Whether you have a career in computer science or whether you are a newbie that is interested in supporting your child’s interests, the art of teaching the basics of programing to kids can be a challenging task.
Common questions that we encounter running a successful online kids coding academy are numerous. When is the best age to start? Which coding languages should I teach them first? Should I enroll them in a course or teach them myself? These are just a few of the concerns parents have when they start the planning process.
In the following article, we’ve decided to impart some of the things we’ve learned at CodaKid, with the hopes that parents can get answers to some of their most common questions. If you have additional questions, please feel free to leave them in the comments section below, and we will respond!
1. Start slow
Kids coding lessons can start as early as age 5. Note that though some parents push their children to start with text-based programing languages like Python, visual block languages such as Scratch or Blockly may present a much better starting point. Alternatively, you can employ age-appropriate text-based languages. These can be introduced to young learners as well, especially if they display an aptitude for technical tasks. Text-based programs include programing languages and coding tools that enable children to create real software.
Visual block programing platforms are ideal for young learners to start coding by using a drag and drop, more tactile approach. We suggest that you investigate platforms like Tynker, Scratch and Code.org.
2. Don’t make classes too educational
Coding classes don’t need to revolve around just writing down lines of increasingly complex code. In order to get a child really interested in programming, we recommend implementing their favorite games or apps into the class.
For instance, if they are already spending hours in Minecraft or Roblox, why not teach them code that will help them take their game to the next level? That’s also something we offer here at CodaKid – teaching how to write real code for games and apps, which is an ideal combo of fun and educational material.
3. Discover Coding Games and Apps
Introduction to coding should be as entertaining as possible, and that’s why we advise you to start with apps and games with simple graphics and animations, rather than raw lines of code.
For instance, Daisy the Dinosaur is quite popular with the youngest learners. By controlling the main character Daisy through a series of challenges including loops and events, a child is introduced to the basic principles of coding.
Hopscotch comes from the same development team as Daisy the Dinosaur, and is suitable for children between the ages of 7 and 10. In this game kids get the opportunity to select and pre-set characters or create objects to manipulate. While it may seem pretty basic, the possibilities are actually endless and the game leaves enough room for your child to get creative on her own.
Our personal favorite, MIT Media Lab’s Scratch (mentioned above) is another interesting programming tool which comes with a rich gallery of objects that a child can customize. As the original visual block platform, it is very popular among kids, parents and educators, as a child can develop their own stories and games and even introduce their own sound effects.
App Inventor can be fun for older, more mature learners. Although it resembles Scratch, it contains every function, method and coding element that is used in the creation of a basic Android app. The best part is – in the end you wind up with an actual app.
4. Try screen free programming exercises and games
Aside from combining coding classes with computer games, include off-screen activities in the learning process, as well. If you chose the very first toys carefully, you can start developing their problem-solving skills from early on.
- Myland Interactive Houseboat introduces a child to the concept of cause and effect, through something as simple as color-matching.
- Fisher-Price Think & Learn Code-a-Pillar is a toy you pull apart to reassemble in any order. When you hit the Go button, you see a code-a-pillar behave depending on the order of the segments.
- With Go Robot Mouse a child can build her own maze and then watch a mouse make its way to the finish line where it receives the cheese. Kids are challenged to think critically, solve problems along the way effectively, and are at the top introduced to the notion of sequencing, the basis of every code.
- Products like Potato Pirates teach kids loops and conditionals through a fun, engaging card game. Potatoes, Pirates, and Programming – What more can you ask for?
5. Make coding tangible.
What makes a child quit or lose interest in a subject is their inability to connect abstract concepts they are learning with the real-world.
Make sure that they are aware of the outcome of the lesson – once a child sees what a line of code can do, a spark of creativity will be lit in them, as a result inspiring them to try to write a code themselves to create something that would be of interest to them.
6. Do it together
Computer programing can be a great opportunity to spend quality time with your child. According to Bryson Payne, author of “Teach Your Kids to Code”, children under the age of 8 learn best under some kind of supervision.
Just remember to let them be the ones who click the mouse button, tap the screen or type on the keyboard. By letting them drive the process, they will be more engaged and more apt to stick with it.
7. Enroll them at a code academy or online course and/or find a tutor.
Coding academies and online courses can provide a structured way to teach kids coding. Enabling your child to work with experienced tutors will give them a solid introduction to concepts such as conditionals, variables, booleans, methods and similar.
8. Bottom line: Don’t push it.
As the majority of schools don’t have coding classes as a part of their curriculum, many children are not even aware of their interest or talent for computer programing until their parents introduce them to a programing language. However, although Generation Z in general has a real potential to become the most tech-savvy generation in history, it is important to remember that not every child will develop interest in coding.
Forcing them to take courses that they are not interested in may only serve to drive them to the opposite direction. After all, though a child might not be keen on coding at an early age, this does not mean they will not express the desire to take it up later in life.
However, if your child does show an interest in computer programing, it is essential for parents to learn how to approach the process the right way, and to use project that the child finds engaging.
Have any other ideas that you think would be helpful to parents who want to teach their kids to code?