Coding for kids – or computer programming for kids – is rapidly growing in popularity. With how dependent society has become on technology (especially now), it comes as no surprise that more and more people are looking into this seemingly unattainable skill and thinking; could I learn that?
Parents are especially enamored with the idea of their kids learning to code, with a recent poll indicating that 90% of U.S. parents would like coding for kids to be a part of school curriculums.
And why not? Learning how to code at a young age can set your child up for a lifetime of success. Thanks to the normalization of online learning, more kids are comfortable with the idea of extra classes taken via online coding academies and programs.
In this guide, we’re going to discuss coding for kids: the benefits, the statistics, and why this particular brand of computer literacy is so important right now.
(And if you’re interested in a deeper dive into the more technical aspects of why coding for kids is so important, check out my article on Computer Coding for Kids: Is it a Fad or an Essential New Literacy?)
What is Coding?
Coding (or programming) is basically a creative process executed by computer programmers wherein they tell a computer or machine how to perform a specific task. It involves writing executable scripts using computer programming languages like Java or Python.
Some see coding as a way of communicating with computers. Programmers give computers instructions, and the computer carries them out. People who know how to code (i.e., coders, programmers, developers) can create games, apps, computer software, websites, and interactive digital content.
Is Coding Good for Kids?
Young minds are adaptable and malleable. They are quickly able to absorb and retain knowledge. Kids that are exposed to coding at a very young age, have the benefit of learning how to critically assess situations, explore different perspectives, construct creative solutions, and execute the trial-and-error learning process. The earlier kids learn how to code, the easier it will be for them to master this skill—and all the subsequent skills coding encourages. These skills are as follows:
Coding Promotes Logical & Critical Thinking
Coding for kids encourages logic, reasoning, and critical thinking.
Several recent studies have found a positive correlation between computer programming and cognitive skills. According to the results, students who knew how to code typically scored higher on cognitive ability tests than those who had little to no programming experience. An MIT study also highlighted that computer programming could be advantageous for cognitive development.
When kids learn to code, they are taught how to break complex problems down into smaller, more manageable pieces in order to write functional scripts. This process is called decomposition, and it is a valuable skill that children will find incredibly useful every time they’re confronted with real-life complications.
And it doesn’t end at decomposition. Because coding follows a similar approach to problem-solving, kids who code have an advantage in developing this skill.
In coding, a programmer needs to (a) identify the problem, (b) analyze it, (c) create a viable solution, (d) test the solution, and (e) repeat the process if the problem is not addressed.
(If you want to know why problem-solving is such an important skill, I have an article on why it’s The #1 Skill That All Kids Need to be Successful in an Uncertain Future. Do give it a read!)
As kids learn to code, they become familiar – and ultimately comfortable – with the problem-solving process. The more they get used to writing, rewriting, troubleshooting, and debugging lines upon lines of code, the more it becomes second nature for them to cycle through the steps and execute them properly.
Coding Promotes Focus & Creativity
Because computer programming seems so technical, a lot of people don’t equate it with creative thinking—especially given how methodical and procedural the act of coding can be. But programmers know this all too well: coding can promote creativity. In fact, a certain level of creative thinking is required when you’re programming from scratch.
Think about it; kids who know how to code can develop apps, games, animations, websites, and more. They can create interactive content by writing down lines of existing code (or snapping together some blocks, seeing as block coding is a popular format of coding for kids), but the actual blueprint for that content comes from their imagination.
Once kids learn how to code, the way they consume digital media and technology changes. Every time they try out a new app or play a new video game, they could draw inspiration for their own creation. They could look at, say, an online fighting game and wonder; what if this was an adventure game instead? And with their coding knowledge, they could make this hypothetical a reality.
Coding can be a viable outlet for their creative expression. Some kids draw. Some kids play an instrument or sing. Some kids code.
And with this creativity comes a certain level of focus, too. See, when kids develop a program, they have to consider all aspects of it in order to write the corresponding code.
