If the past few months have taught me something it is how versatile children really are. To keep up with the sense of normality and ease the transition for my preschooler during the pandemic, I’ve done what any mother would. I’ve put on plays, in between the university lectures I held via Zoom, played an assistant as my kid took on the role of a scientist, as I marked student papers, and tried doing my best as my full-of-excess-energy children demanded new outdoor adventures. And then it dawned on me, what if I were to introduce my children to coding – the language of the future.
Is learning your child to code a choice or necessity?
Raising kids is one of the most demanding and most fulfilling jobs in the world. As a parent, you’re responsible for guiding your kids on their path of life. That includes making some very important decisions for them.
And while your decision to sign your child up to karate classes instead of football school will most likely not have a great impact on their future. Some of the decisions you make are a necessity rather than a choice. We would never ask ourselves if we should teach our kids numbers or the alphabet. With the new technology development, digital literacy is and will become as important as traditional literacy.
According to the projections for 2028, made by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, computing occupations will make up 67% of all new jobs in STEM fields. On the other hand, the U.S. The National Center for Educational Statistics reports that only 8% of STEM graduates are in Computer Science. Learning how to code will increase their odds of securing a successful STEM career. Especially in a world where computing jobs are growing at over twice the national average. Not to mention that their financial reward for coding skills will be very generous too. Computer science majors can earn 40% more than the college average.
Benefits of children learning coding skills
When your child is learning basic coding, they are using their logical thinking, that is developing cognitive skills and learning a methodical, problem-solving process. There is never one solution to a coding problem. So when kids code, they usually try to find the most effective way to finish the task. And they can only do that by breaking the complex problem into smaller parts. This way they analyze every part of the problem.
Learning to code helps them develop ‘out of the box’ thinking in order to get the solution in a totally new, creative way and without considering the problem’s main assumptions. This logical thinking is a powerful tool in school, work, and life.
Remember, learning a new skill is a very challenging task for your child. It takes time, patience and self-discipline. When your child is learning how to code, he is also learning the valuable skill of persistence in the face of such challenges.
At last, coding is the way we communicate with computers. It is obvious that while learning how to code, children are also learning how to communicate in a way that the ‘other side’ can understand them. Computer coding teaches kids how to break down complex ideas and arrange them in a way that computers can understand.
Children Coding: It’s never too early!
Let me assure you that it’s never too early to build a strong foundation for learning how to code. Yes, you cannot expect your toddler to learn how to navigate a rabbit from one side of the monitor to the next side in the quest of finding a carrot. But he can learn how to think as a future programmer. You will not need a computer to introduce the first steps of coding. Young children learn best through play.
Teach children coding through simple games
Here’s one simple game which I play with my preschooler. I use duct tape to form a grid of 10 squares on the floor in the living room. Then I put “X” in one of the squares and that is the final destination of our game and decide which one will be a starting point. I print out the arrows which will help us to reach the final destination. We count how many squares we have to move through in order to reach the square marked with the “X”. If your child doesn’t know how to count, insist on this step so he can learn the numbers by playing this game. After the “counting” phase, use the arrows to make a path from the start square to the “end” one. In this game, your child is a programmer who uses the arrow cards and verbally tells the “computer” which way to move.
You can try the same when you go grocery shopping with your kid. Before you go, ask your kid to explain all the steps you go through when going to a grocery store. Start with how you put your shoes on, then your jacket, take a shopping bag, wallet, take the keys of the apartment, lock the doors, go in the elevator, decide which way to go to reach the final destination at the fastest route etc. Playing this game will help your kid to exercise to think like a programmer because they will learn to divide a problem in a smaller one and make decisions on how to finish the specific problem in the most effective way.
What are the most common coding languages today?
So how do you pick the right coding language for your kid? Here’s a list of some you want to check out.
Scratch is probably the best coding language for young beginners. This language provides a solid foundation of programming principles and kids can learn how to drag and drop code blocks to animate characters, create games, and build apps. This program is age-appropriate for kids from the age of 7 and is a good choice if your kid doesn’t have any programming experience.
If your child is older (ages from 10 to 13) and has some programming experience, then Java could be the next choice. This is one of the most widely used coding languages in the world. It is not as easy as Scratch, so your child will need some extra time to master it. Java is also known as a Minecraft language because the original version of this game is written in Java. Java is good for kids because they can use it to make game engines, Android mobile apps or large backend environments.
Python is considered as one of the easiest coding languages to learn. Python has simplified syntax and focuses on whitespace. It requires fewer lines of code to get up and running, so even beginners can start creating relatively quickly. I am personally a fan of Phyton and I use it when I do my research in Econometrics and Statistics. Companies like Google and Disney use Python. Python is great for kids who want to get their idea as fast as possible but instead of writing very difficult coding syntax, they are creating easy-to-read code that looks a lot like regular English.
I assume you are aware that coding is something your kid will learn sooner or later. Myself, I am in the “team sooner”. Mostly because our kids are already technology natives and they should learn that everything they see on the screen is not magic. They can learn how to write programs that lie behind popular Roblox games.
But it is ok if you are in “team later”, whatever the reason. However, I have one suggestion for you. Try to replace some of the “YouTube time”, as your kid’s everyday screen activity, for some coding time. You can help your kid to have some great experience, learn something new and have quality screen time.
If your kid really shows interest in coding, go and give it a try. It’s a great investment in his future education and career.
At the end of the day, childhood happens only once in a lifetime. So let them do the things that make them laugh, have fun and create memories to hold on to when they grow older. Teaching your children how to code, as well as alphabet and math, can wait a bit longer.
This article is part of our series on Generation Alpha
We seek to provide answers to your most pressing questions about keeping your kids safe online, introducing them to the digital world, and helping them be their authentic selves online.
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