One of the important questions that parents ask today is “What is the importance of teaching coding to children?” Some people think that it is a side skill and that its impact is limited to a specific field, and that it does not have that important impact on the child’s personality, life, future or even his way of thinking, but the truth is far from that.
Now we are living in a digital era that has witnessed a huge advancement and improvement in technology, which requires abilities to keep pace with such developments. If one ability can be mentioned it will be “Coding”.
Let’s go back in time a little. In particular, it was the computer scientist Jeanette Wing who brought the term “coding” to the attention of the scientific community in a 2006 article and defined it as the fourth basic skill together with reading, writing and counting, essential for everyone. Because it is useful in daily life.
Therefore, it is currently possible to understand coding as a new language that allows you to “dialogue” with the computer in order to give it, in a simple way, tasks and commands.
What is Coding?
The term “coding” refers to computer programming and therefore to designing and developing software.
Basically, Programming is defined as the process of writing instructions and commands for electronic devices such as computers and phones, in order to make them achieve a specific task. and in general, programming used the instructions to be entered into ANY electronic device, even an electronic blender!
A computer or smart devices are all capable of carrying out these tasks, but they need someone to explain it to them, in a language they understand, and here comes the role of the programmer.
The programmer writes “codes” in special languages known as “programming languages”, in order to create a program that performs the function required, such as developing a chatbot, a website to watch movies, or even a car racing game.
So Simply put, programming as a means of communication between humans (the programmer) and the machine (which is represented by any programmable device).
The fourth basic skill together with reading, writing and counting, essential for everyone.
Coding is not a standalone skill
One of the most important skills to be developed during the growth of a child is that of computational thinking, with this term we mean the ability to link the right mental processes to the formulation and solution of a problem.
To explain this in simpler terms, Computational thinking is an expression of supreme rationality and is a useful approach, not only in the field of coding, but also in the knowing how to identify a problem, analyze it, possibly of break it down into smaller problems, and finding the optimal solution to it.
Therefore, Computational thinking is needed to be introduced to children through computer programming from an early age as they will develop this form of thinking much easier than those who approach programming as adults, when it is more difficult to create new mental schemes.
Coding is a skill that will develop computational thinking in children by triggering a logical-creative process that allows them to break down a complex problem into different parts, in order to tackle it.
This can be achieved by putting the children in front of a problem to be solved, through a series of games, exercises and activities and they manipulate the blocks of information and each block represents an instruction in programming language, and this gives young users the opportunity to learn the basics of programming.
That’s why it’s important to start knowing the basics as a child. Knowing how to code, however, does not only mean programming, but also learning to organize ideas, develop logical and critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
From this standpoint, the desire to teach programming to children arose to prepare future generations to be ready to deal with the modern world in which robotics and artificial intelligence technology is expected to have a large share, especially in the labor sector. Thus, new generations must be prepared to deal with the technology invasion of current jobs. There are many online coding courses, both free and paid. In this article, we will take a look at the best platforms through which to introduce our children to the study of this fundamental subject.
Benefits of Learning Coding
- Programming is another global language: Parents rely on applications to teach English to children as it is the most important global language. Now programming is the language of communication in the modern digital world in which we live, and all of the technical developments we see began by writing a simple code that was developed later. It is a good opportunity to teach your children how the digital world revolves around them.
- Writing codes enhances creativity: programming is a process of trial and error, many approaches can be used interchangeably, lots of options to be tried, a one piece of code can be written with many different commands to do the same function but the best to be used is the one with the best performance, so tackling such issues, increase the children mental abilities and encourage their creativity.
- Programming develops the child’s abilities in arithmetic and mathematics: Programming and mathematics are very related and this is known to every professional developer, which is beneficial for your child to understand arithmetic operations in a simple and intelligent manner. It is accredited by the global Stem curriculum.
- Improving academic writing abilities: Organizing ideas and preparing plans and steps are among the huge gains from teaching programming to children, as it enhances writing abilities with the development of understanding the world of coding and construction.
- Learning to code promotes problem solving: Here is what all parents are looking for, for their child to be able to face problems and solve them through the different age stages without fear and hesitation that significantly affects our world now.
- Increasing Job Opportunities: The current generation needs to be tech-savvy, to ensure that they can be competitive in the future job market. Not knowing how to code will be somehow similar to not knowing how to read or not knowing English language.
What are the Fundamental Concepts of Coding?
Children from an early age, starting from kindergarten, can understand the basic concepts of coding as they are experiencing such concepts in their daily lives! These concepts include:
Decomposition is the process of breaking down large and complex problems into more manageable sub-problems.
An algorithm is a finite series of specific and well-defined instructions and procedures that describes how to perform a task for solving a class of problems.
Sequencing is a coding concept that most kids can understand easily. A sequence is simply the order of tasks, an ordered list of commands that a programmer tells a computer which tasks to perform first, and the order of the rest of the commands and so on.
A loop is a programming structure that repeats a sequence of instructions or block of code statements until a specified condition is met. It’s used to not to repeat the same code multiple times which can cause inefficient use of memory. Simply, looping is deciding how many times to take a certain action.
Branching is a technique that it’s used by the programmer to decide what actions to take, it is used when a computer deviates from its usual path, jump the flow of execution from one part of a program to another according to a specific condition.
When to Start and How
For children, learning a natural language or programming language doesn’t make a big difference as a programming language is nothing more than the written version of a foreign natural language; it is composed of words and more or less complex syntax that must be followed to ensure that what is written is correctly understood and leads to desirable results. The only difference is that it is aimed to computers, not to people. In this context, the first steps can be taken at an early age.
So this means that kindergarten kids can learn to code?
