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Coding for Kids: The New Language that Kids Must Learn!

‘Code is the twenty-first century literacy, and the need for people to speak the ABCs of programming is imminent.  Our world is increasingly run by software, and we need more diversity in the people who are building it.’ 

Linda Liukas

Digital Technology and Our Kids

Digital technology is at the very heart of each and every industry and code is the language of computers, so it makes sense we need to teach our children to write, read, understand and create code, just as we teach any other language. We spend many years teaching the alphabet, then words, sentences, reading and writing to our children, and many go on to learn a second language. Coding is now being seen as just that, another language to be studied at school or home, and used in everyday life.

Many schools are now introducing units of work on coding and teachers are integrating it into their planning and teaching. No longer is coding seen as the domain of just those in the IT field, it can be a language for everyone. Families can also take on coding and learn together, with the plethora of books and apps out there on the market (see EduBlogs and Children’s Books Daily as a starting point).

Coding for kids is creative and can be a way to express oneself with a computer. Coding for kids encourages real life skill building such as computational thinking, the idea of learning as a process not a product, sequencing and mathematical concepts. It also encourages persistence, perseverance and problem solving.

“Coding is the new literacy…to thrive in tomorrow’s society, young people must learn to design, create and express themselves with digital technologies.”

Mitch Resnick

So Where to Start With Coding for Kids?

Start with Books…

Story making is key to making coding accessible to young people. Stories stick; they stick in the minds of young learners far better than isolated lessons or a set of instructions. Stories give a structure to coding and introduce coding in a meaningful way. There are a number of picture books for young people (and those who have never coded before), the best of which, at the moment, are ‘Hello Ruby’ and ‘Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine’.

Hello Ruby’ is perfect for home and low tech classroom use; it unpacks the idea of computational thinking sequencing and introduces some key concepts of coding without the need for a computer. Each chapter has an ‘unplugged’ (offline/non-computer) activity to complete, which cover many aspects of the English and Mathematics Curriculum such as sequencing, algorithms, patterns, structures as well as aspects in the Digital Technologies Curriculum like decomposition, debugging, Booleans, abstraction and computational thinking. By the end of the story, most children (and adults not in the know!) will have a basic understanding of some of the basic language around coding.

Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine’ is the story of Ada Lovelace, the daughter of the famous romantic poet, Lord Byron, who develops her creativity through science and math. When she meets Charles Babbage, the inventor of the first mechanical computer, Ada understands the machine better than anyone else and writes the world’s first computer program in order to demonstrate its capabilities.

Ada Lovelace, the daughter of the famous romantic poet, Lord Byron, develops her creativity through science and math. When she meets Charles Babbage, the inventor of the first mechanical computer, Ada understands the machine better than anyone else and writes the world’s first computer program in order to demonstrate its capabilities. Older student can discuss and research issues from the story and then engage with binary games and apps which extend the text: Code Combat; Scratch; BitsBox and Lego Mindstorms (for more experienced coders) or code robots like Bee Bots and Pro Bots.

Coding for Kids Needs Knowledge…

As well as using stories to introduce the idea of coding to young people, it it important that they have a basic understanding of some of the common terms which they will come across in their coding work. Knowledge is power as the saying goes, and introducing an understanding of technological terms and the workings of computers increases the confidence of young people keen to get started with coding.

Creating a poster of computer and coding terms, for home or school, can help children to become familiar with technological terms and their meanings and allow them to incorporate them into their everyday life. These terms can be sourced online (see below for a list of coding related websites), through reading books such as those mentioned above, or through use of non-fiction books on computers, such as ‘Computers and Coding’, which I now often gift to toddlers and their IT mad parents.

“Computational thinking is a fundamental skill for everyone, not just for computer scientists. To reading, writing, and arithmetic, we should add computational thinking to every child’s analytical ability’.  

Jeannette M. Wing (Vice President of Microsoft Research)

Coding for Kids Needs Play…

And then there is play. Time spent playing and experiencing new-found areas of knowledge is how young people learn best. Play involves trial and error, creative thinking, collaboration with parents or peers and most of all, fun…which leads to a natural interest and love of coding. Buddying young inexperienced coders up with more experienced peers and letting them play and learn together can lead to increased skills, confidence and sense of achievement.

There is a plethora of apps to explore which are play/game based and a world of unplugged/offline play based experiences which all help with computational thinking.

“Giving the kids a programming environment of any sort, whether it’s a tool like Squeak or Scratch or Logo to write programs in a childish way – and I mean that in the most generous sense of the word, that is, playing with and building things – is one of the best ways to learn.”

Nicholas Negroponte

The websites suggestions and books below are an excellent starting point for getting started on coding for kids in your life.  Coding is creative, challenging, excellent fun and satisfying. It will also be one of the most sought-after skills of the future, and a vital skill to develop. This ‘new literacy’ will enable young people to not just use digital technologies but to create digital technologies which create solutions for the future.

Websites for Coding for Kids

Books for Coding for Kids

Megan Daley is a Teacher Librarian at a Brisbane school. Find out more about her and her passions at www.childrensbooksdaily.com

This article was published in Issue 17 of our print magazine, August/September 2016.

Photo of author

Janine Mergler

Janine Mergler is a veteran Queensland teacher, graduating from QUT with a BEd majoring in Social Sciences. After many years in the classroom, Janine moved on to academia. She has proudly trained new generations of teachers in her role as a lecturer at Queensland University of Technology Faculty of Education. She has also worked in the Queensland Government as an education specialist, developing education resources and delivering community awareness programs to help families conserve water. Currently she is the owner and editor of Families Magazine, a publication specifically targeted at parents who value a quality education for children.  Janine leads a team of professionals who write about family lifestyle, early childhood, schools and education information and family-friendly events.

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