Coding for Kids: The Ultimate Guide for Parents in 2019!

 

Coding for kids (otherwise known as computer programming) is growing rapidly in popularity.

 

While programming is offered in a small number of traditional schools in the US, a Gallup poll indicates that 90% of parents would like computer programming to be taught during the school day.

 

In my mind, the parents’ wish is perfectly understandable.  According to the Bureau of Labor, median pay for software developers is $103,560 per year with demand expected to increase by 24% per year from 2016 – 2026. This rate of growth is significantly faster than the average of other occupations.  

 

Learning how to code at a young age can truly set up your child for a lifetime of success.

 

Even for students who are lucky enough receive computer science instruction in the classroom, the level of rigor has been traditionally low (typically only Scratch, Code.org, or Tynker), and many parents have chosen to look for outside resources to provide coding instruction. 

 

The predicament that we find ourselves in is certainly not the schools’ fault. Teaching computer programming with real languages and tools generally requires teachers with engineering backgrounds. And schools simply can’t compete with the private sector which is snapping up new engineers as fast as they can.

 

In short, this is the reason why we started CodaKid. We wanted to provide an affordable way for students who were ready for it to learn real computer programming with professional languages and tools. We also wanted to provide these students with the mentor support that they needed from skilled engineers as they progressed into intermediate and advanced projects. CodaKid is now teaching kids the same advanced coding languages and tools that employees at Facebook, Amazon, and Google use, and  our most advanced courses take students 

 

In this guide, I provide you with the answers to some of the most common questions that we encounter operating a successful kid’s coding academy, and we attempt to provide advice on academic approach, curriculum selection, and other resources for your child.

 

coding for kids table of contents

 

Below I have provided you with a table of contents of what you can expect in this article. Each section nicely transitions to the next helping ensure your student is prepared for the digital age.

 

However, if you are looking for something in particular, feel free to click on any of the links below to quickly jump to that section.

 

  1. What is coding for kids? What age is appropriate to learn to code?
  2. Why should my child learn to code? Why isn’t K – 12th-grade school enough?
  3. What are the best programming languages for kids?
  4. Four important tips to follow before you get your kid started coding!
  5. Top free & paid coding games, apps, websites, classes, curriculum, and more to get you started!
  6. What type of computer should I invest in for my child?

 

1. What is Coding for Kids? What Age is Appropriate to Learn to Code? 

 

Coding, or computer programming, is a creative process performed by programmers to tell a computer how to perform a task. Coding involves writing computer programs using programming languages. Coding for kids is usually taught using content that is high-interest while creating projects that involve creative input.

 

In short, coding for kids is typically gamified making it fun for kids to learn!

 

Since coding can be gamified, kids at early as age 5 can start learning how to code using visual block interfaces or age appropriate text-based coding classes.

 

I go into this topic in more depth in my blog article, “Coding For Beginners: A Step-by-Step Guide for Kids, Parents, and Educators”

 

coding for kids ultimate guide for parents

2. Why Should My Child Learn to Code? Why isn’t K-12th Grade School Enough?

 

In short, your kid learning to code at a young age provides them more future opportunities. As you will learn below in the last I provide you below, the data does not lie. According to the Bureau of Labor software developers, medium pay is $103,560 per year with demand expected to increase by 24% per year from 2016 – 2026. Much faster than the average of occupations! 

 

Unfortunately, if your K-12th-grade school even offers coding classes, they typically do not properly prepare students with the proper languages that jumpstart your kid’s career.

 

Most schools use programs like Scratch, Code.org, or Tynker.

 

Scratch is a good, free way for kids to learn coding concepts without using real programming languages. Code.org has some decent exercises that introduce Scratch-like visual block languages and even some basic text coding in its later modules. Tynker also helps get your kid get started.

 

These programs are preferred tools for schools as classes can be proctored by teachers that have limited or no engineering backgrounds. Both are fun ways to get your child’s feet wet, but within a short period of time many kids will be clamoring for advanced content that allows them to create their own games, apps, and web pages using real text-based languages and that doesn’t restrict them to closed platforms.

 

When you invest in outside resources your kids can learn universal computer science concepts that are found in early every programming language in the world! (More on both free & paid programs in section 5 to help solve this problem) 

 

For example, here are two common concepts that are we have illustrated using pseudo-code.

 

Most will have slight changes in syntax, but the concepts are still understandable by nearly anyone with coding proficiency.

 

The same fundamentals that companies like Amazon, Google, and Facebook look for!