Surprisingly, Basic coding concepts is much simpler than we think, we use coding concepts on daily basis without even noticing that what we do is pure coding concepts, a daily life example is brushing our teeth and getting dressed, these examples represent the concept of Algorithm that we use daily in real life.
And actually, this is what is preferred to be taught to a kid aged 5 years old, not a syntax of a programming language but a concept that he can easily imagine from his daily life routines.
The starting point will depend on the child’s age, interest, and learning style. However, there are recommended curricula for different ages:
- 4 up to 7
- 7 up to 11
- 11 and older
How to get your child to code?
There are various ways that kids can follow to learn how to code and expand their knowledge-from toys to Apps, but the best to introduce to younger ages is “unplugged coding activities.
1. Unplugged Coding
Unplugged literally means “disconnected from the electrical outlet”, “not connected”. Unplugged activities are, therefore, all those activities that do not involve the use of electronic devices. But is it possible to do coding without electricity? Yes, absolutely.
Before using electronic tools such as PCs and tablets, to introduce computational thinking, it is important to involve the kids in many preparatory activities through play and fun. In fact, it is enough to use simple and everyday materials (such as caps, glasses, napkins) to design activities that stimulate problem-solving.
Concentrating on unplugged activities allows you to put aside the technological difficulties (often linked also to the scarce availability of devices at school and at home) and instead focus on the conceptual aspects. Computer science, after all, is an evolution of mathematics and in particular of logic, so it is precisely from logic that it is best to start. And to do Logic it is not necessary to have a computer.
To write the algorithms it is certainly necessary to know the language (made up of the rules and syntax of the various programming languages), but if we don’t know what to say, what do we need to master all the grammar rules? Unplugged coding allows us to focus attention on things to say even before learning how to say them: substance before form!
Unplugged coding has numerous advantages:
- it does not pose technological barriers; it can be practiced anywhere with do-it-yourself materials (DIY) or even without any material;
- allows you to place all the attention on computational thinking and algorithmic aspects, putting technological tools in the background;
- it can be played at any age, as a board game, party game, group activity or physical activity;
- whoever plays the role of ideal performer allows to fully understand the nature of computers and robots;
- focuses on the separation of roles between programmer and ideal performer, which is the essence of coding.
Where to start to develop computational thinking in an unplugged way?
Several resources related to unplugged activities can be found online. One of the most detailed and rich sites on the subject is CS Unplugged, which collects very valid ideas and ready-to-use materials for students and teachers. Among the advantages of CS Unplugged we find a section dedicated to classical computer algorithms which are explained in great detail, but in a simple and clear way. And strictly unplugged.
The undisputed master of the unplugged, however, is undoubtedly Linda Liukas (who spoke, do, teach). With her Ruby, the little girl discovering the world of IT, the author tells in a precise, clear and fun way everything there is to know about computers, coding, the internet and everything about this world. . Her site Hello Ruby collects Linda’s books, but also lots of stimuli for creating fun unplugged activities and lots of ready-to-use materials.
Unplugged coding resources:
2. Block Programming
Kids in older age groups (7 up to 11) can start learning the principles of programming by learning block programming. This type of programming is visual and uses a drag-and-drop system of instructional blocks. Programming like this can help build logical thinking and a foundation for creating sequences.
Best apps/Tutorials to start with
- Scratch Jr: MIT project that was launched as an online community project to teach students coding in a simple way and help kids become programmers with easy activity packages and a great support system.
- Kodable: It provides basic programming concepts through attractive games, its curriculum is suitable for ages 4 up to 10,it’s divided into two sections, the first one is directed to younger age group (4 up to 7) as they learn programming concepts through drag-and-drop blocks, the second part is directed to older age group (7 up to 10) It includes a set of advanced information such as learning the programming language through the gamification method, since it is an excellent language for beginners, and then moving on to writing real programming codes using a programming interface intended for children to build characters and design games
- Code.org: Adopts programming education through the Hour Of Code initiative, providing programming exercises that can be solved within an hour, it provides a great introduction to programming and it contains unplugged activities and coding puzzles, Thus, the child can program simple games with easy steps, in addition to providing advanced resources for education for higher levels
- Tynker: Programming platform contains a lot of tasks, with easy lessons and tutorials, children can build almost any program/application they want , including desktop applications, web applications, games or web pages. The website is free, but there is a subscription if your child wants to improve his abilities and skills.
- Hello Ruby: Provides a book and unplugged activities for practicing critical thinking.
- Blocky Games: Created by Google, it teaches programming principles and it’s just like a puzzle solving mechanism, the puzzle pieces appear on the screen and the goal is to complete the “story” of the program by completing the puzzle.
3. Text Based Coding
Although the advantage of block coding is undoubtedly the ability to program without worrying about the syntax which is favored at younger ages in an educational context to develop computational thinking and learn the basic programming concepts. However, in the long run, these languages show their limits: rigidity and the consequent lack of flexibility.
The main strong point of block coding is that it doesn’t require any Syntax knowledge, and the Syntax is the set of rules that defines the structure of a programming language, it’s like the “grammar” of a natural language.
However, not worrying about syntax is important at younger ages but it still can’t expose the kids to real-world applications with its complex structure which is built by text-based coding languages.
So the early exposure to the grammar of a language, the easier it is for them to pick it up.
Text-based coding takes place by writing code using text editors rather than the drag and drop style that block-based code uses. The instructions are not graphic objects or blocks, but words (generally English) written in sequences that must follow a specific syntax and divided into one or more files that will be compiled or interpreted to be executed,
Text-based language, on the other hand, is more complex and requires a study of syntax. The instructions must be written correctly, typing errors can lead to problems in execution. Moreover, these languages offer greater flexibility and expansion potential that well-defined blocks cannot provide.
So the normal transition is to understand all programming concepts by using block coding then continue with the text-based coding.
Some of the most popular text-based programming languages are