Comprehensive Guide for Parent Explaining Why, When, and How to Teach Coding to Kids. Also Includes Free Online Coding Websites/Apps for Kids:
Computer programming serves as the basis for the technical world that our children are just entering into. Teaching your kids to code prepares them for this world and will also set them up for success.
Unfortunately, the level of computer science instructions communicated in school remains low and pretty basic. Even worse, the way coding is taught in schools is typically very dry and uses synthetic environments set up to look like games. As a result, many children lose interest because they don’t see the real-world utility of the skills they are being taught.
That’s why many parents are taking the matter into their hands and teaching their kids to code.
What You Will Learn:
- Coding For Kids: A Complete Guide
- Coding Websites And Apps For Kids
Coding For Kids: A Complete Guide
In this guide, we’ll show you how to teach the children basics of computer programming, and how to make this subject exciting and relevant.
We’ll focus on real-world skills like testing a website and using excel macros, the tools that are readily available on any home computer. We’ll also show you some free apps and websites to teach the basics or take your kids’ skills to the next level.
Why Should Kids Learn To Code?
Let’s start with a basic question: why should children learn to code?
There are several reasons behind this, ranging from the most imminent and practical ones to the most abstract and philosophical ones. These reasons are given below:
- On a very practical level, learning to code will open up many job opportunities for your children. According to the Bureau of Labor, the median pay for software developers is $103,560 per year. With demand, it is expected to increase by 24% per year from 2016 to 2026. In other words, coding job’s popularity is growing much faster and they pay more than other professions too.
- Even if your child doesn’t decide to use their coding skills in their career, learning basics in computer programming is extremely useful in several cognate fields. STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) skills are essential for many fields, and they share many elements with computer coding.
- On a more general level, coding involves the ability to achieve thoroughness and attention to detail – which is useful far beyond technical fields. Even if your child ends up becoming a lawyer, analytical thinking will greatly help them.
- Coding is also a fun and creative process. This fact can be easily overlooked by parents who have a vision of computer coders sitting in some dark basement!
- And at the broadest possible level, understanding how computers work is a fundamental part of understanding the modern world. By learning how to code, children will be well-prepared for the tools, systems, and devices they will encounter and will be able to use them more safely and efficiently.
When Should Kids Learn To Code?
You are never too young (or old) to learn to code.
Some children are lucky enough to receive education in computer coding in school, which typically starts at the K-12th level. Unfortunately, this is rather late for most children to learn about the subject. The truth is that today, most children are using devices from the age of 5 or so, and thus they are exposed to the most common types of cyber-attack at the same age.
It might sound crazy to teach computer programming to a 5-year-old. Surely coding requires an understanding of mathematics and logic that a child of this young does not have.
Well, agree and not, but many curricula and tools that have been developed to teach coding to kids are built as games. We will see some of them later in this tutorial. They teach basic coding skills using colored, interactive blocks, and will hold the attention of even the most excited kid of 5-year-old.
The other issue with the courses available through schools is that they also stop at a fairly basic level. This is because the majority of tools that schools use are designed to be taught by teachers without a mathematical or engineering background. Advanced kids can, therefore, feel frustrated with the low technical level of these tools, and are thus left craving for more advanced content.
In short, even if your kids are lucky enough to learn coding at school, you will probably need to complement their learning with your teaching instructions. So how do you do that?
Basics Of Computer Coding
The first step is to make sure you understand the subject you are going to teach. You don’t need to be an expert computer programmer to teach the basics to your children because most programming languages are based on the number of shared fundamental concepts.
There are thousands of free courses available in the market to help you understand computer coding and hundreds of websites available that you can refer to. A good approach is to pick a particular language – HTML is a good, simple language to begin. You can spend a few hours mastering the basics to answer the queries of your children. Or you will at least know where to look for an answer.
Best Programming Languages For Kids
Deciding the programming language to start with, should depend on their interests. Tailoring lessons to student’s interests is a basic principle of good teaching and applies equally to teaching your own children.
For very young children, it’s best to start with some of the tools we have listed later in this tutorial. They offer visual environments and colored blocks of code. For slightly older children, it’s worth working out if the video games they play also offer the ability to code. Many successful developers started with their code learning in Minecraft, for instance.
Some children may have interests in other projects, and the best code for each is different:
- If they want to build a website (a common first project) then you can start with HTML, which has been designed as easy to learn.
- Some children find the idea of robots fascinating, and writing code for them can be a highly engaging project. Lua and Scala are two languages that are focused on this.
- Perhaps the most engaging and useful language to learn, for children, is Java. This is the language of choice for building simple games and is also the language that is tested in the Computer Science AP exam. Many of the world’s most successful websites (PayPal, Uber, and Netflix) run on Java, and Java developers are always in high demand.
Whichever language you choose to start with, it is better not to stick with one particular language. Once a child has the fundamental knowledge of concepts that underpin coding, they will be able to apply their skills across many coding languages. So, if your child gets bored with one language, take the opportunity to mix it up.
How To Teach Coding For Kids?
Keeping kids engaged with computer programming can be challenging for teachers. Many children will make an enthusiastic start in coding, only to grow bored with the lack of real-world utility for their skills.
Because of this, it’s vital to link the coding skills they are learning to their everyday lives. This could be like helping them to make a new item for their favorite game, or teaching them how to make a website for their band, etc. The important thing is to make your teaching useful and at the same time, engaging.