 

Conditionals

 

Conditional statements allow a computer program to execute a particular section of code based on whether a condition is true or false. Java uses Boolean values to evaluate these conditions. One of two Boolean values (True or False) is returned when the condition is evaluated by the computer.

Here is a snippet of code that determines when the user’s player jumps:

coding for kids ultimate guide for parents

In the above example, if the player presses the spacebar on the computer, the user’s player will jump.

 

Loops

 

Another common coding concept is called a Loop. In this example, a “While Loop” continually performs a command while a particular condition is true, and discontinues the command when the condition is no longer true.

 

In this While loop, crops will grow in the game as long as the Daytime condition is true.

 

coding for kids ultimate guide for parents

The above contains just a couple examples of skills students can learn in a gamified format. In the next section, I will go into discussing some of the best programming languages kids should learn.

 

Below I have also listed some additional reasons you should consider introducing your kids to coding at an early age.

 

  1. Computer science builds skills in a number of corollary areas including math, science, problem-solving, teamwork, project-based learning, creative arts, and more. As Steve Jobs famously stated, “Coding teaches you how to think.”
  2. Learning to computer program is just like learning a foreign language. The earlier you start, the easier it is.
  3. By the year 2020, there will be nearly 1 million unfilled tech jobs in the United States due to a shortage of qualified engineers.
  4. Computer-related occupations make up over 60% of projected new job positions in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math).
  5. Computer programming teaches skills that are instantly relevant in today’s job market.
  6. Computing powers nearly every industry from education to farming, from law to business, and from construction to medicine.
  7. Computer engineering jobs rank among the highest-paying for new graduates.
  8. Coding is the newest liberal art. (Liberal arts were traditionally designed to prepare individuals for civic life and to help students understand the world around them. It is only a matter of time before it is included in core curricula).

 

Want more? Check out my blog article, “Why Kid’s Should Learn Computer Programing

 

coding for kids ultimate guide for parents

3. What are the Best Programming Languages for Kids?

 

With young students, many parents prefer visual block platforms to start. Some, however, prefer to get their kids typing early.

 

Our advice is to always let your child’s interests dictate your choice of a language. If your student is interested in Minecraft coding, then Java or JavaScript will be the language you may want to consider.

 

If your child is interested in robotics, you can research the coding languages utilized and try to find courses that use the same language. Some of our favorite DIY robotics kits use scripting languages such as Lua and Scala which are both child-friendly. If your son or daughter is interested in building a website, you will want to consider HTML and CSS, and if she is interested in building apps you might want to consider a language like JavaScript or Swift.

 

At CodaKid we focus on Java for our Minecraft coding courses, and we use helper files to reduce some of the complexity especially for our younger students. We have created highly effective method of teaching Java as an introductory coding language, and kids’ natural passion for Minecraft gives them extra motivation to work through concepts like Booleans, conditional, loops, variables, and methods – all of which are universal and can be found in nearly every other coding language.

 

Java also happens to be the language tested by Computer Science AP exam which is desirable for some of our families.

 

JavaScript is our language of choice for 2D game development and app development. While JavaScript is an essential tool for front-end developers, it has become one of the fastest-growing languages in the world due to the popularity of its server-side language (Node.js). Node.js and JavaScript are used to run PayPal, Uber, Netflix, LinkedIn, and Medium.

 

Below is a screenshot of the game that CodaKid’s online students learn to build from the ground up in our App Development – Infinite Runner online course.

 

coding for kids ultimate guide for parents

 

Another language that has grown in popularity is Python. Python is a scripting language that many consider one of the easiest to learn. Python was used to create Instagram, YouTube, and Spotify, and students can even use it to develop a website using Django, a popular web framework.

 

CodaKid recently introduced Python for Kids which teaches kids how to create a variety of exciting games from the ground up.

 

 

For a more in-depth guide on the best coding languages for kids please check out our article, “Top 7 Kids Coding Languages of 2019!

 

 

4. Four Important Tips to Follow Before You Get Your Kid Started Coding! 

 

Now before you jump to the next section where I will share with you the top free coding games, apps, websites, classes, curriculum, and more it is important that you take into consideration these 4 tips before investing in your child’s future.

 

Tip #1: Make it Entertaining

 

Coding for kids needs to be fun!

 

Not all computer science educators share this point of view. Many still use the “Hello World” method in which students learn to print the words “Hello World” on a screen.

 

In our experience, younger kids find this method tedious, and it can dissuade them from learning how to code. We’ve found that it is actually quite easy to get kids to try programming, but quite challenging to keep them engaged.

