Why your child should learn to code
As parents, the one thing we can all probably agree on is how difficult it is to find healthy, productive, yet fun, pastimes for our children, especially in that phase where they are no longer toddlers but also not adults yet. While it’s hard getting them to pay attention if they feel our approach is too pedantic, we may risk losing them along the way! It’s a very confusing situation to be in for us parents, until we find that elusive project that will involve our child, while also teaching them learned skills that will be valuable to them in the near future. For me and my kids, that turned out to be coding.
What is coding?
The coding I’m talking about is the process of using computer ‘languages’ to write ‘codes’, which are the building blocks of pretty much everything software based – apps, operating systems, websites, and games, etc. To be able to write this code, one needs to learn these ‘languages’ and then understand how it is pieced together, much the same way we would learn grammar and sentence structure when learning a new spoken language. With everything today moving to computer (or mobile) forums, with websites and apps, coding is still big, and growing more important with each passing day.
Coding or programing, is considered the language of the future, and allows children to translate ideas and designs into reality. By teaching them to code, we are giving them the skill set to bring the ‘Next Big Idea’ to the world. Learning at a young age allows them to grow up aware of technology, and prepares them for possible careers in the technology sector. It levels the playing field so our children can compete globally in a highly skilled economy. There are a huge number of programs now available that focus on teaching children how to code, and it has become an integral piece of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education.
Where can your child learn to code?
To be honest, there are very few places on this Earth that could be more conducive to learning anything software based, than Palo Alto or Silicon Valley! My 9 year old son has been coding since we moved to Palo Alto. He started with Tynker, a coding tool for kids which allows them to put together code like LEGO blocks, building something new each time. He was later introduced to Alice and MIT’s Scratch. All this he learned through Barron Park’s noon-time coding club. These are ideal tools for children to use, through which they can create stories, animations and games. My son is now at Hoover Elementary, and codes using Python, a more complex programming language that does not use coding blocks, but rather complete lines of code syntax. Although he still enjoys entry-level kid friendly coding programs like Microsoft’s Kodu, Lightbot and his favorite Scratch, Python has become a hit and is making it easy to venture into programs like C++ and Java among others.
Most kids love the natural creativity inherent in the act of putting things together, and taking them apart, and then finding different combinations. Parenting books and philosophy indicate that this may be a child’s attempt to find him or herself, and create their unique place in the world. I suppose that is why LEGO is such a big hit! In much the same way, what with the virtual world being so pervasive and exciting, a lot of kids love the idea of putting together codes, especially when the results are fun and colorful, like games and animations. From a parent’s perspective, more coding programs are STEM based, so the kids learn math and science almost without realizing it!
There are a number of opportunities available, online and in the ‘real world’ where your kids could be a part of this activity. A month from today many schools around the world will participate in the Hour of Code – one week worldwide coding opportunity initiated by Code.org. Read up about it and get your school involved.
The Coder School recently opened in Palo Alto, a year-round after school program that has an immersion program, teaching kids how to code as well as imparting social and team-playing skills. Another year round program is Khan Academy which boasts of a great program teaching children to code basic and more advance programs. There are also summer coding programs at iDTech, Tech Kids Unlimited, Digital Media Academy, Learning Tech, CoderDojo, and Stanford offers one such program,too. The Silicon Valley Code Camp offers a one-day event for children, 5-18 years old. At their last camp my 7-year old daughter, who we are encouraging to code, did Mindstorm, customizable and programmable robotics, with LEGO, and my son did the Raspberry Pi program, Mining with Minecraft and coding with Scala.There are a large number of such programs and coding clubs, all you need is to find one which is a good fit for your child! Furthermore, there are various competitions for kids to participate in, such as the Verizon Foundation Innovative App Challenge, which offer avenues to interact with others kids that have the same interests, and to take coding from a ‘passive’ pastime into a more competitive and social arena. Coding and programming can often include robotics, and there are a lot of interesting programs and avenues open to children for that as well.
More benefits of learning to code
When children learn to code, they are not just learning mathematics and computation, but also developing problem solving skills, designing and innovating new projects and ideas, and communication skills. To add to that, with every bug that they find in their code, they learn that life comes with its share of problems and disappointments, and all we can, and must do, is to go back to our drawing board (or computer), shift things around, change what we can, and try to come up with a better code, a better solution. Do your research, find the right program and get your kids coding.