What is Coding for Kids?

boy coding on laptop with an electronic device in hand
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What is Coding for Kids?

We live in an incredibly technological world that continues to innovate beyond our wildest imaginations.  Some of today’s high-tech games and gadgets can have parents scratching their heads wondering, “How do they do that?”.  More often than not, the answer is:

Coding.

To someone with no STEM background, it seems there must be a Wizard of Oz style curtain somewhere.  It must be there that genius computer programmers perform their magic – behind smoke and mirrors. Right? So what is coding for kids?

Newsflash:  Those computer programming wizards behind the curtain were once regular kids who learned to code.  We’re here today to show you the tricks behind the smoke and mirrors.  We need to break it down for you because learning to code is easier than you think.  So easy, in fact, that we know a kid can do it.

Imagine sending your child out into the world armed with a skill that sets them apart from their peers.  Kids who learn to code today will be the adults that change the world tomorrow.

Computer Programming: Why should kids learn to code?

boy in computer lab surrounded by other students

Kids of all ages can and should learn to code.  Many parents (and sadly some schools) still think coding isn’t a necessary skill for a student’s core academic course map.  Parents think, “What are they ever going to need this coding stuff for?”

National standards expect every kid to be exposed to the periodic table, even if they aren’t going to be chemists.  We teach them literary devices in elementary school, even though they may never grow up to be writers.  We test them on anatomy, even if they may never have medical career paths.  Why did I learn about photosynthesis as a kid when my house is still the place plants come to die? (RIP to my last hibiscus.)

Standards expect these things because a well-rounded education helps build the foundational blocks for professional success.  So why is computer programming still considered an elective class in many schools?  Why is it so often only available at the high school level?  We can’t say it enough – purposeful coding instruction in elementary school could literally Change. The. World.

Coding for kids is an essential skill for future employment, and computer programming can take them in so many directions.  App developers, medical software, the automotive industry, video game developers, and so much more depend on that magic coding experience.  Even a business that is seemingly unrelated to computer science is likely to need a website to promote its services.  Coding is written all over that! (Pun intended. We really like bad dad jokes here at Thimble.)

This is a photo of a child working on a computer with an adult assisting them. To the right of the photo is a quote by Author of Kindercoding Unplugged, Deanna Pecaski McLennan Ph.D. It states, "...every child should be provided the time, environment, and resources to engage in meaningful <mark>computational thinking</mark> in the classroom. Coding should be a right for every educator and child."

Photo by August de Richelieu from Pexels

Is it difficult for kids to learn to code?

Coding for kids doesn’t need to be difficult!  Don’t make it harder than it has to be.  They can play and learn about coding at the same time.  You can even participate with them while having ZERO coding knowledge of your own.  There are dozens of STEM toys and games on the market.  Even babies can code! (Wait, what?) Ok.  We might be exaggerating with that one – but Fisher-Price does have a really cute Code-a-Pillar toy for those baby geniuses.

Learning a coding language is a little bit like learning a foreign language.  It’s the language humans use to speak to computers.  Kids are already much better at learning new language skills at a young age than adults.  The later in life you begin learning a new skill, the more difficult it is to master.  Easing kids into coding with little bits of pre-coding knowledge and basic concepts is a cakewalk.  We’ll give you some fun activities you can implement at home to spend quality time with your little ones while helping them think like a programmer.  Before you know it they’ll be ready for REAL coding.

And when your child is ready for REAL coding, Thimble has you covered.  We’ll start from the beginning and teach your kids how to code one step at a time.  Re-using their kit in different ways will lead to mastery of fundamentals.  They can then build upon those skills with more advanced projects over time.  The courses are designed for easy success, and quick wins so that your child is confident and encouraged to move forward with projects that systematically increase in skill level.

Here’s the crazy part – with their very first kit, your child will be (officially) computer programming.  YOUR CHILD WILL BE PROGRAMMING A COMPUTER!  Not only does it sound cool to say out loud, but they’ll feel cool making it happen.

When should my kid learn to code?

