As parents, it’s so easy for us to rely on the school system to teach our children what they “need” to be taught. And for the most part, that is a solid plan and works well. Except when it comes to changes and innovations in the world around us.
By nature, our school systems and curriculums change very slowly and very carefully. Which is 100% what we want—we don’t want our kids being taught every new development every few weeks… I mean, really, new math is enough for a lifetime!
What this does mean is that sometimes kids miss out on the skills they will need to innovate for the future—I’m talking about the ever-evolving field of STEM and more specifically, computer programming.
Whether we are aware of it or not, coding touches all aspects of our lives. From our phones to our email accounts to our wifi-enabled thermostats, coding is a huge part of everything we do daily. And it is a big part of what future innovations and career paths will look like, and not just for computer programmers. Doctors, lawyers, mechanics, engineers, and more will see the impact of coding and programming in their work.
There is now a focus on Technology Literacy in schools which means that kids are being introduced to coding in some form or another. But coding is still not something that is adequately covered in schools.
The good news is that there are a lot of resources—both free and paid—on the internet that can help you get your kids interested in and excited about coding.
When should your kids start learning to code?
While coding is a complex skillset, the good news is that your kids can start developing some of the basic skills needed as early as grade 1. They can start by working on problem-solving and basic sequencing skills—while this is not technically coding, they are skills that all coders need to use daily. Additionally, they will help with other aspects of learning including math and science.
Raye Ackerman from TechyKids has found that real coding for kids can start from Grade 3 through the process of “gamification”—basically, your kid is having so much fun they don’t even realize that they are coding.
What tools will your kids need to start coding?
You will need a computer as well as some software to get your kids into coding. There are kits you can buy to help kids learn to code with a computer that focuses on gamification and connecting their real-world actions with the world they build on a computer or iPad—Osmo Coding Starter Kit is great for kids from 5-10 years old and their Little Genius Starter Kit is great for kids 3–5 years old.
If you are looking for a more straightforward route, there are a lot of online programs that can help your kids learn to code. Ackerman suggests Coding.org as a great place to start as it was designed to teach kids to code. “It starts with what is considered ‘Block’ coding which is drag and drop based and transitions into proper text coding as the students progress and gain keyboarding skills,” Ackerman says.
Kids can also turn to classes that focus on elements of coding that they are interested in. DigiTeens offers a variety of programs that focus on robotics, game design, and artificial intelligence which allow kids (ages 7 to 15+) to tap into their interest and turn them into a fun educational experience.
What programming languages should they be learning?
If you aren’t familiar with the world of computer programming, you might not realize just how many options there are when it comes to what language you learn. Currently, Wikipedia has about 700 languages listed and other lists that focus on the more popular, most-used languages still top out at an astounding 245 languages. So, we turned to the experts to ask them what languages they feel are most accessible to kids just starting.
Kids Code Jeunesse suggests starting with a kid-friendly language like Scratch. The platform was created over a decade ago by MIT and features blocks that work like digital LEGO. You can be comfortable letting your kids participate in the projects because “the community that kids create there is safe and well moderated,” according to the team at Kids Code Jeunesse.
At TechyKids, Ackerman highlights that the coding language itself is not as important as it used to be. So many coding languages are now interchangeable and most programmers have a working knowledge of more than one language.
We’re going to break down the 5 languages that are perfect for kids—some of them were designed specifically for kids!
- Scratch — We already mentioned Scratch before, but it’s worth digging into a bit more. It uses a block interface that means young kids don’t have to worry about typing (when typing might not be a skill they have mastered). It simplifies the process of creating meaning kids can feel like game designers and storytellers, quickly and easily.
- Blockly — Developed by Google, Blockly works much the same as Scratch—you use building blocks to master code. The main difference is that Blockly is actually a programming language that was made by combining several pre-existing programming languages.
- Python — While not built specifically for kids, Python is a text-based computer programming language that can be learned by kids as young as 8. It’s a great place for kids to start learning to program and also is powerful enough for more serious programming and development.
- Lua (Roblox) — If you haven’t heard of Roblox, please tell me your secret! Lua is a scripting language that introduces kids to text-based coding. Lua is free, easy-to-use and completely beginner-friendly. And best of all Roblox Studios uses it, meaning your kids can create their own adventures within their favourite game!
Why now is a great time to start coding with your kids
With online learning, a big part of a lot of our lives and our kids spending more and more of their time on computers and tablets now is a great time to introduce coding to your kids. It is an educational use of their screen time and it might just give you enough time to get a hot cup of coffee in you—for once!