A 5-step guide to teaching kids coding
Some of you may or may not know that I’m a father of a 3-year-old boy, and as he grows up, I wondered how I could teach him coding. Of course, now he’s too small, and I’m even not sure if he will be interested in pursuing his old man’s career, but if he’s interested, I want to have the right resources available for him to spark curiosity and learn.
Discussing some ideas with some of my nerdy friends, we realized how little we know about teaching kids some of our skills, as we all learned to program once we were older, I was the younger with 15, we had no idea of the challenges we could give our kids when they are, 8 or 9.
A few days back, I had the opportunity to talk with the fantastic people of Juni Learning , a website that focuses on teaching kids data science, math, and more, and they shared with me some steps to get your child into this fascinating world.
Before we begin, let me tell you that there are multiple benefits of learning programming from a young age, regardless of what path the kids decide to pursue when they grow up. Programming changes the way you think, to be more analytical and excellent at problem-solving, skills that can benefit their careers and let them think outside the box.
Let’s get right into it.
Step 1: find their passion
Kids are sponges when it comes to learning, and they learn best by interacting with the world and having fun. Learning a new skill should not be enforced on them, but instead, something focused on what they love doing (pretty much like us, right?).
If you combine the hobbies and interests that they already have, with their natural curiosity and the right programming project, you are already setting your kid for success.
Do they like games? Great, build a game with them.
Do they like art? Try a more visual or design-focused project.
Or maybe even the web? Why not teach them how to build websites then?
Step 2: pick a visual programming language
The key when teaching young kids is to work with visual elements rather than words. They can process the information much better, and it keeps them more engaged in solving the tasks.
If not, ask your kids, would he rather prefer:
while True: for ghost in ghosts: ghost.move() if ghost.got_pacman(): pacman.die() game_over()
Programming languages built on visual elements from design can be a much better choice. Remember that it is not the syntax that matters, but instead developing problem-solving skills and thinking outside the box.
For younger kids (8-11-year-old), block-based coding languages like MIT’s Scratch platform have great visual appeal, introducing coding much the same way as legos introduce engineering. For older kids 11+, you can add visual elements to the Python language using the Turtle library.
Step 3: Start small
Your kid’s first project probably shouldn’t be to build an OS or anything complex at all. Think that any developer would start its first project with a programming language with the classic “Hello World”, and from there move to a basic task like a notes app or similar.
The same goes for your kid, start small with the basics and simple projects and let him or herself take on bigger tasks when they are ready. Don’t try to push them too hard; remember they are learning, and they will do best when they are enjoying it, rather than being frustrated by it.
If your kid aims too high and gets frustrated, help him/her and split his challenge into smaller pieces they can quickly solve.
Step 4: Use Failures to develop resilience
Coding can be difficult, challenging, and at times painful. No matter our age, we sometimes get stuck with a problem and don’t know how to solve it, and it can be frustrating. With your kid is not going to be different. Getting stuck and failing is part of the learning process. Remind your kid that if you are not making mistakes, then you are not trying and thus not learning.
Step 5: Build on success
No matter how small the task they just solved, congratulate and celebrate your kid’s success. It’s a massive accomplishment for them, enabling them to move forward with the next challenge.
Completing a challenge or task can also be the perfect moment to motivate them to do more. Once they are in the spirit, you can extend the scope by asking them to put additional effort on the project. For example, if they built a countdown timer for their birthday, ask them to expand it to support their friends and family birthdays.
Always remember, the main goal is for them to have fun while learning and developing skills to help them in their lives.
Learning to code has tremendous potential, not only for adults but especially for kids. Coding requires thinking skills that are great for many situations that can be completely unrelated to computer science.
Teaching your kid how to code can open them many doors, spark their curiosity, creativity, and imagination and give them the tools they need to solve problems.
It is usually recommended to start such activities with your kid when they are about 8-years-old, similar to when they can start playing chess.
I still have to wait a bit to get started with my kid, but I’ll wait impatiently, and even if he decides to do something else, I hope he enjoys programming. I’d love that we build stuff together, as father and son, as programmers.
I want to thank the people at Juni Learning for their great work and inspiration. This article wouldn’t have been possible without them.
Thanks for reading!