Computational thinking is the step that comes before writing actual lines of code.  It’s mentally breaking down a problem into manageable steps before creating an algorithm (a set of directions for a computer to follow).  It is feasible for a child to learn computational thinking at a very young age. This development of problem-solving skills helps brains naturally think like a computer programmer.  Kids of all ages can learn pre-coding skills that help them develop that computational thinking necessary for efficient programming.

Try helping out your preschooler with screen-free, unplugged, play-based activities like these:

This shows a little boy beside a 6x6 grid of chalk squares on asphalt. Some of the squares are colored.

Photo used with permission from Teach Your Kids Code

  • Kids can practice giving very specific, multi-step directions to a parent.  These directions lead to a predetermined spot.  If done successfully, they get a reward.  Check out the activity pictured above, and other great computational thinking activities from Katie Siu at Teach Your Kids Code.

  • You can also practice if/then statements (found in coding) through play.  In one activity, a “programmer” gives a group of “computers” (children) commands. The computers must follow the programmers “if/then” statements, such as, “IF you have blue shoes, then take three steps forward.” The first computer to reach the programmer wins.

  • Sequencing is a coding skill all programmers use.  Preschoolers practice sequencing with cards and online games all the time.  Kids could even make their own sequencing games and activities.

The bottom line is:  They don’t need to wait until high-school to get started. Coding for kids should begin as early as possible. Think preschool for computational thinking skills.  They’re ready for actual coding around middle school. That’s where STEM programs like Thimble come in to pick up when the going gets technical.

What type of computer should I invest in for my child?

boy sitting in empty room with laptop

Anyone without serious tech-knowledge can quickly be overwhelmed when choosing a computer.  The options seem endless and might not make sense.  Should you get a system with a solid-state drive or a hard drive? Um – also what are those?  What kind of graphics adaptor should I look for? Also- what does a graphics adaptor even do?  How many GHz should my processor run at?  Do I need a desktop or a laptop?  Throw in the technical jargon and some parents might throw in the towel.

There are plenty of resources out there to help you make decisions about what computer to choose, but the best laptop for kids is going to be highly dependent on two things:

  1. Your budget:  Do you want to pay for a system that simply supports your child’s initial web-based coding program?  Or do you want to invest in a machine that has many more capabilities?

  2. Your child’s tech activities and interests:  Is your child only using this computer for basic browsing, email, and web-based coding programs?  Or for high-graphic gaming, advanced coding programs like Unity or Python, and cutting edge video editing?

The best laptops for programming don’t need to be crazy expensive.  Chromebooks are lightweight, durable, and a great beginner’s tool for web-based computer programming.  They can also be some of the most affordable options for new coders. However, it is important to note that Chromebooks aren’t exactly the best option for coding on various microcontrollers such as Arduino and Raspberry Pi.

If your child needs a more powerful system to support games like Fortnite or Overwatch, there are laptops on the market that pack as much power as a desktop without sacrificing lightweight mobility.  Just remember that you aren’t opening a full-blown STEM school in your house.  You don’t need to spring for the most advanced computer on the market right out of the gate to make this coding thing a successful venture for your kid.

4 Reasons Why Your Kid Should Learn Coding

Coding for kids is about more than career paths.  So many important academic skills are enhanced by coding classes and programs.  Let’s check out how coding can give your child a leg up on their peers.

Coding teaches children how to think.

Solving a problem is made easier when your brain can get to the solution in as few steps as possible.  Learning to code teaches kids this same type of problem-solving skill by forcing them to break down a BIG problem into smaller, more manageable steps.  (Can we code their way through cleaning their hot-mess bedrooms? Because they definitely need manageable steps in there.)

Sometimes, when a programmer is working on an algorithm, the lines of code written don’t produce the intended result.  This forces programmers (like your kids) to have to go back and “debug” their code.  They learn to check back and fix their mistakes.  Where did they go wrong, and what can they add or take away to achieve their desired result?  This creative thinking can help them look at real-world problems that need “debugged”.

Failing, and then building upon your mistakes is an essential part of coding.  It could help your child embrace failure as a part of the learning process, and alleviate some of the natural frustration they feel when they hit a roadblock in life or schoolwork.  It lets them look at their flops like a learning opportunity, rather than a reason to give up.

