Digital platforms surround us as nearly every industry shifts to smarter, more technology-oriented process solutions. It means that, in the future, computers and software will see even more incredible demand. We’ll need lots of programmers and software engineers to create and maintain these platforms.
That’s where the next generation of developers and programmers comes in, who are today’s young children. It’s time to start training and preparing them for the future. Coding doesn’t just teach them programming basics, but also introduces them to problem-solving, technical competence, creative processes, logic, math, and various other skills.
Even if a child doesn’t become a programmer, they’ve learned valuable skills and information they can use throughout their life.
The question is, how can we support these children and the next generation of developers? What can we do to help them if they’re interested in computers and development?
1. Get Them in Front of a Computer
If possible, sit them down in front of a computer or laptop and walk them through the programming process. Allow them to familiarize themselves with the machine if they aren’t already.
Don’t necessarily limit this by age. Instead, consider the child’s focus, maturity, and interest in technology. Some will not be interested, but others will be.
2. Encourage Hands-on Playtime
Thanks to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) initiatives, there are many toys out there that can teach the fundamentals of coding. It’s important to get these into the hands of interested children. Through experiential learning and development, they are introduced to the basics.
The Fisher-Price Code-a-Pillar toy, for example, allows children to program the toy via detachable segments to move in various directions. There are many other toys like it, too, including Dash and Dot, Code ‘n’ Learn Kinderbot, Little Bits, or even the “Star Wars” Droid Inventor Kit.
3. There’s an App for That
Tablets and phones are incredibly popular among young audiences these days, and why shouldn’t they be? They’re a lot of fun and there’s a lot to do. What you might not know is that there are dozens, if not hundreds, of mobile apps that can teach kids how to code or at least introduce them to the fundamentals.
If or when they have screen time, it’s not a bad idea to let them play with these apps. Some examples include “Coding Safari for Kids” and “Kodable” on iOS, or “codeSpark” and “Box Island” on Android. These apps present the topics of coding in a fun and creative way that’s sure to keep young audiences riveted.
4. Play Some (Board) Games
Mobile apps, computer software, and toys aren’t the only ways to play around with coding and programming fundamentals. There are also plenty of board games out there. Think “Mouse Trap” with coding concepts.
Some examples include “Robot Turtles,” the “Code Master Programming Logic Game,” “Qwirkle,” “Prime Club,” and more. There are also toys like Code and Go’s Robot Mouse Activity Set or Primo’s Cubetto, which isn’t a conventional toy. Both are more like board games or group activities.
5. Encourage Interactive Learning
For teachers and parents who don’t know a lot about coding themselves, there are still tons of resources out there to help teach your children. Interactive learning programs and online courses, for example, can be completed before they even leave school, and some might even earn them certificates.
Many courses can be found on Udemy, Sylvan Learning, Coda Kid, Tynker, JUNI Learning, and more. Other portals, like CodeMonkey, teach children and young students how to code using games and fun activities.
This method is likely best for children in junior high or high school, since not all the courses were specifically designed to keep little ones attentive.
6. Strengthen Core Traits
Programming and development don’t involve writing code all day, every day. There’s a lot more to it, such as correcting existing code, designing databases, identifying security vulnerabilities and bugs, and much more. Developers are constantly solving problems, and not just in their own code.
A/B testing, for instance, is a popular way to stress-test programs, websites, and other channels. You create two distinct versions of an interface, app, website, or design, to see which one performs better. Companies today split-test nearly everything from online software and websites to minor customer experiences in a retail store.
7. Secure a Mentor
For children who excel or show a consistent interest, it’s always an excellent idea to find and introduce them to a mentor. It should be someone experienced who is already involved in the development world. They can impart lessons that no book, app, or online course ever could, because they are actively working in the field, or did at one time.
This approach is best for older children and teens. It may also require some capital, as not all professionals will be interested in participating for free.
8. Find or Start a Code Club
Like most hobbies, there are coding clubs out there that meet up and discuss the field, current projects, and more. Members also work together to help each other through tough tasks and to share their knowledge and experience. As a parent, you could introduce your children to these meets, or as a teacher, you could attend and organize them.
It is possible to create a local code club if none are available in your area. While it might take time to build up the group, the result is worth it.
9. Create Something
Development, at its most basic, is about creating experiences and tools with the help of frameworks and languages. Just get creative with your kids and foster that trait. Break out some arts and crafts supplies, work with a coding kit together, or just make some buildings, vehicles, and shapes with LEGOs.
Traits Are Most Important
Some believe the way we are teaching young kids to code is wrong or ineffective. That’s because, while we are teaching them fundamentals, we’re not teaching them the nuances of coding and what it means to be a developer.
A better approach, especially for younger ages, is to focus on the skills and personality traits of developers. All of the activities above will introduce children to the basics, but it’s also possible to familiarize them with the necessary traits. Bear that in mind as you create lessons for your classes, or sit down with your children to do another game, activity, or course.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Eleanor Hecks is editor-in-chief at Designerly Magazine. She was the director at a marketing agency before becoming a freelance designer. Eleanor lives in Philadelphia with her husband and dog, Bear.