It may seem complicated on the surface, but your child can actually start learning the basics of how to code as early as four or five. Here are some first steps to get you started.
What is code?
To get a computer to do a specific task, one must first give it step-by-step instructions of how the task can be accomplished. These instructions are what we refer to as code. The people who write this code are known as computer programmers.
Code is actually the colloquial term for a high-level programming language. A programming language is the middle man between our complex human language and the simple numerical language of a computer’s machine code. Programming languages allow us to create computer software, websites, apps, and more without having to write in machine code.
In summary, code is a set of step-by-step instructions written to ensure that a computer accomplishes a specific task.
Why should my child learn to code?
Code is woven into our daily world
The most obvious reason why coding is important is that we now live in a globalized society that relies on computers for business, banking, communication, entertainment, and more. Code is woven into our daily world, and programmers are always needed to develop and update software, apps, and websites.
Coding has become such an essential part of our world that K-12 public schools in the state of California recently established computer science standards that foster programming skills starting kindergarten. Almost half of all American states have implemented or are developing similar standards. These standards are currently optional. But their existence means that many people are acknowledging the importance of offering an early-learning path to coding.
And this is a worldwide trend. Last year, computer programming was made compulsory in public schools across Japan. The UK began implementing their computer science curriculum back in 2015 and are still working to perfect it. More than two dozen other countries have similarly evolving computer science standards. Computer programming is an essential part of society, and in future generations will likely be integrated into curriculums worldwide. Why not get a head start?
Coding experience is valuable in any industry
Learning how to code from an early age can open up paths to a stable and well-paying career: The median salary for a computer programmer in the US is $65,000, and $72,000 for software developers. With years of experience, this number could be much higher.
But coding knowledge is also helpful in many fields outside of software and web development. Graphic designers, content writers, social media managers, marketing strategists and business analysts are all able to use code to make their work stand out. Coding experience can open doors to more creative careers, like animation or game development.
Every industry needs programmers to help with websites, marketing, and more. Code can also be used to automate any menial work done on a computer, like data entry and accounting. And because code is involved in any online content, coding experience makes it easier to communicate with the developers on a team. Knowing how to code will automatically give your child a leg up in any career they choose to pursue.
Coding will teach your child logic and creative problem-solving skills
Perhaps the biggest advantage of learning to code is that it fuels the development of logic and problem-solving skills. Coding typically requires thinking of an end goal, and then formulating and implementing the steps to get there. A computer needs extremely specific instructions to run. It may be capable of a lot, but it can’t think on its own. Directions must be given and parameters must be set in order to ensure the computer doesn’t run into any obstacles while is tries to accomplish its task.
All this requires logic and creative problem-solving on the part of the programmer. There’s always a solution, and the earlier your child learns to code, the easier it will be for them to find those creative solutions.
Learning to code can boost your child’s confidence
Much of coding involves trial-and-error. In learning to code, your child will learn that mistakes are inevitable but can always be fixed. This will increase their confidence and allow them to be more secure in themselves in school, at home, and among their peers.
Coding is intellectually stimulating
Coding is a fun, educational, and creative way to occupy your child’s time. If your child is often bored at home, or always interested in new things, introduce them to coding! They can animate, design websites, or even make their own Minecraft mods. Even younger kids can have fun solving the simple logic problems that make up the fundamentals of coding.
When can my child start learning how to code?
Your child can probably start learning how to code much earlier than you think. This is because computer programming is rooted in logic, math, and other concepts that your child is already learning in their early years. In general, it’s a step-by-step process that will depend in part on a child’s age and in part on their individual development. Here’s a general idea of the concepts and skills your child will be able to grasp, dependent on their age and experience:
Your child can start learning the most basic fundamentals of coding as early as four or five. Even if they’re not able to type yet, they have the critical thinking skills necessary to deconstruct the patterns, algorithms, and other processes that make up their world. Coding is all about the logic and reason that underlies a task. Getting dressed, brushing teeth, making pancakes, doing the dishes… all these daily tasks can be broken down into smaller steps that allow children to see the thinking behind them.
The next step, for when your child is around five or six, would be to introduce them to games and logic puzzles that allow them to identify more abstract patterns and processes. These unplugged coding activities from Kodable are a great place to start: They cover sequences, conditions, functions, loops, properties and more.
Once your child is old enough to read, write, and use a computer, there are many free programs like CodeMonkey and Blockly that teach the building blocks of computer programming: events, loops, repeats, lists, conditionals, and more. The best part is that these coding challenges are formatted as games and creative activities, so your child will have fun and learn at the same time.
Most of these programs involve using “blocks” to construct stories and games, rather than having the user type out lines of code themselves. It’s a system that allows young minds to visualize patterns and understand how specific instructions work together, rather than getting caught up in what those instructions are. Because it’s so goal-oriented and involves creative problem solving, even the simplest of coding activities can be very satisfying.
Creating in Scratch is an excellent middle ground between educational games and writing out code. It gives kids the opportunity to see what other people are creating and come up with their own ideas. Scratch uses block-based coding but gives users the space to create any simple game or animation that they want.
Snap is also block-based, but offers a little more complexity. It allows users to convert code into Java, Python, and other languages. But there aren’t as many resources available for the recently developed Snap as there are for Scratch.
Many kids are interested in learning how to mod the games they already play. If your child is particularly invested in Roblox, consider introducing them to Lua. If they play a lot of Minecraft, consider Java. Lua is the simpler of the two. Java is a fairly complicated language but widely used, so if you have a naturally code-savvy kid, it’s a great one to learn early.
If you're concerned about your kid learning how to code their way around Gryphon's parental controls, don't be. The only person who has access to change those restrictions is you. So don't worry, there's no such thing as learning too much.
Coding for kids resources
The programming community is a collaborative one, meaning that there are plenty of amazing guides and resources available for free online—just search up what you want to know. Code.org is a great place to start CodeWizardsHQ has coding classes as well as round-ups of valuable websites, apps, and games.
Block-based coding is probably the simplest and most versatile ways to learn code for any age. In case you missed it, here are our favorite spaces for block-based coding:
And here are some resources for when your kid is ready to move onto text-based coding:
Remember, your child will be resistant to learning if they feel pressured or frustrated. Programming is fun but it isn't always easy, so if they show an interest, allow them to work their way up to text-based programming languages at their own pace. Happy coding!