Don’t you wish you could glimpse the future and prepare your child for what’s to come?
As parents, we all want a happy and successful future for our kids. The trouble is, the future is uncertain. None of us know what’s lurking around the corner, and this uncertainty can leave us feeling crippled with fear, with devastating implications for our future plans if we let it.
Being prepared is everything, and I believe coding with kids is a great way to equip them with a set of skills that could prove fundamental to their success.
Coding for kids
Coding enables us to give machines and devices a set of instructions so that they will perform certain tasks. Unlike people though, they will do whatever we tell them, so the scope for creativity is huge!
There are lots of coding languages we can choose to learn, each suited to different tasks. However, the logical manner in which they function is often quite similar. When starting at an early age we can set the dilemma of choosing to one side, as it’s perhaps more beneficial to simply embrace the way of thinking that coding will help develop.
You do not need to be a genius to code. Anyone can do it… and it’s a lot more accessible than you might think.
Put simply, it’s a way of thinking about problems and how we can solve them.
Coding can be intimidating at first, but like anything, it gets easier the more you do it. You can’t start coding too early, in fact, you can code with kids before they can even read. A quick Google search for ‘screen-free coding games’ will give you plenty of inspiration for activities that can be done with preschoolers. Block-based, visual programming languages such as Scratch can be a great place to start introducing slightly older children to the concept of coding. They involve blocks of pre-written code that students can drag and drop to create games, animations, and interactive projects. It can be a really fun way for kids to get acquainted with how code works and begin thinking like a coder.
#1. It can teach them to love Mathematics
When I was at school, I dreaded mathematics lessons. I resigned myself to the fact that ‘I wasn’t any good at it’, just as so many do. The problem was that I couldn’t yet see how it related to me directly, or when I could ever possibly apply the concepts being taught. Thankfully, teaching methods are different nowadays. Many schools now approach things in a more interdisciplinary fashion, where children solve problems in the context of real-world situations.
Had some of my lessons been presented as part of a coding project on how to get an alien spacecraft in a game to fire lasers, or how to make a unicorn fly, I’m sure I’d have been on the edge of my seat, desperate to work out the mathematics involved in doing so! The way we are wired means that we retain information much more easily when our brain thinks it may be useful to us somewhere down the line to perform a certain task. If a student is engaged in an activity they find fun or interesting, they become invested at an emotional level and are more likely to retain the information presented to them.
#2. It encourages them to be creative
Once you gain the skill of being able to write code, you have the ability to turn your ideas into reality. The possibilities for creativity are endless. This creativity, in the right hands, has the potential to solve some of the biggest issues we face in the world today. Climate change, inequality, disease, education, sustainable food production, and renewable energy can all be tackled head-on with creative solutions powered by coding.
It may sound like a cliché, but a successful coding project starts with an idea in someone’s mind.
Many of us have been guilty of overlooking the role of creativity in education in favour of more ‘academic’ subject areas. However, the cognitive processes involved in the act of creativity can be applied to many aspects of problem-solving and learning and are transferrable to other subject areas – not just Mathematics and English.
#3. It shows them the importance of being a team player
Coding has suffered a bit of an image problem in the past. Sometimes seen as a solitary pursuit, carried out almost exclusively by males, having little contact with other people. However, it’s more commonly being seen as a ‘cool’ vocation, with something akin to rock-star status.
Whilst we still need more girls to consider at coding as a career choice, there is thankfully evidence that this stereotype is beginning to change too.
Large computer programming projects can be complex and it would not be feasible for one person alone to work on them. Tackling them often requires us to break problems down and divide them into smaller, manageable tasks. We can then assign them to different individuals or teams. The success of working this way is dependent on being a good team player. It demands working to schedules, under a shared set of rules and standards, following a clear plan of action, and working closely with colleagues. The ultimate success of a project relies on effective collaboration and communication between every member of the team.
#4. It can them help acquire an appreciation for the world in which they live
Almost every product, every building, every single thing we consume in our daily lives has at some point in its lifecycle involved coding of some form or other. Whether at the creation stage, the manufacturing stage, or the logistics and delivery stage, we rely on computer programs and algorithms to supply us with the products we need.
Once you take any part of this supply chain and start thinking about the coding involved, it’s difficult not to develop an appreciation for how things work. Complex systems within retail constantly track which products we buy, at which price, when, and where. The staggering amount of raw data produced by this can give us an intimate insight into people’s lives like never before. In the entertainment industry, social media apps and games utilise a deep understanding of human psychology to trigger the happy chemicals in our brains and keep us coming back for more. Engineers apply mathematical principles to components and structures to make sure they are safe for us to use. In addition, artificial intelligence is now integral in everything from cars to vending machines, giving us profound insights into human behaviour.