This is a bar graph showing an 8% increase in STEM occupations as compared to a 3.4% increase in Non-STEM occupations. To the right of the graph is an image of an assortment of batteries, breadboards, connectors, and electronic circuitry.

Computer programming is the future.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics used Data from the Occupational and Employment Statistics Program to project STEM occupations increasing by 8% from 2019-2029.  That’s more than double the 3.4% increase in Non-STEM occupations.  What does this mean?

It means that in addition to being super fun – STEM is all about the Benjamins.  The digital age is just beginning, regardless of how crazy advanced our world seems right now.  Learning to code could give your child the chance to take advantage of this explosion in STEM employment rates.

With a program like Thimble, programming for kids is pressure-free.  Having fun while learning makes them passionate about a hobby that is going to be a marketable job skill.  It doesn’t get any better than that.

Coding helps children learn how to have fun with math.

The M in STEM seems to be what turns kids (and adults) away from venturing into coding.  This myth that math is boring is often perpetuated by adults who didn’t have a great math experience in their school years.

Mathematics for kids doesn’t seem like much fun when this idea is constantly reiterated by adults.  One of the first things you can do to help your child, whether they choose to code or not, is to stop bad-mouthing math.  (Its feelings are hurt.)

Math really might not seem like fun until they use it to bust their little brother sneaking into their room with an intruder alarm they built with Thimble’s first basic circuits and code kit.  You see, coding for kids goes hand in hand with the problem skills they utilize in math, and when your child can play and learn, you can change the game on their bad attitude about math class.

Coding gives you an advantage over your peers.

Learning to code provides several things we’ve already covered including important academic skills and open doors to lucrative career paths.  But before your child can get to those careers, you have to pave their way through college admission and graduation.  Getting into a great STEM program in college can be intimidating.  The competition is fierce and universities are selective.  They choose candidates that they see as “college material” – meaning someone who will follow the program to completion to help improve their graduation rate data.

This is a photo of a young college student standing in front of a building on campus with books in her arms.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Learning to code is a skill your child can include on their college application, and it tells universities a few things about your child:

  • They’ve taken the initiative to master a job skill before they’ve even begun formal job training.

  • They possess the patience, determination, and motivation to learn a new “language” and the problem-solving skills to implement it.

  • They are familiar and friendly with technology, which is a bonus to your college admissions officer regardless of what your major will be.

This single addition to your college application can set you apart from other applicants just as qualified as you who cannot code.

4 Myths About Coding

Discovery Channel’s Mythbusters team loves to blow stuff up to bust common misconceptions.  We’d like to blow up some myths about coding for kids – but let’s leave out the flammables.  (We don’t ever have adequate adult supervision.  We’re a bunch of kids at Thimble – it’s why we have so many toys!)

This is an image of a fiery explosion.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Coding for beginners is shrouded in misconception.  Let’s bust them down.

Myth 1: Only geniuses can code.

nerdy book making a funny face in front of chalk board with equation
nerdy boy solving math equations

For parents, and especially grandparents, coding and computer programming sound like they must be steeped in complicated technology.  Just like any other academic subject, coding starts with the bare-bones basic skills.  A child as young as 4 can train their brain for computational thinking.  A child as young as 9 or 10 can begin actual coding with Thimble kits.  It doesn’t involve any Super IQ.  Succeeding as a programmer has more to do with perseverance, how to approach a problem, and handle failure than it does sheer brainpower.

The core skills needed to succeed in mastering coding are dedication, patience, motivation, and hard work.  It’s those same skills and habits that college admissions officers hear when your child lists coding on their application. Learning to code is what makes them college material!  So before you write off programming because your kid’s no Doogie Howser, think again.  A child of average intelligence can be a programmer with great ability.

Myth 2:  Coding is so boring.

*Yawn*  We get it.  Television has made the stereotypical programmer look a little, well, nerdy.  This makes “writing lines of code” sound as exciting as “writing your spelling words five times each.”  Not much fun, eh?  But when you choose a child-centered program like Thimble – learning to code is anything but boring.

