The following is adapted from First Time Coders.
With our increasingly digital world, coding is one of the most valuable skills to possess. Coding is especially beneficial for children, as it teaches creativity and problem-solving. However, it is only recently that we have begun to teach coding to young children, so many parents and teachers are unsure of best practices in early coding education.
At First Code Academy, we have identified five overarching principles that set kids up for success in coding. These principles apply to all new coders but are especially important for children. If you are a parent or teacher, follow these principles to ensure children learn to code in a way that is effective and fun.
#1: Project-Based Learning
Project-based learning is important for coding because nobody learns programming just for the sake of knowing another programming language. Just like how human languages are used to communicate our ideas with one another, computer programming languages are a way to express our ideas to and through the computer. Coding allows us to create projects—from conception to reality, whether it is a mobile app or web-based program, through augmented reality, etc.
Project-based learning emphasizes the students’ process of making things during the lessons and also after the lesson. We want students to apply their coding knowledge and create things hands on. We don’t want them just regurgitating syntax.
#2: Building Resilience
Cultivating resilience is important when learning programming. Actually writing code is just a small part of programming. A good bulk of a coder’s work is troubleshooting—searching for problems and then fixing them. Things often don’t work perfectly the first time, and this can be frustrating.
From the early days, a child will learn how to debug, which is a necessary skill to tackle, but it is not necessarily fun, especially for younger students. It provides a great opportunity for students to learn patience and resilience in their learning, because in this generation of instant gratification, it is so easy to download an app or watch videos online to get instant entertainment. Debugging trains us to focus and come to a solution.
#3: Depth of Understanding
When it comes to learning to code, it will take a much longer time to pick up the first programming language than the second, third, and fourth. It is crucial to gain fluency in the first language—which includes learning the syntax and being able to create products independently—and then picking up a new language becomes much easier.
For this reason, especially when first learning to code, it’s important to go deep with a single language instead of trying to learn several at one time.
#4: Learning to Learn
Coding languages change all the time and every couple of years there’s a new language that comes to market. What this means to learners at a young age is that if they start learning coding at six, by the time they graduate from a university fifteen years later, programming languages will be vastly different. One of the key goals of learning to code is really to learn new languages in the future on your own.
This is a great skill to apply to this generation where technology and the world changes very quickly. People aren’t staying in one job for decades, rather they grow and move on. Being adaptable and quick to learn is an essential skill, and we teach that through coding.
#5: Community-Oriented Mindset
Technology has such a wide impact on the world because it helps solve problems for the people and the community around them in a scalable manner. At First Code Academy, we encourage students to identify a problem in their community and help solve that problem using technology.
For example, one student project won an award at AppJamming Summit, a global mobile app competition for kids and teens ages eight to fifteen, for assisting people in wheelchairs. The team identified the problem as people in wheelchairs finding it difficult to access subway facilities. Not all such facilities have a wheelchair-friendly entrance or exit, so the app identifies locations that are wheelchair accessible for the user.
Another example of a community-oriented mindset is from the 2018 Winner of Technovation, a mobile app competition for girls. The group of students in Nigeria created Fake Drug Detector, an app that helps identify fake pharmaceutical drugs. The app uses a drug’s barcode to verify its authenticity and expiration date.
When students have the opportunity to solve real problems and help their community, it gives them a sense of purpose and fulfillment. It also shows them the true power of what coding can accomplish. Instead of looking at coding like it’s pointless homework, they see the meaningful work it can do.
Coding can open up a world of possibilities for children. By emphasizing these five core principles, you can ensure that they have a strong foundation for future coding endeavors as well as valuable skills for life in general.
For more information on the benefits of coding and advice on how to teach coding to kids, you can find First Time Coders on Amazon.