Coding is exciting to learn, a gateway to amazing careers, and… a little intimidating sometimes. In a world powered by billions of lines of code, getting started can seem like a dizzying feat.
It doesn’t have to be!
If you’re wondering how to encourage your child to learn to code, there’s good news on this score: there are plenty of options out there, and it’s by no means a one-size-fits-all learning journey.
So let’s dispel two common myths about learning to code right away:
Coding myth #1: kids need a strong background in math, technology, or science to learn to code. False! While it can be helpful and necessary at a very advanced level, there’s no prerequisite to learning to code.
Gaining coding experience is a matter of selecting a beginner coding language that appeals to your child and can be used for something they find meaningful. No math or tech wiz skills necessary, though certainly nice to have.
Coding myth #2: coding isn’t creative and only appeals to STEM-minded brains. We have a real bone to pick with this one.
There are limitless creative applications of programming both within and beyond STEM-related industries. From learning the art of video game design to launching your own business, creativity is essential to realizing the full potential of code.
With those out of the way, let’s get back to what matters most: taking that first step into the wide world of coding!
4 ways to gain coding experience
Try all five of these strategies with your child (we would not recommend all at once), or select one or two that would work best and go from there.
To help you in your quest, we’ve tentatively arranged these ideas in a sequence that would make sense for first-time programmers of all ages.
Try online coding games and tutorials
Not sure where to start or which language would be the best fit for your child? Websites like Udemy offer excellent resources that make it possible to try coding in a low-stakes environment.
Often, learning a new skill can be nerve-wracking, but a 10-minute tutorial is doable, right? Online coding games and how-to videos are great ways for kids to get their proverbial feet wet.
Code.org, for instance, features a number of computer science and coding-related activities designed for a range of time frames and programming languages. And far from dull lines of puzzling algorithms, Code.org makes learning approachable; kids will love playing coding games related to Angry Birds and Minecraft, or perhaps trying out coding a dance party!
Keep things low-pressure with a tutorial springboard, and you’ll be able to refine your search for the best next step.
1. Combine coding with other areas of interest
Learning shouldn’t exist in a vacuum. Never underestimate the power of a relevant, authentic learning experience, aka one that links new material with something kids enjoy in their daily lives. Educational experts have found that this type of learning increases motivation, concept recall, and critical thinking skills.
Not only is connecting new knowledge with existing knowledge easy an educational best practice, it’s easier to do with coding than you might think.
Gamers will be right at home learning to code with Roblox and other games, sports enthusiasts who’ve never coded before can find connections to data science, and the list goes on and on.
Some kids may be excited to learn to code just for its own sake, and that’s awesome. The bottom line is, whether tech-interested or not, coding has a hand in a lot of things, making it easy to link kids’ interests to the power of coding.
2. Try a coding camp or class
Speaking of connections, a beginner-level coding course for kids is an excellent way to encourage them to foster connections with like minds.
Peer interaction is crucial to kids’ development, not to mention their wellbeing! And after a school year like this one, it’s more important than ever. Virtual camps and classes are places for kids to connect, have fun, and build awesome things together.
Now, it’s important to note here that a small group environment that goes beyond the traditional K-12 learning model is ideal for learning to code. It’s easy to feel anonymous online and lost in a sea of screens, and summer is here! Time for kids to take a break from humdrum school routines.
So, a fun, camp-ified setting is an excellent way to break that mode. Kids can learn to love technology without feeling like they'll be taking a test at the end of class or like their teacher won’t have time to answer their questions. For learning enrichment, that’s the way to go.
3. Work with a coding tutor
Don’t get us wrong, many students thrive in group learning, but kids can also get a lot out of a coding tutor, and lessons tailored to their specific learning needs. A personalized learning approach can help a student focus on a particularly challenging area, or, can allow them to explore something new and different altogether with the benefit of customized coaching.
It’s hard to beat working 1-on-1 with an expert on just about anything, especially coding. Beginners will doubtlessly have questions, and it’s invaluable to have an outlet for getting answers from a reliable source (and one that cares)!
Getting back to coding myth #2, private tutoring also ensures kids’ creativity and other interests are an integral part of the learning process. Students can hit the "pause" button; settling in with one specific topic to explore in-depth as it relates to what they’re most excited about.
4. Give a hackathon a shot (yes, even coding newbies!)
The purpose of a hackathon is to use technology, primarily coding, to achieve a set goal or goals. Contrary to popular belief, there are plenty of hackathons for beginners out there, and no, they’re not just used to make hiring decisions in big tech.
At a hackathon that welcomes beginners, that goal might include experimenting with Java, Python, or another useful coding language that’s relatively user-friendly. Participants often also have the chance to attend fun, educational workshops or an interactive demo that teaches coding skills. What better way to show kids the real-world applications of what they learn?
If your child is interested in participating, but is a little uncertain or nervous about jumping in, interactive websites like Hackathon Jr and CEL Kids are great resources kids can use to try out what they’ll do at a hackathon event.
When should kids learn to code?
There’s no time like the present!
In an age where STEM jobs—specifically in technology—are among both the highest paid and fastest growing in the country, learning to code is a worthwhile investment in your child’s future. The best way to gain coding experience that can build into an exciting college major and career is to dive right in. Get started this summer!