach the foundations of computational thinking (a way to solve problems by thinking abstractly). Some activities exist in the form of games that encourage kids to collaborate and develop their skills. Some of these activities are available at Code and CSUnplugged.
You can also teach your child how to think computationally at home without a computer. Computational thinking is a life skill that is important for not just coding, but with all types of academic disciplines and in the workplace. If you’re a homeschooler or just want to develop your child’s ability to think computationally, take advantage of the free resources online to help your child discover it.
Free and inexpensive lesson plans and apps are available online and through the app store on your iPad, iPhone, smartphone, or tablet. You child can begin learning to code at any age, but it’s best to start them around preschool age. As they get older, they will understand how software programs are created and how to create one themselves to solve problems of all types. The earlier that children can learn to code, the better prepared they will be for every facet of life.
Kelby Zorgdrager, CEO and Founder of DevelopIntelligence, has held just about every position possible in the technology world, from tech support to CTO. During his last role as a CTO, Kelby quickly realized that there was a distinct need in software development training – blending real-world, project-oriented skills with hands-on, focused training. Since Kelby started DevelopIntelligence, he and his team have been applying their vast software development experiences to create world-class learning solutions within tech companies.