Coding for kids: Reasons kids should get started, and how they can find success

girl coding at laptop with microbit

Happy National Coding Week 2019—we hope you enjoy one of our favorite coding posts below! Still feeling stuck or have questions about how to get your child going with coding? Don't hesitate to be in touch. Enjoy!

Coding for kids seems like an impossible endeavor, right? It’s a lot like—quite literally—learning an entirely new language!

Thus, asking children to envision themselves with the ability to, say, build an app, is a difficult enough task in itself.  

We’ve all been there…a blank slate can be a very scary, overwhelming roadblock. “Is coding for me? How am I ever going to get to a point where coding comes easy? When will I be able to use this new skill to complete a finished project?”

Statements like these have stopped many…before they even give themselves the chance to begin.

Think about it—first you have to plan, then you have to learn, then you have to be good enough to create. But before you learn, you have to decide what it is you’re going to learn, and you need to have a great understanding that the thing you’re learning is going to pay some sort of dividend when all is said and done.

There is no way around it. It’s quite the challenge.

But please, keep reading.

Any new task always seems impossible from the start, and is in fact impossible if you don’t take all of the necessary steps—and in the right order—beforehand.

This means that jumping in with two feet could actually lead to more frustration, and even lessen the chance of follow through/success, compared to starting small, taking your time, and achieving small victories along the way.

What does “coding for kids” mean?

Coding for kids refers to the collection of opportunities available for children to get involved in coding. As mentioned, while it might be difficult to imagine a young mind learning something so seemingly complex, it's definitely an attainable reality. Thanks to the proliferation of many coding summer camps, programs, websites, and toys, coding can be fun and digestible.

On the most basic level, coding is how we communicate with computers, and what we use to build and run websites, apps, video games, and more. Learning to code is like learning how to speak and write in a particular language; a computer’s language. (More on that to come!)

coding a robot

How to get your child to code?

It’s an answer that can go a million different directions.

So, let’s start by focusing on moving one direction—forward. It doesn’t have to be a giant leap. In fact, per the above, it should really only be a small step for now.

The important thing is that with each move, your child experiences progress.

With that, we are going to navigate this twisty-turny coding landscape through the various topics:

Ready?

Why kids should learn to code

Years ago when all of this kids and code chatter started, you could have characterized it has hype because the whole idea was new and novel to the education system. And, while this “learn to code” popularity spike wasn’t unfounded by any means, time was really the only thing that could tell us if it all was going to be a big fat flash in the pan.

Well, here we are.

Time has passed, yet we are still seeing STEM education stats like by 2018, 2.4 million STEM jobs will go unfilled. And others like 71% of all new jobs in STEM are in computing, but only 8% of STEM graduates are in Computer Science.

We’ve officially moved beyond simply saying “coding is cool, so go do it,” end of story. Instead, we are now saying, “coding is in fact cool, so go do it, but you should also go do it because you’ll be rewarded as a result.”

In other words, there are jobs, lots of them—and jobs that pay very well.

What makes this even better is that it’s not just the jobs or the coolness, either (this would be a much shorter blog post if that were the case). But also the creativity, problem solving, collaboration, communication, and other skills ripe for improvement as byproducts of kids learning to code.

So, let’s go!

Coders are in high demand

As mentioned, according to Code.org, 71% of all new STEM jobs are in computing, yet only 8% of STEM graduates are in Computer Science. That’s a SERIOUS shortage of CS majors.

Learning to code will increase your child’s odds of securing a lucrative STEM career, especially in a world where computing jobs are growing at over twice the national average.

Coding has quickly become a vital skill, and Code.org also points out that CS majors can earn 40% more than the college average.

Coding provides a competitive advantage when applying to colleges, internships, and jobs

If you possess a hot skill that many of your peers lack–such as the ability to code–you instantly appear more desirable in the eyes of potential college admissions officers and employers. Plain and simple.

With coding knowledge, students better understand the world around them

Most of us don’t know the first thing about what makes our smartphones, laptops, social media networks, and video games run. Basic programming knowledge can change the way we interact with the technologies we use (and take for granted) daily, and can open our eyes to the infinite possibilities of coding.