Think about how they’ll feel about coding when they create their own video game controller.  How will they feel about coding when they can shut off their light remotely from their bed using a phone or tablet (or better yet their sister’s light from the living room – we can hear the screaming now)?

How much fun will they think coding is when they are controlling a robot they built and programmed with their own two hands.  Coding requires imagination and creativity the same way building a lego set does – just because there are preset rules or instructions to follow, doesn’t necessarily make it boring. They can play and learn.

This is an image of a young girl mid-yawn.

Image by truthseeker08 from Pixabay

Myth 3: You have to be a math whiz to learn to code.

Man, the gossip is getting crazy up in here!  The rumor that you have to be a prodigy at math before you can begin learning to code is just that – a rumor.

Let’s turn the tables on this – Did you know that coding can make your child a better math student?  Coding involves constant problem solving, and that’s at the very center of mathematics for kids in every grade.

Coding involves problem-solving that’s much more exciting (and interactive) than “Johnny has 37 pancakes.  Rebecca eats 5 of his pancakes.  Now he has 23 more pancakes than Oscar.  How many pancakes does Oscar have?”  Honestly, we should be asking – what are they doing with all those pancakes? And Rebecca is going to be too full for lunch.

Instead of saying “I can’t be good at coding until I’m good at math.”  Let’s teach today’s young people to say, “Having fun with coding will make me better at math.”

Myth 4:  You can only learn coding at a school or university.

In-depth coding instruction doesn’t exist at a lot of elementary and middle schools.  It’s sometimes barely scraped at the high-school level.  Every child should be learning about coding at a young age, but that doesn’t mean it’s happening.

Because there are currently gaps in the education system when it comes to learning to code, and STEM education in general, proponents of programming (say that three times fast) have made it their mission to offer alternatives for coding for kids of all ages.  There are dozens of companies and individuals who have made it their passion to try to put tools in the hands of our youth that enable them to break down the barriers, see through the myths, and learn these skills at their own pace in their own homes.

The ticket is to get to these resources and weed through them so that someday, your child can list coding as a skill they have had purposeful instruction in on their university applications.  College admissions offices will take notice. But you can’t wait until it’s too late.

Where Can My Child Learn to Code?

Learning to code at home is much more possible now than it was even five years ago.  There are coding websites that offer plenty of unplugged activities for very young kids, as well as programs that make coding for kids free with online platforms and games.  We’ve compiled a quick list of some great resources from the coding online community that you can check out:

  • Katie Siu and her team at Teach Your Kids Code have compiled an awesome list of screen-free activities to encourage younger children to engage in computational thinking.

  • Khan Academy is another great free resource with a comprehensive series of video tutorials for your budding computer programmer.  It starts with the basics.  It is not a kit service, and will not send your child manipulatives or building materials.  It’s simply coding tutorials.

  • App Inventor is a great free resource.  Though it doesn’t send manipulatives, it does provide comprehensive instruction for middle school students 13 and over who might think it’s fun to build their own Android apps.

  • Lightbot is a video game-style tutorial app that tricks kids into learning computational thinking and basic programming skills like loops and sequences while playing.  It’s built with beginners in mind so it’s easy to use.  This is a paid app but does offer a free trial period.

  • Codewars is a free option to inspire a competitive child.  Kids complete challenges and can even see how other competitors completed that same challenge.  Inspecting other programmers’ code solutions can open their minds up to alternative ways of thinking.  This website is geared towards kids who have acquired some basic coding knowledge.

What can my child do with their coding skills?

Nothing beats the hands-on creativity kids experience while programming something they’ve built by themselves.  If after reading this blog post you’re still asking yourself, “What is coding for kids?” – let our team at Thimble show you what coding for kids looks like with our simple Creator’s Set.  For a child who is a true beginner with zero coding experience, you can hook them on coding with a teaching tool that offers some incentive. Thimble starts from the ground up with beginners and rewards them with multiple creative finished projects that they can use over and over.

Surprise your child with a monthly subscription to Thimble, and then watch as they surprise you with their creativity and passion for learning something new.

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