Should your 8-year-old learn coding?

Back in 2014, three researchers wrote an academic paper titled Should your 8-year-old learn coding? It’s an interesting paper, and well worth a read — but a lot of things have changed since then. 

2014 was also the year that the United Kingdom became the first country in the world to make coding compulsory for elementary students. In the years since, many countries have followed suit, with a significant number of 8-year-old children now learning to code at school. There are plenty of benefits, including problem-solving skills, creativity, confidence and computational thinking. 

But despite all that, some people disagree, and think 8 is too young for a child to learn to code. In this post, we’ll look at four anti-coding arguments, and explain why we don’t agree with them. Do we think your 8-year-old should learn coding? Here at CodeMonkey, the answer is a resounding yes. 

#1. Kids should be playing outside 

This is probably the most widely-used argument against learning to code. A lot of children are already addicted to their phones and computers, and people think that coding lessons will only make things worse: more screens, more addiction, less time outside doing physical exercise or exploring the natural world.

In certain circles, this is a very popular opinion. Instead of teaching coding to 8-year-olds, maybe we need to be doing precisely the opposite — encouraging children to turn off their screens and do something non-digital instead. We understand why people are worried about this, but we think these fears are wide of the mark. Coding isn’t supposed to replace outdoor play; instead, it replaces the time a child is already spending online. 

Think of it like this. If an eight-year-old spends an hour per day on a video game, you simply need to replace that game with a coding activity instead. A child’s total screen time won’t change, and there will still be plenty of time in their life for outdoor exercise and play. Spend an hour of coding, then an hour outside. It’s really rather simple.

You might be wondering whether your child will be happy to have their video game replaced by something educational. But it’s important to remember that the best coding classes are fun and engaging, and feel like games themselves. CodeMonkey is a great example of that: children write code to help a monkey gather bananas, saving the world along the way. These interactive stories are bright and engaging, and a perfect replacement for non-educational video games. 

It’s also worth pointing out that coding classes don’t need to take place in front of a screen. We recently wrote about our favorite coding projects to learn with kids, and a number of these can be done entirely offline. From board games, to chalk games, to decks of cards, an 8-year-old can learn to code without sacrificing outside play. 

Just to be clear: we don’t believe that computer coding is more important than spending time outside. Fresh air, exercise, and time with nature will always be important. But this doesn’t need to be an either / or situation. 8-year-olds can learn to code and spend time outside as well.

#2. Other subjects are more important

There’s limited space on the school curriculum, and in order to make space for coding lessons, other subjects will need to be reduced. Some people think this trade off isn’t worth it, and that those other subjects are too important to cut down. Every single one of us uses basic subjects like English and Math in our everyday lives, but far fewer people use coding. 

Another side of this argument is the question of teaching. A lot of elementary school teachers, who specialize in subjects like English and Math, are now being asked to teach coding too, but those teachers don’t know how to deliver these lessons properly. It isn’t their area of expertise. Some people think it would make more sense to let these teachers stick to their specialist subjects, instead of forcing them out of their comfort zones.

Again, we understand these worries, but again, we don’t think they’re necessary. We completely agree that English and Math are important subjects, but we really don’t think an 8-year-old will fall behind if they suddenly start to code. If anything, the opposite is likely to happen. Coding lessons will enhance an 8-year-old’s understanding of these subjects, as opposed to getting in the way.

Coding is a collaborative process, giving children a chance to work in a team, and show their projects to family and friends. It’s been shown to encourage interpersonal skills, like speaking clearly, expressing opinions, and listening to other people. These are important parts of the English elementary curriculum, which means learning to code will benefit the subject, as opposed to blocking progress.

The same could be said of mathematical skills. That 2014 research paper, which we mentioned at the start, sums it up nicely: “The mental models required to understand [coding] are often abstractions that can be compared with mathematical ideas.” In other words, when they’re learning to code, children are learning to solve difficult problems and think more logically, putting mathematical theory into practice. 

How about more artistic subjects? Does coding get in the way of those? 