Coding is fun and satisfying

While programming is logic-based, it’s also an extremely creative activity. If you know how to code, you can develop the aforementioned apps, video games, websites, and more!

For many developers, part of the appeal of coding is the challenge and reward of seeing their code come to life after a good debugging session. Don’t be fooled, however–with the right instruction, getting started with programming can be easy and fun.
girl java coding with minecraft

Coding improves creativity

When you learn a language, you use it to express yourself. The same is true with code. Coding empowers kids to not only consume digital media and technology, but to create it. Instead of simply playing a video game or using an app, they can imagine making their own video game, or envision what their own website, or app might look like—and they’ll have the outlet for expression.

Coding improves problem solving

When kids code, they take complex problems and break them down into smaller parts.

Kids learn what it’s like to approach a problem the way a software engineer does, with logical, computational thinking.

As Dan Crow, CTO of SongKick explains, “Computational thinking teaches you how to tackle large problems by breaking them down into a sequence of smaller, more manageable problems.”

This logical thinking is a powerful tool in school, work, and life.

Coding improves persistence

Learning to code, like any new discipline, is a challenge. Thus, tackling complex problems—and making mistakes along the way—can be very frustrating.

Coding teaches the valuable skill of persistence in the face of such challenges. Learning how to problem solve and look for solutions through research and collaboration builds this highly desirable skill.

Coding improves collaboration

Every student can learn, and every student can learn how to code—kids can learn alongside others of every race, gender, or background. Kids meet and learn how to collaborate with all kinds of peers, all joined by a common interest in technology.

Classrooms and other in-person environments, like iD Tech, bring kids together for face-to-face collaboration. Kids learning online can also grow, asking each other questions, and working to solve problems and create things together.

Many games, like Minecraft, also offer a bevy of educational benefits because they too involve coding, collaboration, and participation—with peers all over the world.

Coding improves communication.

Communication is an absolutely essential skill throughout school, work, and life. People who can clearly communicate complex ideas in simple terms tend to be successful in different industries and walks of life.

When kids learn how to code, they learn how to communicate with the most simple-minded audience imaginable: computers. As mentioned, coding teaches kids how to break down complex ideas and arrange them in a way that computers can understand.

But with all of that, proceed with caution…

OK, I'm not going to turn around now and say you shouldn't learn to code, obviously, but more of...

Why just code?

It’s natural for such a simple question and the following related questions to crop up as you break down whether or not coding is right for your child:

What if my child doesn’t want to learn to code, specifically? Does that make them a failure?

Will they not have the chance to secure a cool internship down the road? A worthwhile job?

What if they want to learn to just “tech” instead? Is that a viable option?

What if they want to learn X? Or Y? Or Z? Will those things count in the future?

Likewise, if they only learned to code, and nothing else, would that take them to the top?

So, let me wrap up this section by saying me or whomever else urging you to “learn to code” is probably not doing so with the intent of the statement to be so exclusive.

I mean, you would never be encouraged to read, but not write. Or to learn your multiplication tables while throwing division out the window. Facebook was created by a programmer, but what would it be without design?

So, by all means, if you have a kid with a coding interest, then yes, help them to LEARN. TO. CODE. If they don’t have an interest, still consider it, though. It’s that important, and you’ll be glad you at least gave it a chance.

But in the process, don’t forget about the other things. Help them learn to “tech,” and explore game development possibilities, 3D printing, or video production if that's what better suits them. Immerse in photography if that's truly what they want to do as a hobby or even a future career.

Have them get skilled in marketing, negotiation, promotion, and more… or learn how to become a leader. There is a list of learning opportunities, and that list goes on and on. Coding can take you far, but you must also possess the complementary skills to make your creations thrive.

One of the most amazing things you’ll ever hear is that Steve Jobs didn’t code for Apple. Ever.

Can you believe that? If I asked you whether or not Steve Jobs was successful, you’d turn around and ask me if the sky was blue or if grass was green.

