There’s no doubt that when today’s students leave school they will enter into a globally-connected and digital world. Just like we would not send our children to a country that speaks a foreign language unprepared, we can prepare our kids for their futures by introducing them to coding. In this complete guide to coding, we run through why kids should learn to code, which programming languages are best for beginners, and how to make the process fun and engaging.
No guide to coding is complete without an explanation of what coding (or computer programming) actually is. Code is the set of languages that computers use to understand our commands. Coding (or programming) is the process where you tell the computer how to perform a specific task or set of tasks, by writing code. Let’s take pausing a video as an example. When you press the pause button, it triggers a program that says, if the pause button is pressed, then pause the video. This program is written in code, as a series of tasks. Nowadays, most things are run by computers – from the coffee machine to rocket ships. When you know this, finding the code in everyday life and trying to understand it can become a fun game!
It’s no secret that computer code is everywhere, and the world is becoming extremely high-tech. However, these are not the only benefits of learning to code, nor the most important in our view. Learning to program teaches kids a new way of thinking about the world, how to problem-solve, logic, and much more.
When you write a program, mistakes are almost inevitable. Fixing mistakes means engaging in a creative problem-solving process to work out the root cause of the issue, and how to stop it from happening. If not mistakes, there’s a good chance that there is a better (more succinct) way to write the same program.
To write clear and concise code, it’s necessary to think about what you want to achieve and work backwards to understand how to design and build it. This is the foundation of systems thinking, of which Elon Musk is a proponent. Learning to program also teaches elements of formal logic, such as Booleans (True or False) statements, and an understanding of information and how it is presented in the world.
Problem-solving, logic, methods of thinking – all foundational skills that will be extremely useful in a variety of situations, regardless of your child’s career aspirations. Of course, we can’t forget about the technical skills (e.g. knowing specific computer languages). These will be especially important in a high-tech world, where everyone from designers to scientists will be expected to have some degree of digital fluency.
The best coding language to start with depends on both age and the child’s personal preference. With younger children, visual blocks like CodeMonkey Jnr (free app on iTunes) and Scratch can often be the most fun and engaging way to start.
Some parents, however, may prefer to start kids off in text-based coding, such as Python and Lua, or HTML and CSS for building websites. If you still aren’t sure, our blog post ‘The Best Coding Languages for Kids to Learn’ (https://jnrengineers.com.au/the-best-coding-languages-for-kids-to-learn/) will provide greater guidance.
A good option can be to let your kids try both visual block and text-based programming to see which they prefer. We find that our students learn best when they pursue the method that interests them the most.
The best learning is done when a student is engaged in the task at hand, with enough of a challenge to keep their focus but not too much so as to dissuade them from continuing. To do this, coding needs to be fun. Rather than pour over long sections of academic texts, one of the best ways to make learning coding fun is to teach through games. Game-based learning is designed to be enjoyable regardless and built to provide rewards that motivate kids to keep going through tough problems.
We recommend above all encouraging children to explore their interests – whether that be Minecraft, websites, or robotics. We all know how much easier it is to learn new things when we pursue what interests us!
At Junior Engineers, our qualified Coding Coaches guide students through fun coding challenges that keep them engaged and inspired. Learn more about our upcoming holiday programs here: https://jnrengineers.com.au/programs/school-holidays/