A few years ago, when I was presented with one of the first “teach your kids to program” games I admit that I didn’t get it. As hard as I looked, I could see the benefits of logic, strategy and mapping skills, I couldn’t make out the link to computers.
Why is coding important?
The problem was my approach to technology was very much based on the idea of using the computer as a tool, e.g. using corporate software packages to create presentations or spreadsheets. What I didn’t “get” is that there is a fundamental shift in where the key skills are in the technology landscape. It is now critical for children to understand how computers process instructions and how programs are structured. If you think backwards from being fluent in a coding language, there are several building blocks that are essential, but it starts with a disciplined approach to thinking.
Introducing coding to children
Children start learning logic, planning and procedural thinking in school from the age of five. While this isn’t what we think of as coding and will probably not be done in front of a computer, it is the underlying foundation in their journey to understanding the digital world around them. It is teaching them how to “think like a coder”. There are some fabulous ideas online of easy, offline activities to do with kids that will improve their literacy and confidence with these skills.
One of my favourite’s is where kids “program” a robot (their teacher) to make a jam sandwich. Watching them instructing him using simple short sentences is hilarious but superbly highlights the essential skills needed in coding – reasoning, accuracy and precision. Simply stating “pick up the bread” results with the teacher picking up the whole loaf not a slice of bread. The kids learn, through their mistakes (de-bugging) that they need to tell the robot to pick up the knife before he scoops the jam out of the pot and they need to tell him how many slices of bread to put on the plate. It is immediately obvious that although there are moments of comedy, it is a really difficult task to get the objective broken down into all the precise steps (algorithms) needed to achieve the goal; adults and children immediately “get” what the term coding means in simple practical terms.
Developing the initial concepts
The next stage that children move onto in school is using a drag and drop program like Scratch on the computer. This allows them to work on projects without the need for typing or a specific coding language. Scratch, developed by MIT, is an open source tool that makes it easy for kids to complete projects like electronic cards and simple computer games. This is another really critical step as it puts the child in the role as a creator, not just a consumer of digital.
Children will graduate from the block coding in Scratch to the real-life programming languages of HTML and Python. They’ll start to get “under the hood” of how lines of text create apps that bridge the commands for the computer with the front end of games and websites that we use with a click of the mouse or the tap of a finger.
How can we help?
So, if coding is an important life skill for our children, what should we be doing?
– Give activities that encourage “thinking like a coder” equal importance to numeracy and literacy
– Explore screen-free opportunities that teach planning, logic and procedural thinking
– Get kids doing projects (making stuff, being creative) on the computer
Check out this list of products that are perfect for teaching children about coding and improving their critical thinking, logic and problem solving skills:
KS1 – 4-6 years
Choose from 48 challenges and arrange the pieces on the board. Correctly complete the puzzle by laying a path around the obstacles!
This is a fun, family game to teach strategy, mapping skills and programming concepts – all fundamentals of coding.
Pick an activity card and build the challenge maze. Use the coding cards to create a step-by-step path and programme the sequence into the battery operated mouse.
KS2 – 7-11 years
Invent a virtual pet, make animations and create games! The step-by-step guide teaches children about sprites, binary and much more as they code exciting projects.
learn how to use Python, one of the most popular computer languages, used by Google, NASA and Youtube!
Botley is a programable pal for kids to learn coding. This 77 piece activity set grows with your child as they learn.