Jobs was one of the most successful people to roam the earth… not because he was a supreme coder, but because he knew enough to communicate a vision, and was wildly skilled elsewhere.

In the end, kids and teens who want to capitalize on the abundance of computer science jobs in tomorrow’s landscape should be taking programming courses today.

Before all of that, let's take a look at some definitions. 

Coding definitions

Learning a new language is difficult because without meaning, words are literally just random combinations of letters.

Thus, it’s not enough to just be able to pronounce something—you need to be able to understand what each and every word means in order to form a logical statement.

So, let’s dive into a few of the major terms your kids and teens are likely to encounter as they first embark upon their coding journey.

“Programming”

Does your son or daughter have a dog? Has your family tried to train that dog?

The goal being, of course, is that you reach a point where you give a command and the dog responds appropriately based on your instruction. “Sit.” “Stay.” “Roll over.”

When it comes time for your kids to write a program, or program, they are doing much of the same. They, as the “owner,” are communicating a set of commands to a computer, with the expectation that the computer will respond accordingly.

Of course, the difference here is that, instead of sternly vocalizing those instructions with a liver-flavored treat hidden in their hand, kids will be writing instructions in a language that kind of resembles familiar English, but has a few additional parameters and rules.

Yes, training a dog is difficult, but take comfort in the fact that if your child’s programming command is given correctly, the computer will always listen. Success with a dog could hinder on the presence or absence of a nearby, pesky squirrel.

Programming is the foundation of robotics, video games, apps, computer graphics, and much more. And, every one of these programs is a set of instructions; a sequence of short commands, one after another, with programming used as the tool to write and disseminate those individual instructions.

“Programming language”

Based on the above, the crux of programming is the associated language. In order to converse with a computer, you need to speak in terms it understands.

First, think about the English language. We have words, but we also have punctuation. There are also different rules and guidelines around when you should use a particular form of a word, and when you should opt for another.

A programming language, then is made up of its own vocabulary and set of rules—the difference is, each language is based on its own unique syntax (grammatical structure) and semantics (meaning).

And yes, “each” language—as in there are multiple programming languages; each with their own rules and use cases.

“Scratch programming”

We started by defining programming, and then talking about what a programming language is.

While there are many, many other coding terms to define, it’s useful to take a look at a term like Scratch programming, that represents a big piece of what your child might encounter as they’re first getting started.

Scratch is a MIT-developed graphical programming language, based on drag-and-drop programming basics so kids can easily create interactive stories, comics, and more.

Scratch programming is popular for kids because instead of using lines of code, youth users learn though colorful command blocks and cartoon sprites. This means that without typing a single line of code, kids can get their feet wet with programming statements and computational ideas, and begin to test their limits of creative thinking in order to problem-solve.

Dive deeper: 12 coding definitions every kid (and parent) should know

boy doing scratch programming

Which coding languages are best for kids?

Looking at everything that has been presented above, I hope you’re still at a point of wanting to move forward!

Either way, this is a great place to stop and evaluate, because from here on out we will be diving into the best coding language options for your kids, while also taking a look at a few inspirational stories from kid coders themselves.

Scratch and other visual programming languages

See, I told you Scratch would be coming up again!

Since we already talked about it above, I won’t go into too much additional detail, but really, visual programming is a great way to get a young, inexperienced student into coding.

Sure, such languages don’t teach the syntax necessary in most other coding languages, but that’s OK! This is all about progress; moving forward, remember? Trying to put too much on to your child’s plate typically does more harm than good.

With Scratch and other visual programming, it’s all about the simplicity that gets kids excited about coding. The immediate gratification of dragging and dropping commands and then seeing interactive stories, games, and animations unfold is insanely powerful.

Dive deeper: Scratch summer camp course for kids.

Lua

While a little more involved and complex than a visual programming option, Lua is still a great language for kids and teens who want to pick up a language quickly.

And, I’ll pause here to state that half the battle of getting a child engaged in something new (especially when that something comes with new challenges) is connecting it to already-established interests.

