A Recipe for Your Computer: A Programming Definition for Kids and Confused Parents

The following is adapted from First Time Coders.

Coding is one of the most powerful skills you can teach your child. It has clear career benefits, with tech jobs being some of the most stable and fastest-growing in the country, and it also teaches important life skills, like creativity and problem-solving. 

But coding can be a confusing topic, especially if you don’t already have personal experience or knowledge. More and more schools now offer coding classes, but chances are, you did not receive any coding education when you were in school. This means that, even if you recognize the benefits of coding, you don’t yet have the tools to help your child learn this skill. Even if you do have prior knowledge, you might not know how to simplify that knowledge for a child’s understanding.

That’s where I come in. In this article, I’ll walk you through a basic description of what coding is and how programming works so that you can best explain it to your child and begin their education in this valuable skill.


What Is Coding?

People often wonder what exactly coding entails. Coding is simply the act of communicating with computers to tell them what to do. We tell computers what to do using various “programming languages.”

A piece of code is a set of statements, or commands, that directs the computer to perform a certain step. Computers follow these steps or commands in order and in a precise manner. A set of these coded instructions makes a program.

Because computers take these steps very precisely, one minor typo or missed semicolon could make a program crash. That error is called a bug.

Computers are actually not that smart; they just follow the code and do as it says. Attention to detail is therefore critical while writing code, and debugging is a necessary part of being a proficient coder.

Hear what the students say about coding to them!

What Is a Programming Language?

A computer can only understand on and off, or binary code: 0 and 1. Through these 0s and 1s, a computer takes inputs, stores information, processes it, and produces output for the users—people like you and me.

A programming language is a special language that programmers use to develop software programs, scripts, or other sets of instructions for computers to execute. It translates human commands into binary code. For example, when you code a programming language to tell a computer to print “hello world,” that language is then translated into a series of 0s and 1s—ons and offs—that the computer can understand.

Programming languages allow us to write code that is easier to write, read, and understand than binary code. Reading and writing with 0s and 1s—like how computers operate—would be time-consuming and extremely prone to errors.

Syntax is the “grammar and punctuation” in computer programming languages. It represents the basic rules of writing code in a specific programming language. Each programming language’s syntax is different in terms of how the code is structured and written.

To a certain extent, the level of difficulty in learning a programming language depends on how difficult or complex the syntax is.


How Does Programming Work?

One way to think about programming is the analogy of a recipe. When baking a red velvet cake, for example, you are given the ingredients and step-by-step directions to follow. These instructions need to be followed closely and with precision for the best outcome. Just as many ingredients need to be combined in a recipe, so too do many lines of code need to be combined for a program. If you leave out a single step, you won’t get the results you want.

A computer program is like a recipe that tells the computer the exact steps necessary to create something. Programming language is a way to translate our thoughts from human language to computer-understood commands. Each step is detailed and needs to be followed sequentially in order to produce the desired result. Just like a recipe, the code is a series of steps to make the “cake,” which is the output of the program.

Coding, in theory and practice, is not as difficult as you might expect. Just about anyone can follow a recipe, and likewise, just about anyone, especially children, can learn to code. With this basic explanation as a start, you can begin teaching your child to code today.

For more advice on coding, especially how to teach coding to kids, you can find First Time Coders on Amazon.

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