#5. It can train them to be an effective communicator
Children often struggle to articulate what they want to say. There is no room for vague language or fuzzy ideas in coding, it forces us to express our ideas in the most elegant, logical way possible. Due to the binary nature of coding, it will either work or it won’t, there is little room for misinterpretation. We have to ‘trim the fat’ from what we want to convey, so that it may be articulated as clearly as possible.
Getting into the habit of thinking in such a logical manner can help us to be better coders, but it also has the potential to make us more effective at conveying to others what we want to say. If we want to move a character on a screen for example, we can give clearly defined instructions to ‘go forward 200 pixels, turn 90 degrees clockwise and move a further 150 pixels forward’. What we cannot do is say, ‘walk for a bit and then turn around’ – we must be explicit in our instructions so that there is no room dispute in our intentions.
#6. It can build resilience
Even simple coding activities, such as screen-free games played with kids often require several attempts before achieving our aims. Far from being frustrating, this can provide an exciting challenge for a child to develop the skill of persistence. Eventually solving the puzzle and getting it correct can prove extremely rewarding!
When advancing to actually writing lines of code. The way in which they express it is critical too. In coding, ‘syntax’ is the set of rules which tell us how our code should be written. If we don’t follow these rules precisely, an oversight as small as one single symbol out of place or an incorrect spelling can prevent a project from working in the way we want it to. This can be frustrating at first, but it forces us to keep going until our code works.
#7. It shows them how they can help others
We can use coding as a tool to tackle the problems we face in our day to day lives. To do this effectively requires us to develop a sense of empathy in order to recognise and understand these problems at a deeper level. With this empathy, we can create solutions that help people live better, happier lives.
Whilst it may be true that coding with kids may often involve simple games and animations, rather than more complex programs aimed at tackling big problems, there is still scope to begin asking the kind of questions that will help develop empathy:
- Who is it for?
- What problems do they face?
- What would make their lives easier?
- How can I create something to address this?
We need a clear understanding of the desired outcomes we’re trying to achieve before we can take steps to map out how to accomplish them.
#8. It shows that its OK to make mistakes
Did you dread being asked questions in class when you were a child? I did. The thought of giving an incorrect answer and being judged by my teacher or peers was terrifying. Looking back, this was such a shame as it inevitably held me back in many ways.
Mistakes can sometimes feel like huge failures to children. Getting them to understand that they are essential for growth and something to be embraced rather than feared can be a challenging, but extremely important task.
The process of continual iteration and testing involved in coding forces children to accept that mistakes are inevitable and not something to be feared at all. Once we work through them, it becomes self-evident that mistakes are feedback signals that offer opportunities to improve our work. This mindset can be transferred to other areas of their personal development and growth, helping to free them from the fear that can inhibit learning if we let it.
We all know kids sometimes struggle to concentrate on the task at hand. Coding demands a certain degree of stoicism in that the challenges will rarely be solved at the first attempt. We often need to look at problems logically, and analytically, without letting emotion cloud our judgment. This forces us to accept that things will inevitably not work out as we want them to but also shows that obstacles can be overcome with perseverance. In coding, we sometimes need to take a step back and view our work ‘as it is’, and without judgment so that we can work out what our next steps should be.
#10. It builds confidence
Coding with kids offers a great opportunity for them to see the fruits of their labour and feel a real sense of satisfaction with their work. When they test out their code, the results are almost instant. Turning ideas into reality like this can make them feel like they have a superpower and give a real boost to their confidence levels. Working on projects from conception to completion demonstrates the level of commitment required to achieve what they set out to do – a great habit to get in to! It can also start an empowering chain of thought whereby a child thinks “I managed to do this… I wonder what else is possible?”.
As more and more aspects of our lives become automated in some way and our homes become connected like never before with the internet of things, coding is likely to become an increasingly sought-after skill. This new connected world will present employment opportunities to create and maintain the systems that help each and every one of us live our lives. Learning to code at a young age gives kids the chance to get somewhat ahead of this curve and start thinking in a way that facilitates solving the problems of tomorrow. The surge in demand for jobs reliant on coding could make learning the skill a ‘future-proof’ investment, which is likely to open many opportunities for school leavers and could prove to be a profitable decision in terms of salaries.
There has also been a marked shift in the way in which many of us work in recent years. Rather than commuting to offices or factories, many tasks can now be performed from our homes. This situation has perhaps been further accelerated as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. We’ve all been forced to rethink many of our existing paradigms around how we live and work, and move towards solutions more congruent with the 21st century.
Whilst coding for kids may have been an area we’ve overlooked in the past, things are changing. Many teachers and educators are now doing a fantastic job of incorporating technology into their lesson plans. To prepare for the future though, and ensure we have a say in it, we need to look at how we can now make the transition from being solely consumers of technology to being involved at a more creative level.
Coding presents a massive opportunity for educators to combine exciting collaborative projects with their existing teaching methods. It provides a great structural basis for interdisciplinary projects that are rewarding, fun, and also nurture several key disciplines which will greatly benefit our children in their educational journeys.