So, do your kids like video games? Lua is a great for students interested in applying their newfound coding skills to game programming. In fact, the number of developers using Lua continues to rise, which translates into job availability down the road. A student equipped with such skills can jump into a variety of career options.

Plus, ever heard of Roblox? Top Lua developers who design games on Roblox can make over $1 million a year!

Just to get a taste of what kids can expect, in our Lua coding for kids course, students begin with Roblox's built-in editor to create 3D worlds and expand their functionality with Lua. From there, they can create scripts for their own game, or even sell scripts to other designers for use in their games!

Dive deeper: Best kids coding languages

Just to confirm, kids can really learn this stuff?

Listen, if you’re feeling a little overwhelmed at this point, I don’t blame you! It’s a lot of info on top of more info, and then some.

So, now is a good time to focus less on telling, and more on showing.

It might be near impossible to think of kids or even teens finding their way with coding…especially to a point where they’ll be equipped with skills to perform in a lucrative career.

But like anything, it’s a process. Here at iD Tech, we call it the iD Tech Pathway™, which by definition, is our long-term skill development system that advances campers’ “love and mastery” of technology over time.

But in practice, it’s the idea that, just like learning a foreign language or musical instrument, you’re going to have to dedicate more than one hour of practice. Instead, to achieve “master” status, it’s best to start young and continue to build passions and skills little by little.

Our STEM programs are set up to facilitate such a journey—kids can start as young as 7 or 10-years-old with iD Tech Camps or Alexa Café, respectively, and then continue their journey as teens with iD Coding & AI Academy, iD Game Dev Academy, or AcademyNEXT. At the end of it all, they’re in perfect position to continue their pathway into college and then eventually onward to an exciting career.

That said, we have seen students accomplish some incredible things. To help you visualize what jumping into coding can do for your child, here are a few of our favorite kid coder success stories.

Matthew has worked at some of the most prestigious companies in the world

While setting the goal to work at iconic companies like Dropbox, Facebook, and Google could be considered lofty, it’s something Matthew wanted to do for years. Once he set his mind to it, there was no stopping him!

Matthew says that his skill development started at iD Tech Camps and iD Coding & AI Academy held at Stanford in the Silicon Valley. The experiences taught him things he hadn’t learned in school, and gave him the opportunity to work with industry-standard software.

He emphasizes the importance of working on projects outside of the classroom. “It doesn’t matter what you develop, as long as it’s technically challenging for you,” says Matthew. “This not only lets you build a strong portfolio, but also provides a solid foundation for passionately answering potential interview questions for your future career.”

Rebecca’s coding achievements were recognized by the White House

This iD Tech alumna was recognized by the White House after founding nonprofit CoderDojo NYC. Now, she's a Program Manager at Microsoft and a powerful advocate for girls in STEM!

“My journey began as a 14-year-old girl at iD Tech Camps in Cambridge, giving me an early chance to explore my passions. Two weeks there changed my life; I was introduced to the idea of technology as a fun and exciting career, and not some lofty idea for engineers hiding in a lab,” Rebecca says.

A self-proclaimed “Jill of all trades,” Rebecca now works as a Program Manager for Microsoft for Tech Jobs Academy, a 16-week technical training program preparing talented New Yorkers for in-demand tech jobs in cloud and server administration.

Dive deeper: Rebecca’s story

Andrew’s apps have surpassed 50,000 downloads in the Apple App Store

This former iD Tech student found initial success selling his nine apps in the Apple App Store. He has since shifted his focus to running his own development companies and doing even more with his coding skills.

You would think that a list of accomplishments as long as Andrew’s would have required years to compile—but this young developer was only in college when he first started seeing success. With nine apps, 50,000 downloads, a class that he developed and taught himself, and many other endeavors, it’s amazing what this former student has achieved. Not to mention that he once thought of programming as “intimidating.”

“Prior to attending iD Coding & AI Academy, I was intimidated by iPhone programming. I had tried to teach myself, but gave up, thinking maybe I wasn’t smart enough to program. Well, after two weeks, I was proven wrong—I left with three completed or in-progress apps.”