 

We recommend staying away from curricula that is too academic, and to focus instead on fun, engaging courses that match your child’s interests. Some students will want to create a custom sword for the best-selling game Minecraft. Others might want to create their own webpage.

 

At CodaKid, we prefer to teach coding by building video games and apps as they provide students with a fun and interactive way to learn coding concepts. Many youth coding clubs and academies are starting to move in this direction.

 

Interesting in learning how to make coding fun? Then make sure you check out my blog article, “Coding Games for Kids: The Best Way to Teach Computer Programing

 

Tip #2: Find Local or Online Class

 

Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, had a computer programming tutor starting in middle school.

 

While one-on-one tutoring with a quality computer science tutor is an excellent way to learn, it can be very expensive and is not affordable for many families. You may also consider searching out group classes as well as online courses that provide live support with real engineers.

 

The best academies and online courses will have well-crafted lesson plans that build sequentially on concepts like Booleans, Conditionals, Variables, Methods, and more. As coding for kids continues to grow in popularity, you will see an increasing number of options that will hopefully accommodate your child.

 

coding for kids ultimate guide for parents

Tip #3: Find a mentor

 

Many developers enjoy volunteering and you might be surprised at how many might be willing to mentor your son or daughter either online or in-person.

 

Interaction with an experienced developer can be invaluable and many times can be performed over Skype or other free video conferencing/screen share solutions.

 

 

Tip # 4: Understand the difference between visual block platforms & text-based coding.

 

There are a lot of coding platforms out there that claim to be teaching your kid “real coding languages”. However, most of them will be teaching visual block platforms which is typically best for beginners or kids between the ages of 5- 7 years old.

 

Visual Block Platforms

 

We view drag and drop, visual block programming courses as the tricycles of coding.  They are designed to be fun and easy, but are also designed to be tools that you outgrow.

 

Platforms like Code.org, Scratch, Tynker, and others believe that typing should not become an impediment in computer science education, and that kids can learn many of the same coding concepts through a more visual, tactile approach. We think that these platforms can be very helpful for younger learners.

 

Text-based Coding

 

Programs such as CodaKid, Codeacademy, and Kahn Academy (further explained below) use real programming languages and professional grade coding tools. But the courses are taught in such a way that students as young as age 8 can follow along and have a fun time learning.

 

The advantage of this approach is that students gain knowledge creating real software. I truly believe this opens up many opportunities for them in their future.

 

Ok now, that you have taken note of the 4 tips before getting your kid started with coding, let’s dive into some free & paid coding platforms available to get you started!

 

5. Top Free & Paid Coding Games, Apps, Websites, Classes, Curriculum, and More to Get You Started!

 

First off, if I were to try and list out all the different types of games, apps, websites, classes, and curriculum you would get a bit overwhelmed.

 

So, I am going to do my best to list out the most helpful ones to get you started on the right track starting with coding material for students at the 5 – 7 age mark.

 

Coding For Kids 5 – 7 Years of Age

 

If your kid is between the ages of 5 – 7 years old you want them to begin learning to code using visual blocks.

 

Scratch (Free)

coding for kids ultimate guide for parents

 

MIT Media Labs Scratch has designed fun visual block platform that teaches coding concepts while allowing students to build fun games with a lot of creative freedom.

 

Google CS designed some well thought out lesson plans that kids can follow, and the coolest part of the platform is that student projects are freely available for review.

 

This allows kids to study the Scratch visual block code that was used to make exciting 2D games like Asteroids, Donkey Kong and more. Scratch also allows students to add their own art, animation, music, sound effects, and voice-over. Scratch does not provide student support at this time.

 

Code.org (Free)

coding for kids ultimate guide for parents

 

Code.org has been featured by Hour of Code and is used by many public schools to teach introductory computer science.

 

Code Studio has early modules featuring visual block interfaces interfaces and more advanced chapters that teach text-based code in a closed platform. Code.org has also partnered with Minecraft, Scratch, Tynker, CodeBattle, and others to create modules that simulate the experience of creating games and apps.

 

The strength of Code.org (aside from the fact that it’s free) is that they have partnered with the  Minecraft and Star Wars brands, and they have a sequential approach to teaching computer programming. The downside is that kids never quite experience the feeling of building something from the ground up and they are confined to a pseudo environment which seems to encourage drag and drop blocks rather than text.

 

Code.org does not provide student support at the time of this article.

 

Osmo Coding (Paid)

coding for kids ultimate guide for parents

 

Osmo Coding combines Legos, gaming, and coding. Osmo teaches children programming concepts by using magnetic blocks that allow the user’s character to navigate puzzles and other challenges in an iPad game.