#1) Make it engaging: There are still some Computer Science teachers who are firm about the “Hello World” persuasion. There is a fairly well-established route for teaching computer coding, which begins with simple programs and builds into networking and encryption. Unfortunately, that curriculum was designed for college-level students.
While teaching coding to kids, there is one simple rule: make it fun.
Some of the tools included here are built as games, which children are engaged to play even if they didn’t include computer programming. For older children, though, it takes time to understand their interests, and what they want to use their new skills for but these tools can even be considered as their first lesson.
#2) Make it useful: Along with working on engaging projects with your child, you should also show them how to use their coding skills in their everyday lives. Most kids have an idea of what “hacking” is, for instance, and most find the frisson of the danger it invokes very exciting.
Teaching them the 5 basic signs of a malware infection like, how to use a reliable VPN connection, or how to spot if their webcam is hacked, not only builds up their computer programming skills but it also teaches them how to stay safe when using technology.
Teaching your kids basic computer coding will not only improve their technical skills but can also teach them valuable social skills. A subject like cybersecurity involves issues such as the right to privacy, and the correct way to act online.
#3) Find a community: Finally, don’t feel that you are on your own. Nowadays, many parents are teaching their kids to code, and there exist extensive support networks to help you out.
These communities can provide you with off-the-shelf lesson plans and projects to work through with your child. They can also provide social and learning support. You can even join remote classrooms via video chat where your child can share their new skills with peers.
With growing skills, it’s worth seeking out a mentor. If you don’t work in computer programming, and your child is enthusiastic about it, they are going to exceed your level of knowledge pretty quickly.
Many developers enjoy volunteering, and you’d be surprised to know the number of potential mentors available in your town. A mentor can help your child to make the transition from an exciting hobby into an exciting career.
Coding Websites And Apps For Kids
There are dozens of tools available that are designed to help you teach your kids to code, but in this section, we’ll focus on the most popular ones. The choice of tools depends on the age of your children, and the enlisted tools are categorized into two sections: the first one is for children under 8 years old (or thereabouts), and the second one is for more advanced children.
Coding For Kids Under Age 8 Years
Platforms available for teaching younger children to code generally make use of a graphical interface. This hides some of the complexity of computer programming, and also makes the subject more engaging for beginners.
Here are some of the most popular tools:
Scratch has been developed by MIT Media Labs. It uses a graphical interface to show kids how blocks of code interact. It is great for building games, and a huge library of student projects can be found online. This is a great place to start for most parents because Google CS have designed lesson plans for Scratch that are easy to follow.
Code.org is another great platform for younger children. It offers the same kind of user interface as Scratch. The advantage of Code.org is that they have partnered with Minecraft and the Star Wars brand to offer branded content. This can be an advantage to help keep your kids engaged if they are into these brands.
Tynker is the system that is used by many schools to teach the basics of coding. It is a paid platform that offers well-structured courses, and thus this can decrease your responsibility as a parent. The level of the courses offered by Tynker has a pretty low complexity ceiling, and so it doesn’t provide a complete resource as kids get more advanced.
#4) Osmo Coding
Osmo Coding takes a different, more tactile approach. They have partnered with Lego to offer a system that works via blocks that can be built into games. This is a great way for younger children to experience their first taste of coding, although the platform remains far more limited than those above.
Website: Osmo Coding
Coding For More Advanced Children
Whichever platform you start with, after specific learning they will want you to graduate to a more complex, more adaptable system. The key, at this point, is to move kids onto real-world coding languages, and there are plenty of resources available for doing so.
Here are some of the most popular tools:
Codeacademy is a free platform that provides coding courses for adults and children alike. The website also offers lesson plans that can help you to structure your kid’s learning. One of the best features of the platform is that it implements in-browser coding with automatic error checking, which means that you will not have to make a test environment for your children to play around with real computer code.
#2) Khan Academy
Khan Academy is another great resource for more advanced children. The company produces lessons on fundamental computer science, with a focus on the most used languages: HTML, CSS, and the basics of working with Java. This platform is still a work in progress, though, so many of the lessons are currently delivered through text-based instruction.
Website: Khan Academy
Bitsbox is a company that has taken a slightly different approach. This is a paid subscription service that will send you a different theme coding project each month. This can help keep kids engaged in the long term, and in keeping them to a schedule in which your kids have a new coding project to complete each month.
CodeMonkey is a more limited platform that uses a basic game to teach kids. This platform exists at the intersection between more advanced and more “childish” systems, but can be a good way for your child to transit from graphical editors to writing real code.
As long as you can make coding fun, relevant, and engaging for your kids, teaching them computer programming can be both a fun and a rewarding experience.
The tools above can help you to do that, but you should also check out some other resources. Many of the best educational events contain streams on computer programming and attending them can be a good way to network with other parents who are interested in teaching their kids to code.
As your child grows up and as their coding skills improve, you should also think about taking these to the next level. If your kid has spent a few years working with the platforms we’ve mentioned above, they will likely have a pretty good grasp of how to work with real-life systems: one that might even exceed your own!
At this point, try to find further projects where they can use their skills. If you run a business, get them to design you a website, or perform automated web testing on your current one. Encourage them to make games for their friends or younger siblings. Or simply reverse your roles, and get them to teach you advanced coding techniques.