Here’s a startling statistic for you: more than 600,000 computing jobs are available in the US, but only 43,000 computer science majors graduated last year. That statistic from code.org may explain why nine out of 10 parents want children to learn computer programming.
Even kids who aren’t likely to choose programming as a career can benefit from learning something about it. Coding teaches kids to analyze problems, think logically and be persistent about troubleshooting. Getting results also gives kids a sense of accomplishment and confidence that they can make technology work for them.
More schools are working to incorporate coding into the curriculum, but here are some options to spark interest at home.
Three dimensional playthings can teach kids the kind of logical sequencing that is at the heart of programming. Fisher Prices’ Code-A-Pillar is a caterpillar that does different things depending on how a toddler sequences its segments ( $50). Makerbloks.com sells domino size blocks that have different functions. Kids 6 and up can snap them together to tell stories or create devices like a burglar alarm or a voice changing microphone. ($125)
Robots and droids can be fun for the entire family, but many models are expensive, delicate or tricky to operate. Exceptions include Dash and Dot (makewonder.com), freestanding, kid-friendly bots that can be controlled through an app. Sphero.com also sells several durable, rolling robots that will appeal to kids over 8, especially if they are Star Wars fans.
A wide variety of apps claim to teach coding to kids. Two of the better ones come from Hopscotch (gethopscotch.com). Their signature program lets school age kids use code to design games and create artwork. A simpler program called Daisy the Dinosaur is available for preschoolers. (Both free, Apple products. ). Kodable teaches coding practices by having 6-10 year olds maneuver furry, round aliens called Fuzzes through 30 increasingly difficult mazes by using visual arrow icons. (Free. Multiple platforms. Kodable.com). Lightbot is a slightly more abstract set of puzzles that can be addictive for older kids. (Free for most platforms. Lightbot.com)
Several interesting programs teach code with a combination of tangible objects and apps. Bloxels has kids 8-12 create video games by inserting brightly colored blocks into a grid to create a pixellated image. Capture the image on a smartphone and an app helps you convert it into a game with characters and obstacles. (bloxelsbuilder.com) Bitsbox.com has a free website, but it also offers a subscription service for elementary school kids. Once a month, kids get a box of new programming challenges along with stickers, small toys and trading cards.
For children who develop a taste for coding, several organizations offer a more systematic way to become proficient. Code.org has links to “Hour of Code” projects that offer free one-hour tutorials introducing students to code. They also have a series of videos that help kids master basic algorithms and offer inspiration from master coders like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. At Codeacademy.com, teens who are motivated can master several programming languages through free interactive lessons.
6 Just for Girls.
In the past, boys gravitated towards programming more readily than girls. A number of organizations are trying to reverse that trend. Madewithcode.com, a Google initiative, features exciting coding projects developed by young women. Girlswhocode.com sponsors tech clubs and summer camps for girls. And Girldevelopit.com offers supportive women-only classes in 52 US cities.
7. Stuff around the House.
CSunplugged.org promises to teach kids some of the basic concepts of computer science through games and puzzles that use inexpensive materials like cards, string, ping pong balls and crayons that are probably lying around your house. The site includes downloads and videos explaining how to make use of the materials.
With so many options available, every parent should be able to find a program or project that matches your child’s age and temperament as well as the family’s schedule and budget, making it easy to get your kids coding now.