 

While the website specifies that the software is designed for students ages 5 to 12, we think that it’s sweetspot for ages 5 to 7. Osmo introduces a compelling, tactile approach to coding instruction and we think that they have great promise for K-2 computer science.

coding for kids ultimate guide for parents

Coding For Kids 8+ Years of Age (Learn Coding Using Real Languages)

 

If you remember from my recommendation above. Code.org and Scratch are typically the programs that schools use.

 

However, if you want your student to have a jumpstart to their career and start learning the same coding language at Facebook, Google, Amazon, and more I have listed some free and paid resources  to get you started.

 

Codecademy (Free) 

 

Codecademy provides free coding courses including lesson plans to help teachers plan computer science classes.

Exercises are done in browser and have automatic accuracy checking. Codecademy’s strength is in teaching older students who are interested in text-based languages. The closed platform approach prevents students from the actual experience of creating their own software, but it provides a well thought out curriculum map.

 

Khan Academy (Free)

 

Sal Khan has created a series of videos that are designed to provide free education to the world. Funded by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation among others, Khan Academy has begun a series on computer science that teaches JavaScript basics, HTML, CSS, and more.

 

There are video lessons on a number of topics ranging from making animations with JavaScript, making webpages, making 2D games,, and more. At this time, many of the tutorials do not contain videos, but instead provide written instructions better suited to high school and college students. Khan Academy does not provide student support at the time of writing.

 

CodaKid – All Access- $25 per month (watch the video to learn more)

 

 

I know I am biased since I am the co-founder and CEO but both our clients and I truly believe this to be the case!

 

In fact, in 2017 we won a Parent’s Choice Award and were a CODiE finalist for Best Coding and Computational Thinking Solution.

 

What makes CodaKid unique is your kids learn the coding languages necessary to build websites, create real games, apps, and more. We also include unlimited access to a team of friendly mentors that will help you through chat or screen share if your child ever gets stuck and needs help.

 

At only $25 per month for over 450 hours of student projects, it is an excellent value.

 

 

Click here to start your free 14-day trial!

 

 

6. What type of computer should I invest in for my child?

 

This decision depends on what your child’s interests, your budget, and what approach you would like to take.

 

Many online coding courses such as Code.org and Khan Academy are web-based and only require a high-speed internet connection.

 

Web-based courses do not require computers with much processing power and will typically run with nearly any computer manufactured in the last 4-5 years, including options like Google Chromebooks.

 

Providers of courses with real coding tools require a Mac or PC computer with a recommended 4G of RAM and a high-speed internet connection. The benefit is that your child will learn how to code using the same professional grade tools and real coding languages used by major software companies around the world.

 

At some point in your child’s computer science journey, you will likely reach a time when he or she has a strong desire to use real programming environments and professional tools.

 

Some families decide to do this from the start, while others use web-based tools to begin and then transition to professional-grade tools at a later time. We have found that kids build a lot of self-confidence when using these tools and that when taught with clear directions students as young as age 7 are able to use them.

 

We are fairly agnostic concerning PC computers and suggest that you follow the hardware requirements of the course. We also suggest that you read computer reviews on trusted sources like CNET or PCMagazine.

 

In Conclusion…

 

Coding for kids is growing in popularity, as many families view computing as a new literacy that will be as important as math and science in tomorrow’s job market.  There are many approaches to selecting suitable courses for K-12 students, and there are certainly no “one-size-fits-all” solutions.

 

The most important piece of advice we can offer is to make coding fun.

 

Coding for kids doesn’t need to be boring. Yes, it demands patience and persistence, but if kids know that the payout is a project, game, or app that they are interested in, they will put in the work.

 

If it is taught the wrong way, coding for kids can seem like a boring typing class or even worse a 50 step math word problem.

 

If you choose well, however, you will give your kids a new skill that is both fun and academic, and you may be surprised to see the positive effects that it has on their academics and self-confidence.

 

Want to revisit a section of the article? Click a link below to quickly jump to that section!

 

  1. What is coding for kids? What age is appropriate to learn to code?
  2. Why should my child learn to code? Why isn’t K – 12th-grade school enough?
  3. What are the best programming languages for kids?
  4. Four important tips to follow before you get your kid started coding!
  5. Top free & paid coding games, apps, websites, classes, curriculum, and more to get you started!
  6. What type of computer should I invest in for my child?

 

Have any other tips or advice for parents looking to teach their kids how to code?

 

Please leave comments or questions in the comments section below!

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