Again, the answer is a hard no. Coding is a far more creative process than most people realize, and a wonderful chance for elementary students to build games, animate characters, and express themselves in other creative ways. It’s a great way to practice other subjects, like Art and Writing, and to become more comfortable with the idea of self-expression.

little girl learning to code

#3. Kids are too young to choose a career

Coding professionals are highly sought after, and very well paid, but some people think that 8-year-old kids are too young to be thinking about any or that. Instead of worrying about their future work life, they should be using these years to relax, and have fun, and live without the pressure of training for a job. That’s another argument why 8-year-olds shouldn’t be coding: they’re too young to start their long-term journey towards a job as a computer programmer.

We completely agree that 8-year-old students are too young to be thinking about their future careers, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be learning to code. 

When a child learns Math at elementary school, it isn’t because they’re bound for a future as a professional mathematician. When they learn English, they’re not expected to become authors. They learn these subjects for short-term benefits: problem-solving, reading, writing, and other transferable skills. 

The same is true of coding — there’s no expectation, when a kid starts learning, that they’ll grow up to be a programmer. We’ve already mentioned the immediate benefits of learning to code, but here’s a quick reminder. These transferable skills provide short-term benefits to an 8-year-old learner, and have no link whatsoever to their future, long-term career.

  • Tech literacy
  • Problem-solving
  • Resilience
  • Confidence
  • Creativity
  • Communication
  • Computational thinking

If a kid goes on to be a computer programmer, that’s great. But even if they don’t, that’s also great. To reiterate the point: learning to code has nothing to do with choosing a future career. It’s about becoming a better, more rounded person, in the long term as well as the short.

This freedom from career planning is part of the reason why it’s great to get started so young. Children who learn coding at high school, or middle school, will feel a lot more pressure attached to the skill — an expectation to get good grades, to forge a career, to build a life. But an elementary student will learn to code in a relaxed environment, with no strings or expectations attached. If they make mistakes, it doesn’t matter. This is a safe, low-pressure space.

#4. Coding classes are too expensive

In some countries, where coding isn’t taught at mainstream schools, parents need to find alternative arrangements for their 8-year-old to learn. Luckily, there are plenty of coding classes available to kids, but some of them are quite expensive. Some people say, that for a low-income family, there are better ways to spend money than teaching a child to code.

We actually agree with this argument. Learning to code has plenty of benefits, but it isn’t worth breaking the bank for. Having said that: it isn’t true that every coding class is expensive, and there are actually a lot of really amazing free options. If you’re interested in learning more about them, here’s a list of extra-curricular coding classes, many of which don’t cost a cent. 

Take Scratch, for example — the world’s largest coding resource for kids. It’s designed for children as young as 8, it’s extremely effective, and it doesn’t cost anything to learn on. This isn’t the only example either. The coding industry has a wide variety of free options, many of which are just as good as the paid alternatives.

Admittedly, Scratch is only an option for people who own a laptop or a tablet, and some children aren’t so lucky. In the United Kingdom, for example, almost a million children don’t have access to computers. But there are charities out there, like End Laptop Poverty and Laptops for Kids, which are working hard to close the digital divide. Hopefully, in the future, coding classes will be available to everyone, no matter their household income.

We. should also mention gender here. Coding is traditionally male-dominated: in the United States, about 70% of programmers are men. But studies have found that women who code at an early age are far more likely to continue coding when they’re older. If we want to tackle that gender imbalance amongst coding professionals, teaching coding to 8-year-olds — girls and boys — would be a very good place to start. 

Final words

There are so many reasons for your 8-year-old to learn coding, and the counterarguments really aren’t convincing. 

First, there’s no reason why you can’t learn to code while also spending plenty of time outside. Second, coding won’t get in the way of other subjects; if anything, it will make them easier. Third, while it’s true that 8-year-olds are too young to pick their future job, learning to code doesn’t need to be a career choice. Fourth, there are plenty of free-to-access coding courses, so the cost of learning isn’t a good excuse. 

Unfortunately, that final point isn’t quite true for everyone. As we’ve already mentioned, there are many children who don’t have access to laptops and tablets. But that doesn’t mean that coding shouldn’t be taught to 8-year-olds. It just means we need to work a lot harder to give these children the same opportunities as everyone else.

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