In 2014, the United Kingdom became the first country in the entire world to make coding compulsory for elementary students. This raised a lot of eyebrows — why would a child as young as five need to know how to program a computer?
But these eyebrow-raisers failed to recognize the wider benefits of learning to code. It encourages all kinds of transferable skills, like creativity, problem-solving, confidence and communication. Even if these elementary students don’t grow up to be coders and programmers, these other skills are valuable additions to their lives.
Let’s kick things off with the obvious. Not all of us are computer programmers, but all of us have contact with computers. Some of us (most of us) spend hours on a computer every day, not to mention the time we spend on smartphones, smart watches, smart washing machines, smart televisions. Smart everything, really. Technology is everywhere we look.
When elementary students learn to code, they also learn to feel more confident with computers and technology in general. It’s like learning to swim — as soon as you’ve mastered the basic skills, a pool of water will feel a lot less scary.
In the modern world, technological literacy is all but essential. Some people say it’s as important as learning to read and write. And just like learning to read and write, it’s never too soon to start. That’s why elementary students should learn to code. It’s not the only reason, but it’s a good one.
Life is never straightforward. Problems come up, and it’s important to know how to solve them. The same is true of code. After spending the day working hard on a piece of computer programming, it rarely runs in the way it’s supposed to. Not the first time, anyway. Not until you’ve ironed out the kinks.
Coders call it debugging: finding a problem in a section of code, and working out how to fix it. It takes care, and patience, and attention to detail, and gets easier and easier with practice. Coders soon learn that anger and frustration just make things harder. Instead, they take a deep breath, and calmly solve the issue.
Children who code will carry this approach into the rest of their daily lives. Whether the problem at hand is huge or tiny, long-term or short, it’s always best to remain calm and methodical. That’s what coding shows us.
This definitely ties in with problem-solving, but it’s something slightly different: the ability to bounce back after failure. As we’ve already mentioned, coding never works first try. It’s part of the process — you fail, then try again, you fail, then try again, over and over until everything clicks into place.
Resilience like this, in the face of failure, is something a lot of elementary students struggle with. If they can’t do something on their first attempt, they instantly want to give up, to screw up the page and throw it away, to smash their violin or kick their ball over the hedge. But children who code become tough and resilient in the face of failure. They realize it’s part of the process. Maybe even part of the fun.
Especially when it all pays off. When the program starts to run as planned. The feeling of accomplishment is so thrilling, so rewarding, and the perfect demonstration that those bugs and failures didn’t matter. How could they matter, when you ended on such a high?
Coding is also a wonderful way to build a child’s confidence. Younger children (and adults too) are often scared of making mistakes in public. That’s where a lot of shyness and social anxiety comes from. We’re terrified of something going wrong, and the rest of the world judging us for it.
But let’s repeat it again: coding makes children more resilient in the face of failure. They learn that mistakes aren’t the end of the world — and with that knowledge comes increased confidence. Does it matter if we make a mistake in public? No. Not really. No more than it matters when we make a mistake in a line of code.
That thrill of accomplishment, when the code starts to work, is also great for a child’s feeling of self-worth. We all want to feel successful, and skillful, and useful. When our code starts to run in the way we intended, we feel all of these things and more.
We have a tendency to think about computer programming as something dry and mathematical, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s an extremely creative process, and that’s another good reason why kids should start as soon as possible.
We’ve already talked about problem-solving. That’s a type of creativity — when you push yourself to think outside the box. And coding also encourages other forms of creativity. In programs like Scratch, kids use code to make games and movies. At higher levels, apps and websites require plenty of creativity too. It’s all very visual and artistic.
Unlike a painting, or a drawing, it’s hard to stick a coding project to the refrigerator door. But that doesn’t mean a student won’t want to show it off to their parents. Just look at that character sliding across the screen. At that secret button flashing in the corner. The firework display starts when you press the spacebar.