Let’s take developing a video game as an example. Kids will have to write code to make a character walk forwards, backward, and maybe even side to side. They’ll have to write code so that the character can jump or dodge. They also have to consider how a character interacts with the environment, and then write code that covers all eventual outcomes following that interaction (i.e., if a character picks up an object, if a character destroys an object, if a character uses an object, etc.).
It’s a lot to think about. If a child doesn’t have the right amount of focus and organization, they may end up coding a lot of bugs or filler in their script instead.
Coding Encourages Confidence & Resilience
If you’ve ever tried coding (or even watched someone code) you probably have an inkling of how precise it can be. Especially text-based coding! Block coding is a little more forgivable, but text-based coding requires perfect syntax. One comma or semicolon out of place is enough to render a script useless.
As their scripts grow more and more complicated, kids will no doubt become well-acquainted with the painstaking process of writing, running, debugging, re-writing, and re-running their code. This can teach patience and reward resilience like nothing else.
On top of that, kids who code tend to become more certain and confident in their decisions (as compared to children who don’t). Building successful, working scripts can be extremely difficult—but more so when you’re constantly second-guessing yourself.
Ergo, child coders learn to be comfortable with and sure of their decisions. Their ability to bounce back after repeated failure is incredibly inspiring, and the confidence that eventually instills in them carries on to many different areas of their life (both social and personal).
Why is Kids Coding an Investment in Your Child’s Future?
As our society becomes more and more dependent on technology and the internet, the demand for experienced coders and developers rises exponentially. Programming is no longer a skill limited to industries in the tech sector.
Education, finance, health, retail—these categories that are seemingly far removed from technology all have careers that require a certain level of programming knowledge. Kids who know how to code have a definite advantage over their peers who don’t possess the same technological know-how.
In fact, here are some interesting career facts to consider:
- According to an analysis of the job market in 2016, jobs that required coding skills paid $22,000/year more than jobs that didn’t
- The same job market report stated that general programming jobs grew 12% faster than the market average
- Marketing specialists reveal that applicants with a basic understanding of how programming languages work have a clear advantage over those that don’t
- The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has unveiled a pilot scheme to effectively promote coding into the curriculum at New Hampshire
As you can see, coding is slowly becoming a basic skill that many employers look for in candidates, regardless of the job title or career. It’s like computer literacy. Back then, when computers were massive machines that took up half the room, knowing how to work it was a very specific skill set that not many people had—and they were okay with that. Now?
If you don’t know how to type and send a simple email, you probably won’t get very far with new job opportunities.
Coding is the new computer literacy. Many employers and tech recruiters agree that applicants who know even the basics of coding stand out. They are more likely to be considered over their peers who don’t possess the same knowledge. And when basic programming eventually becomes a required skill set (under computer literacy), kids who already possess the foundations won’t have too much trouble adapting.
Even out of the context of careers and job opportunities, kids who code will find it easier to keep up in a world practically ruled by AI and technology. Websites, applications, smart devices, smart technology—these are all things the average person can no longer live without. And they all largely depend on code in order to function. A number of professionals in the UK believe that programming language will eventually become as essential to us as human language is today.
If your child possesses sufficient coding skills, they’ll have an easier time navigating their surroundings in the future.
At What Age Can a Child Start Coding?
According to the cognitive-development theory penned by Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget in 1971, children at the age of 5 are in what he called the preoperational stage. At this stage, a child begins to understand the world through the use of mental representations via words and images.
Following this theory – and the more modern accessibility of educational tools and technology – many experts agree that a child can start learning to code at 5 years old.
Now, some parents may feel apprehensive about this age. Many don’t want to risk prematurely introducing coding to their kids. And we understand the concern.
For one, traditional coding is a completely new language. Children learn to speak at completely different paces. Some take to communication like a duck to water. Others find it difficult to verbally express themselves. So teaching kids how to code when they can barely speak the human language can be overwhelming and counterproductive.
