Learning to speak the language of computers is a vital skill in today’s world.
While many professionals aren’t specifically computer programmers, having at least basic coding knowledge, possibly in multiple coding languages, can significantly enhance a person's skills for any job.
Because not everyone realizes this in time to take a high school or college coding class, it’s worthwhile to consider introducing coding education to kids early.
From Java to Python, C++ to Ruby, creating a curriculum around how to learn to code, even through simple games, can make a lasting, positive impact on today’s students.
What is coding for kids?
When teaching coding to kids, you need to speak their language.
Whether you’re working with elementary school students or developing a curriculum related to coding for middle schoolers, the first question to think about is, “What is coding for kids?”
You must define what this means in your classroom and for your students.
Start with the basics — coding is really just about writing instructions for a computer.
It’s a step-by-step process of getting a computer (or a computer program) to do something specific. Each code is a single step in the more extensive process.
After sharing the basics, you can frame the coding process with specifics from your class.
In our class, we’ll practice coding by creating some fun games like…
In our class, we’ll use coding to learn Java...
It’s important to talk to your students about the coding languages you’ll use and how you’ll ask them to apply what they’re learning.
Both pieces can help make coding fun and accessible no matter how old your students are.
What’s the difference between coding and programming?
When flushing out coding education, it’s important to note the many differences between coding and programming.
Coding is what you most likely want in your curriculum.
- It requires basic knowledge and aligns with simple projects.
- The syntax is easier to understand and learn.
- Students can go into a coding activity without any preparation.
- Students can keep trying solutions until they find the right one.
- Coding activities are also possible without students knowing coding languages in advance.
- Some even allow students to code without feeling like they’re using a language at all.
Computer programming is more complex on every level. You need a lot of information before you can even start on a programming assignment.
It also helps to have a deeper background in the discipline since you may need to call on knowledge related to software development, algorithms, programming languages, and programming skills.
The easiest way to differentiate between the two is to look at what they do.
Coding writes instructions for a machine to understand.
Programming creates entire programs using many lines of code.
Is coding easy?
Taking something as broad as how to learn to code and whittling it down to being easy or hard is impossible.
Even basic coding is complex because you’re fundamentally creating instructions for a machine to use in the computer’s language.
When it comes to coding for kids, the secret is creativity.
Kids can code without being bogged down in the minute details.
That’s because you can find a coding environment that gives them instructions on their level.
You can also frame coding activities in tasks that interest students. They can write music, design games, or even move a digital car along a track through simple commands.
All these activities involve coding.
Finding digital programs that use icon-based instructions or require students only to learn a few simple coding strategies transforms this complex activity into something fun. It will feel easy too.
Best coding for kids
When you connect coding to something in your students’ everyday lives, when you’ve made it relevant to them, no matter the activity, they’ll be interested.
When you can start a conversation about Java and share that this specific language built Minecraft or wrote the most popular console game, they’ll begin to listen quickly.
You can loop in VR gaming when you discuss Python.
If students just finished an assignment typing up a paper in Word, remind them that the program exists because of C++.
While so many coding games exist to get students to write their own code, making the skill relevant to them helps turn the activity into something more than a game.
Playing a computer game is fun, but understanding that you’re creating something through the language you’re writing in is mind-blowing.
Coding also allows the opportunity to turn your students that are gamers into creators or makers.
There are many options out there for students to explore coding, whether on a computer, Chromebook, tablet, or phone.
These applications vary from allowing students to use their creativity to make something different from their classmates or even try their hand at something like esports or a combination of both.
Finding the right coding applications really depends on your students.
What do they like? What do you have time for in the class? What games align with what you’re teaching?
Programming language might narrow things down, but what most of these apps have in common is that they get students coding without feeling overwhelmed by the process.
The best coding for kids is also age appropriate. You want to start at a very basic level with younger students, moving up to more advanced activities in coding for middle schoolers.
High school students could probably shift into activities writing more advanced code, heading into actual computer programming.
The benefits of coding education
Aside from learning a valuable skill that translates into innumerable professional opportunities, learning coding helps students develop essential skills that apply elsewhere.
Through the process of writing instructions for the computer, students must think critically and creatively.
They’re solving a problem, taking risks, managing the emotions related to trial-and-error, and building their confidence as they succeed.
There’s a little teamwork thrown in there with the right activities as well as some math your students won’t even know they’re doing as they work.
Coding activities are engaging for students.
They put them in the driver’s seat, giving them hands-on opportunities for in-class fun. They take a rigorous activity and make it accessible to every student.
Computer coding for kids has a purpose
It’s not just computer programmers who need coding skills anymore.
More and more job openings list basic coding as a required skill, and this number will only continue to grow as technology intersects with day-to-day jobs in all fields.
To give people the foundation they need to hone this skill and even become aware of its importance, coding education needs to start early and stay present throughout a student’s educational career.
This is why coding for kids should include children of all ages.