Raising Kids Who Can Code
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More than 600,000 computing jobs are available in the U.S., but only 43,000 computer science majors graduated last year. That startling statistic from code.org may explain why nine out of 10 parents want children to learn computer programming. Even kids who aren’t likely to choose programming as a career benefit from learning something about it. Coding teaches kids to analyze problems, think logically and be persistent about troubleshooting.
Coding classes aren’t a routine part of many K-12 school curricula. Parents can find out about exemplary school programs at digitalpromise.org and discover local programs in the “Learn” section of code.org. You can also supplement what’s available at school with options like these:
Toys. Code-A-Pillar ($50), coming soon from Fisher Price, is a caterpillar that does different things depending on how a toddler sequences its segments. Makerbloks.com sells domino-size blocks ($125) for ages 6 and older that have different functions and can be snapped together to tell stories or create devices like a burglar alarm or a voice-changing microphone. Circuit Maze ($30) from Thinkfun teaches kids to think logically about circuits with a series of 60 puzzles.
Bots. Robots and droids can be fun for the entire family, but many models are expensive, delicate or tricky to operate. Exceptions include Dash and Dot from makewonder.com ($99), a freestanding, kid-friendly bot that can be controlled through an app. Sphero also sells several durable, rolling robots that will appeal to kids over age 8, especially if they are Star Wars fans (purchase BB-8 for $129.99).
Apps. Two of the better coding apps for kids come from Hopscotch, a free apple program that encourages school-age kids to code games and artwork. A simpler program called Daisy the Dinosaur, also free and from Apple, is available for preschoolers. Kodable teaches coding practices by having 6- to 10-year-olds maneuver furry, round aliens called Fuzzes through increasingly difficult mazes (also free and available on multiple platforms). Try The Foos and Lightbot (both free for most platforms) as well.
Clubs. Cs-first.com offers free modules that can be used in afterschool programs or summer camps. The materials are built around Scratch, a coding language devised at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (scratch.mit.edu), and are targeted to students in fourth through eighth grade. All you need to start a club is a willing adult and access to one internet-enabled device for each club member.
Lessons. For children who develop a taste for coding, several organizations offer a more systematic way to become proficient. Code.org has links to Hour of Code projects that offer free one-hour tutorials introducing students to code. Pluralsight offers several free classes for kids at pluralsight.com/kids-courses. At codeacademy.com, teens who are motivated can master several programming languages through free interactive lessons.
Camps. iDtech.com offers camps exploring a variety of technical topics at over 150 locations, including many campuses with prestigious computer science programs for ages 7-18. The Emagination program intersperses lessons in coding with more traditional camp activities. Information about locations and programs, including a popular Minecraft session, is available at computercamps.com.
Just for girls. In the past, boys gravitated toward programming more readily than girls. A number of organizations are trying to reverse that trend. Madewithcode.com, a Google initiative, features coding projects developed by young women. Girlswhocode.com sponsors tech clubs and summer camps for girls, and girldevelopit.com offers supportive women-only classes in 52 U.S. cities.
There are plenty of options available for finding a program or project that matches your child’s age and temperament, as well as your family’s schedule and budget. So what are you waiting for? Get your kids coding now.
Carolyn Jabs raised three computer-savvy kids, including one with special needs. Visit growing-up-online.com to read some of her other columns.