For another, text-based coding can be complicated. There are a lot of numbers, sequences, and syntactical elements involved. As with the previous point, trying to teach a child about loops, functions, and conditionals when they can’t even count up to 20 may prove extremely difficult.
But did you know that coding basics can be gamified (and simplified) to make it more kid-friendly?
Plenty of apps and websites that teach coding for kids choose to do so through block-based coding. They incorporate visual coding blocks into fun, colorful games that would typically engage and educate a child. The combination of block coding and vibrant visuals within a game setting makes programming much less intimidating.
What’s more, recent psychological studies show that children under the age of 7 are capable of rapidly acquiring more than one language. Given that computer programming is a whole vernacular, it’s not too much of a stretch to believe a 5-year-old perfectly capable of learning it, too.
The governments of Britain, Estonia, and Finland seem to think so, given how they’re starting serious initiatives to make coding a part of the school curriculum for children aged 5 and up.
How Can You Get Your Child Interested in Coding?
If your child is already interested in computer programming, coding, and/or game/app development, you probably won’t have to do much to convince them. It would be more a matter of finding online coding courses that you can both agree on (in terms of budget, curriculum, schedule, and so on). But if your kid doesn’t seem excited about computer sciences/STEM subjects, there are a few ways you can pique their interest:
Combine it With Their Current Passion
Earlier, we mentioned that coding can be gamified to make it more engaging to younger audiences. You can apply the same concept to spark your kids’ interest in coding. Because the beauty of coding is that it can be quite versatile. Here are some ways coding for kids can be implemented in different hobbies:
- Toys. Does your kid prefer playing with toys overlooking a computer screen? Not a problem at all. There are plenty of fun, unplugged toys that cover the basics of STEM and coding. Our suggestions? Code Car: The Fastest Start with Typed Coding, ThinkFun Gravity Maze Marble Run Logic Game, and Learning Resources Coding Critters.
- Robots. If your kid is into robots, they’re this close to jumping on coding, I can promise you that. Plenty of coding for kids kits out there involve a programmable robot. Cozmo Coding Toy is a popular one. So is Wonder Workshop Dash – Coding Robot for Kids. And if your kid loves Sesame Street, WowWee Elmoji is a great choice.
- Building. LEGO remains one of the best toys for budding builders and tinkerers. Their ability to recognize and meet public demand – with regards to LEGO kit themes and concepts – is nothing short of astonishing. Check out their LEGO Boost Robotics Creative Toolbox or their LEGO City Arctic Scout Truck for a great way to teach kids coding concepts using their favorite building blocks.
- Drawing/Painting. If your kid loves drawing, you can introduce them to animation tools that can help bring their artistic creations to life! For instance, Scratch is a kid-friendly coding platform that allows children to create interactive stories, games, and animations using Scratch’s own block-based programming language. Kids can upload their own backgrounds and characters (called Sprites) to the platform to personalize their projects.
- Video Games/Mobile Games. Kids who love computer games and mobile games could be interested in making their own. Avid gamers can learn basic programming skills through wildly popular computer games like Minecraft and Roblox.
Learn Coding with Them
Although independence can be incredibly rewarding, a lot of kids would still prefer having their parents with them as they dive into new experiences. Learning new things can be far less daunting and far less intimidating when you go into it with people you trust. If your kid is hesitant about learning to code, why not suggest that you two learn together? After all, if you don’t consider yourself particularly tech-savvy, this could be a great learning opportunity for you, too!
Make it Social
This may be a little difficult to do considering the current global pandemic, but try turning coding lessons into a social activity. For instance, maybe you could coordinate with teachers and other parents to schedule some sort of “Community Coding” lesson. Or find coding academies online that allow for private group classes that your kids and their friends can join. Kids tend to share the same interests with their peer group so that they don’t feel “left out.” For natural social butterflies, having a network of fellow coders can also motivate him/her to keep learning and practicing.
What is the Best Way to Teach Coding for Kids?
