Future Developers: Why Kids Should Learn the Basics of Code

Published: 04/18/2013   Last Updated: 04/18/2013

Do you remember learning how to read? You might recall the simple wonder of interpreting something that had previously just been so many meaningless symbols on the page, the amazement you felt when you realized that these words – previously mysterious – were now unlocked to you. That’s the same experience that advocates of teaching coding skills to children are advocating, and it’s definitely one worth pursuing.

Different strokes for different folks

Marshall Brain, the man behind the famous “How Stuff Works” web series, is a strong advocate of teaching kids to code. In his article titled “Teaching Your Kids How to Write Computer Programs”, he notes that teachers and parents need to remember that every child is different as far as learning skills; not all kids will be able to grasp the analytical concepts that programming is all about, and that’s okay. In addition, it’s not all about just plopping a child in front of a computer. Programming can be taught in a multitude of different ways, and more than one approach is advisable. Games are really a fantastic way for children to learn the basics of coding and logical thinking, and that’s the same for many adults; games have the ability to make difficult tasks less onerous.

Many roads to learning how to code

As learning how to code gains more momentum, more and more online classes (most free!) are popping up. A few that are especially relevant for kids:

  • Phrogram: “With Phrogram, you can learn the experience of programming using a development environment that is similar to what working programmers use to write, test and debug their software programs.”
  • SCRATCH: From MIT; “Scratch is a programming language that makes it easy to create your own interactive stories, animations, games, music, and art -- and share your creations on the web.”
  • GameMaker:  “The GameMaker: Studio™ family of products caters to entry-level novices and seasoned game development professionals equally, allowing them to create casual and social games for, iOS, Android, desktop and the Web (HTML5) in record time and at a fraction of the cost.”
  • Code Academy: Games, puzzles, and interactive brain teasers help you learn several different languages at Code Academy.
  • The Khan Academy:  Learn online from videos on just about any subject, including coding.

It’s not just about the code

Scratch, put together by MIT, is all about learning logical thinking in way that makes it easy to visualize the complex processes that you’re piecing together. Here’s more from MIT Media Lab Mitch Resnick who gave a TED talk about the subject of teaching kids to program:

“Let me show you about what it's like to code in Scratch. So in Scratch, to code, you just snap blocks together. In this case, you take a move block, snap it into a stack, and the stacks of blocks control the behaviors of the different characters in your game or your story, in this case controlling the big fish. After you've created your program, you can click on "share," and then share your project with other people, so that they can use the project and start working on the project as well.” – TED.com, “Let’s Teach Kids To Code”

 While training in specific code languages is certainly important and could lead to bigger things down the road, learning to code is so much more than just getting a handle on C#. It’s about learning logical thinking, seeing a bigger picture, and training your mind to move in ways that it’s not necessarily accustomed to. Resnick references this phenomenon when talking about a young man who overcame a difficult coding issue:

“So he was learning many different core principles of design, about how to experiment with new ideas, how to take complex ideas and break them down into simpler parts, how to collaborate with other people on your projects, about how to find and fix bugs when things go wrong, how to keep persistent and to persevere in the face of frustrations when things aren't working well. Now those are important skills that aren't just relevant for coding. They're relevant for all sorts of different activities.”

A bridge to tech literacy

The term “Renaissance man” (or woman) refers to someone who is truly well-rounded in both sciences and humanities; both the left and right sides of the brain, in essence. Teaching kids to code isn’t a miracle in and of itself, but the thinking behind it could conceivably build a bridge to something much bigger.

Once you learn the reasoning and logic behind how things work, and your brain is trained to look for that logic, you are better able to understand the technology behind other things. It’s a change agent; just like reading and writing and literacy were the building blocks of many cultural revolutions, learning how to figure out the building blocks of technology serves a similar purpose.

It also helps kids see their ideas as part of a larger process and see them all the way through to completion – not just a coding project, but any project. The same logic and linear thinking are there. Bottom line, learning how to code is an important skill that can help build logical thinking, which is an important skill that is on the wane in most school systems, but still serves an incredibly important purpose in our lives.

Standout kid coders

There have been a few “teaching kids to code” success stories in the news recently. One of which was a young boy who writes iPhone apps for fun:

“Lim, who is fluent in six programing languages, started using the computer at the age of 2. He has since completed about 20 programing projects.

His father, Lim Thye Chean, a chief technology officer at a local technology firm, also writes iPhone applications.

"Every evening we check the statistics emailed to us (by iTunes) to see who has more downloads," the older Lim said.” – Nine Year Old Whiz Kid Writes iPhone App

There’s also 17 year old Nick D’Aloisio, who created a news app called Summly and then sold it to Yahoo! For $30 million, and Santiago Gonzalez, just 14 years old, fluent in several coding languages, and getting his Master’s degree in computer science:

It’s never too late to start

Coding isn’t all about math, or weird syntax, or making games. It also helps develop logical thinking, creativity, and builds confidence in your own abilities. In short, it’s a bridge to a more open mind, a brain that works in different ways than you might be accustomed to (and this is a good thing!).  A quote from Bill Gates:

“Learning to write programs stretches your mind, and helps you think better, creates a way of thinking about things that I think is helpful in all domains.“

How did you learn to code? What do you think this skill has added to your life – beyond providing an income? Do you think it’s helpful for more people to learn how to code? What do you think might be the most helpful way for kids to learn how to code? Do you think coding should be taught in schools? Share with us in the comments.



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