Coding is creative. Coding is artistic. Coding is a chance for elementary students to express themselves, and to share the results with parents, teachers and friends. This is something we really want to emphasize. It isn’t spoken about enough.
Another common misconception about computer coding is the idea that it’s a solitary pursuit. When we imagine a computer programmer, we usually picture them sitting alone at their computer screen, with nobody else in sight.
It’s certainly true that you can code alone, but you definitely don’t have to. Coding also lends itself well to a team environment, and most professional coders actively prefer to work in groups, where they can bounce ideas back and forth and work together to solve problems. There’s even a term for it: pair programming. When it comes to coding, two heads are better than one.
Elementary students who code collaboratively will pick up important interpersonal skills, like speaking clearly, expressing their opinions, and listening to the thoughts of others. For children who don’t like sports, it’s another way to become part of a cohesive team. A student can pair program with a friend from school. They can try it with a sibling or cousin. They can even do it with a parent — are you willing to give it a try?
You might not have heard of computational thinking. It’s the idea of thinking less like a person, and more like a computer. A strange idea? Maybe. But really, really useful.
Computers are great at breaking complex topics into smaller, more manageable parts. They focus on these pieces one by one, taking a simple step-by-step approach. That’s how coding works too. It’s always step-by-step, piece-by-piece. We call it decomposition: the process of breaking a large idea into small, workable parts.
This approach works great in all kinds of situations. Getting ready for school is a good example. Instead of feeling overwhelmed (“I have so much to do!”) a computational thinker will work through their tasks in a simple, step-by-step list. First, get out of bed. Second, get dressed. Third, brush teeth. Fourth, eat breakfast. Fifth… you get the idea. This is yet another skill that coding helps with: logical, orderly thought.
Elementary students are far too young to be planning their future careers. That’s why we decided to put this one towards the bottom of the list. But whatever they end up doing in the future, there’s no harm in getting a small head start by learning some coding skills now.
Computer programmers are in high demand, and by the time our children enter the workplace, this trend will be more pronounced. The demand for coders is expected to grow by 25% in the next ten years, significantly higher than the average rate for careers.
And let’s not forget all those skills we’ve already talked about. Employers love a good problem-solver. They love workers who demonstrate resilience, creativity and strong communication. In other words, even if a child doesn’t end up working as a computer programmer, these other skills will make them more employable.
As we already said: there’s no harm in getting a small headstart. If a kid starts coding at elementary school, they could gather more than a decade’s experience before even leaving high school. Whichever way you look at it, that’s a very impressive feat.
This is the last point on our list, but that doesn’t make it the least important. Far from it, in fact. Here at CodeMonkey, we firmly believe in the power of fun. Especially where elementary students are concerned.
Children enjoy the chance to be creative. Children enjoy the chance to solve problems. Children enjoy the thrill of success when their coding projects come to life. That’s the best part about coding: picking up all these wonderful skills while having fun along the way. It doesn’t feel like learning. It feels like having fun.
Many of the most effective online coding tools have the look and feel of a video game. Others are narrative-driven — interactive stories that teach children the basic principles. Then there are toys, and board games, and programmable robots, and so many other amazing tools. Coding isn’t dry, or dull, or boring. It’s genuinely enjoyable. Stealth learning at its absolute best.
Hopefully, after reading all that, you’ll understand why the United Kingdom made coding compulsory for elementary students in 2014. The benefits are hard to ignore. Creativity, confidence, communication, resilience, and so much else as well. A child doesn’t need to grow up to be a computer programmer. Whichever path they take in life, these skills will put them in a strong position to excel.
Because of all this, it should come as no surprise that other countries have started to follow the United Kingdom’s lead. In the last few years, coding has been introduced to elementary curriculums in countries as far-flung as the Philippines, Australia, South Africa, Kenya and Qatar. And even if you live in a country where coding isn’t compulsory yet, there’s nothing stopping your kid from learning to code at home. There are so many wonderful resources out there. Load one of them up, and watch your child shine.