Thanks to how tech-savvy most modern kids are, it’s not impossible for them to learn coding on their own. Plenty of programmers (both young and old) are actually self-taught! But that path is, admittedly, quite a slow one. And it can be quite frustrating if you don’t have immediate one-on-one support. So self-taught coding, while probable, is not something we’d recommend.
Instead, here are some more practical learning options:
- School Education/School Curriculum
- Coding Bootcamps
- Private Tutors/Lessons
- Coding Games
- Online Coding Academies
And if you’re interested, we’ve got 8 Practical Tips for Parents Who Want to Teach Their Kids to Code you might find extremely helpful!
Given the current global health crisis, it’s safe to assume that most kids have now adjusted to online classes and self-paced study. Ergo, most (if not all) of these options shouldn’t be too far out of their comfort zone.
If your kids’ current school curriculum already has Computer Programming or Computer Science classes, you can always supplement their lessons with online coding games or online coding courses. You ideally want to pick an option that appeals to both you and your child’s wants and needs (like schedule, content, teaching structure, and affordability).
Want to know our recommendations? Check out our Top 31 Free and Affordable Coding Websites for Kids!
How to find the best online coding courses for kids?
Too many options to choose from? Here’s a quick list of what to consider when picking the best online coding course for your child:
Reviews. Very important. Always trust the experience of other parents. You ideally want a 4- to 5-star rated program. 3-stars is a little risky. Anything else is just unacceptable.
Value. When choosing between a free or paid program, ask yourself what you’re willing to invest in your kid’s coding journey. We recommend discussing it with your kid as well. If they’re interested in trying it out, a free or fairly low-cost option is a safe start. You can eventually invest more if your kid starts showing genuine love and excitement for it.
Support. If there’s no live or professional support available, why even pay for an education program? Your kid might as well be watching How-To videos. Choose platforms that allow you to contact the mentors—whether through email, messaging apps, or live chat.
Accessibility. The best online coding courses are the ones that allow for study or hands-on practice outside of class hours. We recommend choosing programs with plenty of downloadable assets that your kid can use whenever they want.
What is the best programming language for kids?
“Best” is a pretty subjective term. But some programming languages are undoubtedly more kid-friendly than others. For instance; block-based coding languages (like Scratch or Blockly). Most experts agree that visual block coding is one of the best ways to get kids started on programming. It reduces typing frustration and the need for technical memorization, allowing kids to focus purely on the fundamentals.
But while this approach is good for kids 5 to 7 years of age, older, more experienced kids may soon feel bored or uninspired with the limits of block coding. They may soon want a taste of the “real thing,” and the “real thing” just happens to be text-based coding.
With that in mind, here’s a brief list of text-based programming languages that are quite simple (compared to others) and therefore won’t feel as overwhelming:
(Want a more extensive list and description? Check out our Best Programming Languages for Kids article!)
- Java – one of the most popular and simpler programming languages. It is used by hundreds of well-known games, including Minecraft. Your kid can learn how to make Minecraft mods using Java.
- HTML – a beginner-friendly, text-based language that’s great for building websites.
- CSS – typically used hand-in-hand with HTML. Also fairly beginner-friendly and great for programming design elements into an HTML website.
- Scratch/Blockly – block-based programming languages that remain one of the best ways to teach coding for 5- to 7-year-old kids.
Like it or not, coding is becoming the language of the 21st century. It has become a basic literacy that kids, teens, and even young adults can benefit from knowing. Think about it; we are, ultimately, dependent on machine intelligence: smartphones, laptops, security systems, etc. With such technologies being a permanent fixture in our lives, shouldn’t we at least know how to communicate with them?
Ergo, coding for kids is no longer an optional activity. It is now, for all intents and purposes, a necessary skill that they should have a basic understanding of—else they risk getting left behind by their peers.
Do you want your child to start learning how to code? Gain full access to CodaKid’s award-winning online courses today by enrolling in a free trial!