The 21st Century Skill – Teaching Kids How To Code
Coding – the 21st century skill. We are heavily reliant on technology and software. As our world becomes increasingly more digital, we need to guarantee we have people with the right skills to build the future.
The IT skills gap is immense and there is a global demand for computer scientists. Support for adults wanting to learn code has been widely available for years. We can order a few books, set up a local environment and begin coding pretty quickly. There are thousands of useful reference sites to help us along the way like Sitepoint, Stack Overflow and language-dedicated forums. Plus, a lot of online schools now offer training in every area of programming.
Teaching children code is not as straight forward. They need to be able to understand the principles of what a program is at a fundamental level. They have to be able to think like a programmer. To encourage kids to take an active interest in the dauntingly vast world of computer science, companies have started churning out exciting toys and apps to teach the younger generation. Most focus on the practical side of learning and include building robots, board games and story books.
Are They Interested?
Not every child is going to be interested in computer science, but with a large majority now using mobile and desktop technologies on a daily basis, there will be a serious segment of today’s children wanting to see behind the apps and games they use and how they work. Some will want to build their own games and utilities, just as many like to build models using LEGO®, K’nex® etc.
A lot of children have inadvertently experienced a degree of programming through a well-known computer game called Minecraft. What started out as a small crowdfunded beta over 7 years ago has now become one of the most purchased and played games of all time. Hidden under the basic gameplay is a layer of programming and interaction many do not see. A whole system of signals, switches and dynamic event blocks are part of the world of Minecraft. They teach how to operate simple things like opening a door via operated switches right through to super complicated circuitry with endless levels of intricacy. Some have even programmed basic calculators and command line computers.
Show Them What’s Possible
If your kids are seriously into programming, show them what’s achievable. There are children out there paving the way for others wanting to learn code from a young age. Thomas Suarez is one of them. Thomas debuted on TEDx back in 2011 talking about his journey into app development – his enthusiasm for computer science at his age is exciting to see. Check out his intro below.
Thomas Suarez – 12 Year Old App Developer
Others have since followed on from Thomas: 4 inspiring kids imagine the future of learning
Practical Learning Tools
If you’re looking at purchasing programming and electronic kits for your children, check out some of these practical learning packs:
A big name in DIY robotics. Practical learning for children – control custom built robots with written code. This is a little more complicated than some of the other kits but allows for a lot of expansion
Microduino (Basic Robotics)
Arduino’s little brother – Magnetic circuit boards and easy setup guides. Perfect for younger children.
Linkitz (Wearable Tech)
Linkitz is a wearable electronics kit for kids. Snap the Linkitz components together, then have fun right out of the box with pre-loaded games. Kids can learn to code using a simple drag-and-drop programming language.
Robot Turtles (Boardgame)
One of the biggest and most backed Kickstarter board games ever. A board game that introduces the idea of programming to kids as young as 3. The goal of this game is to step on a Robot Jewel so you can pick it up. Everyone who gets a jewel wins! Using a “bug” card” allows players to rollback on their move and skip a go.
A tangible programming interface for teaching kids 3-7 code literacy. Cubetto is a wooden robot which takes orders from “command blocks”. The blocks are placed in an order of your choosing on a “command board” – when the launch button is pressed, the board sends the commands to the robot and the orders are carried out. When used with the story-based map provided, the command board can be used to navigate the robot around the map to the end. Amazingly simple.
Code Monkey Island (Boardgame)
Another board game that teaches programming basics. Code Money Island contains some of the basic functions used in everyday programming: loops, counting, boolean logic, conditional statements, and assignment operations. Similar to Primo.
Wonder Workshop (Robotics)
A miniature robot duo controlled by apps with building block style program building. There are a few dedicated apps to control the quirky robot duo depending on what the task is. The “path” system introduces it’s users to sequences, events and sensors through a draw, drag and drop interface.
LEGO Boost (Robotics)
Although not officially out yet, the hype around LEGO’s new robot is big. It’s a fully customisable LEGO kit which allows control from iOS and Android devices to fully program its actions. The Boost kit will be available from August 2017.
Fisher-Price Think & Learn Code-A-Pillar (Robotics)
A little insect/caterpillar with pre-embedded commands for each segment. Take it apart, rebuild it and see how changing the structure alters the outcome.
Hello Ruby Book (Story Book)
‘Hello Ruby’ is a children’s book that teaches programming fundamentals through stories and kid-friendly activities.
Online and App-Based Learning
Aside from all the robotics and toys, there are plenty of interesting and informative online resources to help kids further expand their knowledge of computer science.
Online courses for kids to build small programs based on set objectives and problems in snap together blocks. There are several sessions available for free. The rest require a monthly subscription.
A drag and drop iPad app to build and run mini programs and games. This is a really fun app to begin understanding boolean logic, conditionals and procedural programming.
Code Org (Website)
An all round learning resource. Used by schools to help teach children about programming.
Code Combat (Website)
A great little tool to begin learning the basics of code. The site has 2 boxes; one for code, one for output, a bit like jsFiddle and CodePen. Each step is annotated to help as the lessons progress.
One of the most popular learning tools for kids. Designed and built by MIT students, the drag and drop style programming layout is easy to understand. Lots of the Scratch programs are accepted by some of the robots and kits mentioned in the practical section of this list.
There are hundreds, if not thousands of resources to teach kids the fundamentals computer science. It’s worth finding out how your kids respond to different types of learning and then tailor your available resources around them. New toys and robotics kits are coming out every day so be sure to have a search around before making a final decision.