How do you introduce kids to coding?

With each of the above examples, success follows a clear process. Sure, some of us are going to be more naturally gifted in certain areas than others, but either way, we all must start at step one.

So, what is that step one?

Well, to be honest, what follows isn’t for those who are sitting down at the computer ready to program. There are online coding courses for that, in person experiences, and more.

Rather, the words below are for those who are interested in learning more; who hear about the importance of coding and want to wrap their minds around what that might mean for their kids.

1. So first, have them learn something. Anything. The basics, preferably.

Just like we explained through the definitions at the beginning of this post, it’s hard to learn how to do something if you can’t really formulate in your mind what that something might be.

So, have kids start with some light reading. Have them learn the basics, or watch a short video. Get them to a point where they can tell a friend or a family member about coding in a couple of sentences.

2. Then, have them go somewhere or talk to someone to learn a bit more.

What really helps something new and novel stick in your brain is being able to talk to someone else about it. Encourage kids to talk to a friend about how the video game they’re playing couldn’t be possible without coding. They  can also ask a robotics teacher at school about how programming powers bots.

Never underestimate the value of learning through conversation. It gives children a chance to recall what you’ve already learned while potentially learning something new by listening.

If you simply can’t find anyone in your immediate circle who cares to talk to them about programming, branch out. Visit a tech museum, have them join a related club at school. These venues not only offer the chance to learn a new skill, but they also facilitate being able to talk to like minded individuals.

alexa cafe instructor and student

3. Next, have them do something. Again, even if it’s something small—that’s OK.

Another potential roadblock to learning a new skill is trying to take on too much right out of the gate. They’ve just learned that programming is the basis for their favorite video games, movies, robots, and more, and they’re all in, ready to develop the next Candy Crush.

Well, while it’s certainly possible, it’s important to maintain realistic expectations.

So, start small. Have them get a feel for programming visually through a program like Scratch before they dive in to learning how to code. Or maybe they can find an app that introduces them to programming (see the resources at the end of this post). These types of activities are perfect for anyone who wants to take baby steps towards learning how to program.

4. Now, have them do something bigger.

Your child has now laid the groundwork and dipped their toe into the programming waters. And while it still isn’t quite time for them to shoot for the stars, they can now begin to set sights on bigger things.

To help facilitate the learning process, help them to stick to something with which they’re already familiar and enjoy. Look into creating a simple iPhone app, or Facebook game. Have them take an online course.

By sticking to areas of familiarity, they’ll be able to more easily see how different pieces fit together and are brought to life through programming.

Is there anything else kids should be doing along the way?

With all of this, is learning programming really as easy as “learning something,” “talking to someone,” and “doing something” as stated above?

Of course not.

But, for those who have been stymied by just getting up and moving, a set of guidelines so seemingly simple is a great place to get started.

Code is in fact the language of the future, and learning to code, while great to know in itself, also strengthens creativity, problem solving, and a host of other skills.

Thus, the value of learning to code isn't limited to the actual physical act of coding, as it opens doors to a variety of related opportunities as well.

In less words, learning to code is hugely important, and hopefully this guide helps you and your child take a step forward.

Where to go next?

iD Tech students arrive in the summer eager to learn—not only because of their interests in technology,  but because many of them still aren’t receiving valuable instruction in subjects like coding with their everyday schooling. They leave camp with new skills, deeper knowledge, and the confidence to go out and do something impactful with what they’ve learned. We’ve seen this happen summer after summer.

And now, kids can learn coding online with our Online Private Lessons!

Best of luck! See you next summer, online, or both!

Coding resources

In-Person Coding Courses & Programs

Online Learning

Coding Blogs & Organizations

Coding Apps

Coding Toys

A photo of Ryan

Ryan manages blog content at iD Tech, starting with the company in 2008. He earned his MBA from Santa Clara University after obtaining his Bachelor’s degree from Arizona State. Connect on LinkedIn!

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