How to Start Coding With Your Kids

Updated on January 27, 2019
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Nicole is a freelance writer, education enthusiast and parent.

Wondering How to Start Coding With Your Kids?

You’re rocking language arts. Math is on point. Social studies is not a problem. Then, bam! Your fourth grader announces that he is going to fail technology class because he can’t code. You never saw it coming.

Love it or hate it, coding is here. If you want to help your child learn basic coding, and you're not a computer programmer, read on. In this article, we'll answer the questions: What is coding? Why does coding matter? How can I help my child learn to code? Don’t worry. You can do this.

What is Computer Coding?

A computer program is a set of instructions that a computer follows in order to complete a task. As any computer programmer will point out, computer programs don’t grow on trees. Someone has to write the step-by-step instructions that tell the computer what to do. This is called “coding” or “programming”.

Computer programs are all around us. For example, a cell phone uses a program, step-by-step instructions, to allow you to make a phone call or send a text message. When you search for a contact, a program selects the correct phone number.

Computer programs can be seen at work in washing machines, video games, mobile apps, vehicles, and much more. In a nutshell, coding is the act of writing the computer program that tells a device what to do.

Popular Coding Languages for Kids

(click column header to sort results)
LANGUAGE  
SUGGESTED AGE  
GOOD TO KNOW  
Scratch
8 to 16
Drag and drop code blocks to create games and build apps
JavaScript
10+
Teaches programming fundamentals; used for interactive web apps
Python
10+
Beginner friendly; used for video games and web frameworks
Lua
10+
Best for game programmers
Java
12+
One of the most widely used programming languages in the world; best for intermediate students
C++
13+
Complex; provides deep understanding of programming language; pronounced "see plus plus"
C#
13+
Best for 3D Games; pronounced "see sharp"

How Can I Help My Child Learn to Code?

There is some debate on how young is too young to introduce kids to coding. Depending on your state, school choice and school district, coding may already be part of the curriculum. If your child attends school outside of your home, you would be wise to contact your child’s teacher to find out what coding education, if any, your child is already receiving.

Whether you are inspired by future job opportunities, or just need to help your child survive computer class, you need a simple plan. Chances are that you are already doing an important first step.

Cultivate Your Child’s Curiosity

Turn off the computer. Stow away the laptop. Toss that smartphone in the drawer. It’s admittedly strange advice for learning to code with kids, but it is necessary. The first step to learning anything for anyone of any age is unrelenting curiosity.

Curiosity, the desire to know or learn, is important to any educational pursuit. It’s especially important to a child’s coding education. Curiosity will help them to experiment, think creatively, fight through adversity and have fun.

If you want to help your child succeed at coding, cultivate their sense of curiosity. You can encourage curiosity by: Asking questions, even “dumb” questions and inviting your child to do the same. Break the rules, like eating pancakes for dinner, or playing board games past bedtime. Create healthy competition through games and experiments. For example, test how fast a paper bag will fall to the ground depending on what object is inside of it (e.g. bouncy ball, paper clip, socks).

Curiosity is the secret sauce to your child’s coding education. Coding at its core is asking, “I wonder what would happen if I were to do this?”

"Curiosity is the wick in the candle of learning."

— William Arthur Ward

Practice Coding for Free

The cost of a coding camp, a one-week or multi-week coding class, can range in price from $200 to $1,000 per week. Coding camps are expensive to produce, due in part to the equipment used and the skill level of instructors.

Sadly, it is not uncommon for students to walk away from these camps having had a great experience, but little retention of what they learned. The problem is that coding is like building a muscle. Thinking a coding camp will get your kid into coding is like exercising your biceps for one week and expecting your arms to look great all summer. It just doesn’t work that way.

Consistency is key when it comes to teaching your child coding basics. Fortunately, you can access free resources online, as well as communities of young coders. Here are just a few options:

Crunchzilla offers interactive tutorials for preteens, teens and adults. The interface is very simple. Expect no bells and whistles. Beginner coders should start with Code Monster. Simply click on the green box, and allow the program to guide you through challenges using JavaScript.

Khan Academy offers video tutorials and practice exercises on a variety of subjects. Their computer science coursework includes things like making drawings with code, basic animation, and debugging code. The wealth of computing coursework on the Khan Academy site can be overwhelming. Check out their brief Intro to Programing video to get started.

Code.org, home of the Hour of Code initiative, offers tutorials and coding projects for students in Kindergarten and up. While registration is not required to start coding, you will want to sign up for a free account in order to save your child's progress and projects. Code.org offers free in-depth courses, as well as one-hour tutorials. Your child can even code their own dance party using block based coding.

Scratch is a programming language and an online community where children can program stories, games, and animation. Scratch is for ages 8 to 16, while ScratchJr is designed for ages 5 to 7. Visit the Scratch website to learn how Scratch can help your young coder.

MOOC, if you’ve never heard the term, stands for Massive Open Online Course. A MOOC is a large, online class that anyone can join, usually for free. With the power of the MOOC, you and your child can study a variety of subjects from colleges and universities across the globe. Some courses have a specific timeframe, while others are self-paced. Jumpstart your MOOC search by visiting Coursera.org or MOOC.org.

Your local library may offer free and low-cost coding classes for kids. If nothing else, you can bet they’ve got a book or DVD you can check out.

YouTube is a great way to introduce your child to the world of code. But YouTube, being the rabbit hole that it is, can be a time waster. Develop a short list of YouTubers that offer helpful tutorials. Learn Learn Scratch Tutorials is a good channel to start with.

Why Does Coding Matter?

According to the Smithsonian Science Education Center, STEM occupations out-earn non-STEM fields by 12-30% across all education levels. As the IT industry continues to grow, and our desire for technology in our everyday lives shows no signs of stopping, the future looks bright for those who can write code and understand algorithms.

That being said, as parents, we don’t want to force our kids into careers that are not right for them. Many of our children, won’t and probably shouldn’t become computer programmers. Fortunately, the skills developed while learning to code can translate to any career or hobby.

Coding can help your child:

  • Build Problem Solving Skills

  • Apply Math to Real-World Situations

  • Develop Writing Skills

  • Spark Creativity

  • Increase Resiliency

If you feel that your child is ready, the benefits of coding can be tremendous.

Questions & Answers

    © 2019 thenicolerobinson

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      • profile image

        Lisa Lysen 

        5 months ago

        I love this article and the easy-to-understand way you've explained so much. Thanks for all the great info and also for taking some of the "scary" away!

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