Coding – the 21st-century skill you shouldn’t go without. And not just if you’re an adult, coding is also great for children. Learn about why the skill is so essential in this day and age and how best to teach it from a young age, whether you’re a parent or an educator.
Coding for today’s children is what learning several languages had been for the older generations in the past. Especially if English wasn’t your first language, you had to learn it to be able to go abroad nearly anywhere, and even for reasons as pragmatic as understanding foreign popular culture and navigating the internet well. It was a skill necessary for educational reasons, for better prospects on the job market, for improving one’s technical skills, and for networking – whether in a professional or informal capacity.
While speaking English is still just as important these days, today, coding for children has become that essential skill. Interestingly, it is for exactly the same reasons. It’s an asset for both educational and professional reasons, vastly improves one’s technical skills as well as the very understanding of technology and helps with networking.
So what is coding?
Coding is something people might imagine square-headed IT guys with thick glasses do in their basements, isolated from the outside world, lacking in social skills. But that’s just a silly stereotype. Coding is the magical component that allows you to scroll through your smart phone and send messages with just one tip of the finger. Coding is also what helps all your home gadgets function according to your own setting. It’s your car telling you there’s another vehicle too close by you, it’s your alarm clock waking you up in the morning, your electric toothbrush washing your teeth with different settings, and it’s even your coffee machine making your morning coffee according to your own preferences.
You press a button, and a smart device delivers. Coding is the system that allows all these gadgets to function while you interact with them. It holds our world together and lets us increasingly rely on the functionality of technology rather than performing those mundane repetitive tasks ourselves. But what we usually see is the only the end product, or what we get once the code has been designed, tested and put into practice. But how does one make code? How does one create that magical component that makes the world work as it does?
The easiest way to present coding is by сomparing it with a recipe. A recipe is a set of rules you have to follow in a specific order and specific amounts to get a particular result. Think of every step as of command. 300g of flour, add eggs and milk, mix, put into the oven, bake at 200 degrees celsius. You might alter and tweak the individual steps slightly, but in the end, you should end up with a cake. Code is like that, but instead of baking cakes, it allows us to operate technology.
What is computational thinking
A more sophisticated way to describe the phenomenon under coding is by using the concept of ‘computational thinking’. Computational thinking is a solution-oriented problem-solving approach that is inspired by how computers solve problems, and in essence, encapsulates the logic behind coding in general. We’ve already described it in detail on our blog, so take a look at it if you’d like to find out more. But to sum the concept up, it acknowledges that computers are very effective at disseminating complex problems into smaller particles that are easier to digest than the whole meal.
Specifically, the four steps this process consists of are decomposition, pattern recognition, abstraction, and algorithm design. Every problem consists of smaller subcomponents, and by recognizing these, we can avoid becoming overwhelmed by a seemingly complicated task. When we approach the individual subcomponents and find a pattern between them, we can begin to address the whole task with a unified approach. It’s an analytical method that requires intense immersion into a situation and the empathy and imagination to consider its several outcomes. As such, the approach is a good lesson for other disciplines as well, and not only tech-related.
5 Reasons why coding is important for today’s kids
Having discussed what thought-processes coding encompasses and what methodology it encourages, here is a brief summary of why coding is a useful asset to nurture since early childhood.
1. Coding for children has an interdisciplinary value
Besides improving their critical and problem-solving skills, coding for kids is great at training their brains to be better in math (because of the logic-based approach) and training important life skills, such as the attention to detail (one wrong sign and the whole code stops working), self-reliance (finding a solution on their own), and patience. Designing and building the right code can take hours and days, but the results are always worth the long wait!
2. It nurtures children’s creativity
Much like the language example we’ve used at the beginning of the post, coding isn’t that different from learning a new language. It is a language, after all. Every time we learn a new language, our linguistic, expressive, and creative skills improve. A language is like a whole new paradigm that allows us to see the world through a new pair of lenses.
Additionally, coding allows children to express themselves creatively not just as any other language does. Most other languages don’t let you create things like robots, technology components, or smart gadgets––do they?
3. Coding provides children with a massive future job potential
We’ve said it already, but it still couldn’t be said enough. Computer technology and smart devices will become omnipresent in our lives if they haven’t already. Automated processes governed through coding will be required at every step of the way, and will likely permeate every field and discipline imaginable. (There is even artificial intelligence composing music, in case you thought creative fields might be exempt from the rule!)
But regardless of this reality, education hasn’t yet caught up to produce as many coding experts as are required. On the job market, there is high demand for skilled coding experts, while most of the required coding positions are not filled––making up almost 2.4 million unfilled STEM jobs as of 2018. Coding occupations even rank among the top 10 best-paying jobs, as well as the most secure jobs. Coding positions will only expand with time, which means that someone from a solid coding background can rest assured that they’ll always have job offers to choose from.
4. Coding gives children a sense of empowerment
Seeing one’s own design come to life is an incredibly empowering feeling. When this design is something made of technology, one thing is certain – by having created it, children have learned to understand that technology is not intimidating or necessarily complicated. Instead, all of it is based on the same principles they learn to understand in coding lessons. By coming to understand that they can participate in the creation of technology rather than just be its consumers, their approach to tech products and solutions will slowly but surely change to one of a deeper understanding and confidence.
A kid savvy with coding won’t be as likely to grow frustrated when encountering a simple tech challenge (i.e. not being able to turn on the newest gadget at home), but will probably put their talent to good use and at least attempt to solve their issue.
5. Coding can be a great source of entertainment for children
If you’re ever worried about your children’s relationship with technology, propelled by dystopian movies and a general fear of the unknown, coding is a great way to combat that fear. It familiarizes children with technology on a deeper creative and collaborative level that turns technology into just another tool that can be used to achieve specific results. Technology (and coding) are just a means to an end.
What better way to learn this than through having fun and playing? The first coding lessons for children are built around play. They’re open-end, collaborative, creative and will keep your kid busy for hours on end.
How can kids learn to code
Now that the case for teaching coding for children has been made, let’s move on to the practical side. How do we teach them?
Don’t worry if you yourself have no coding background. As is the case with many activities, children can easily outgrow us with how malleable and open their brains are at the primary years stage. You can even start with free, DIY tools that don’t require a screen to function, just to get into the logic of coding. Then, move on to coding via apps, ideally, a combination of physical tools and apps. Robo Wunderkind is one such tool and teaches children from as early as 5 years old onto their teenage years coding at different levels of difficulty.
You can also join online lessons or online challenges, like our #MakersMarathon or #RoboMonthlyChallenge and later even sign your kids up for online courses and classes that they can take from the comfort of their home and later on (when it is safe) attend in person. The opportunities are endless, one just needs to start!
Perhaps the most important lesson to instill in kids and to remember when they’re taught to code is to not be afraid. It is a whole new skill, sure, one that opens up a whole new world up to them, involves a lot of indiscernible lines and commands that you might not even be able to read, let alone understand, but it all starts with the sheer power of will to learn something new, to let one’s mind be fascinated, and to accept a new challenge. Thankfully, this comes naturally to children, so don’t be afraid of it either!