Computer Coding for Kids: A Cheat Sheet for Parents

    Whether at home or in the classroom, most children today are connected to some form of technology. Now more than ever, computer coding for kids is growing in popularity – and for good reason.

    Whether at home or in the classroom, most children today are connected to some form of technology

    Bringing computer science to the classroom is giving our children the skills essential for their digital future, says Georgina Blaskey.

    Over 20 years ago, Steve Jobs, co-founder, chairman and chief executive officer of Apple Inc, said, “Everyone should learn how to program a computer, because it teaches you how to think.” About three years ago the British government caught up (well before some other countries, it’s worth noting) and decided to become the first G7 country to introduce compulsory computer science for all children aged five to 16. Now, when a child leaves primary school aged 11, they should be able to design, write and debug programs that accomplish specific goals, use sequence, selection and repetition in programs, and use logical reasoning to explain how some simple algorithms work and to detect and correct errors in algorithms and programs.

    It’s not just the government who are getting excited about coding for kids. Leading female entrepreneurs in this country are encouraging their own children to learn the language of code. Nicola Mendelsohn, Facebook vice president for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and mother of four, advises parents to get their kids coding. Her three sons can code, but Mendelsohn is disappointed her eldest, Gabi, 19, missed out, admitting: “I didn’t realise how important it would be.”

    Georgie Coleridge Cole, founder of lifestyle website Sheerluxe.com and mother of three, told me: “The first question I asked when I went to look at my daughter’s current school was ‘when do they learn to code?’. It’s the language of the future. I’ve done a short course myself and only skimmed the surface but even that basic knowledge has been a real asset – for my children I hope their knowledge is like a second language.”

    How to help your children get into coding

    Your children may well have been set as homework ‘An Hour of Code’, from a global campaign that has engaged more than 10% of the world’s student population, to spend one hour doing a tutorial to learn the basics of coding – or improve their abilities if they already have some knowledge (code.org/learn).

    Using characters such as Luke Skywalker or Minecraft, children can tell them to complete a mission through a series of instructions (that would be the coding bit then), which gradually gets more complicated as they advance. My children have enjoyed learning through this website – not withstanding some minor frustrations along the way – and it’s opened my eyes as to why coding is so important. Whereas my generation were taught how to use computers, our children are learning how to build them. At the time of introducing this new curriculum, the then Education Secretary Michael Gove said, “ICT used to focus purely on computer literacy – teaching pupils how to word-process, how to work a spreadsheet, how to use programs already creaking into obsolescence. Our new curriculum teaches children computer science, information technology and digital literacy: teaching them how to code and how to create their own programs; not just how to work a computer, but how a computer works and how to make it work for you.”

    Beyond the computing room, Faye Ellis, director of digital technology at leading London prep school Thomas’s Clapham, adds, “There are so many computational thinking skills that children learn in computing that can be applied in other areas. For example, decomposition (breaking a problem down into parts) and debugging (looking for and fixing errors) are skills that we use all the time. These skills don’t need to be taught at a computer, either. Barefoot Computing has some good resources for teaching computational thinking skills through games and outdoor activities.”

    To truly thrive in an entrepreneurial and innovation-led world, children need to know how computers work. Many jobs that will be around in 2025 haven’t even been created yet but they’re likely to be challenging and digital — as well as well-paid – so learning the language of code is crucial. If all that feels too far in the future to persuade a reluctant coder, try this. If you learn code you can make your own apps, games and websites; you can become successful at a young age; you’ll learn how to solve problems; and you’ll have some great fun along the way.

    Code Breakers: The best tools to use

    Sonic Pi is a free tool to create electronic music using code.

    • The Ohbot is a robot you can build and code using Scratch.

    • The V&A Museum often runs Digital Kids workshops.

    • The Science Museum has installations and exhibitions linked to computer science.

    • Learn the principles of coding with Lift-The-Flap Computers and Coding (£9.99, Usborn Children’s Books).

    Useful websites include:

    • code.org
    • codeclub.org.uk
    • scratch.mit.edu

    Coding for kids glossary and coding jargon buster

    Know your bit from your byte with this coding for kids jargon buster for not-so-tech-savvy parents.

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    With home-schooling and the Easter break now well underway – and only so many Easter egg hunts you can hold in the back garden! – it’s likely that your kids are going to be turning to tablets and computer games to keep busy. They’re not alone; more kids than ever are showing a passion for technology and now feel just as comfortable chatting about coding and gaming as they do about sports or their favourite Tik Tok dance.

    Feeling left behind? To give you a bit of a helping hand, Code Ninjas has provided us with this coding jargon buster, which offers a description for the terms (and games!) you might have heard of.

    Algorithm

    An algorithm is a series of directions to complete in order to achieve a task. An algorithm could be written about all manner of tasks, from making a sandwich, or more complex activities, like building a computer game from scratch. In the digital world, an algorithm refers to the set of instructions that a computer follows in the order they are inputted.

    Bit

    A single unit of information, usually shown as a 0 or a 1. The word is a shortened version of “binary digit”.

    Byte

    A byte is essentially just a measure of digital data, ranging from a kilobyte (KB) to a gigabyte (GB).

    Coding

    Coding is the general term used for inputting information and directions into a programme, which is how software, apps and websites are created.

    JavaScript

    JavaScript is a scripting language used to create and control dynamic website content. For example, anything that moves, refreshes or changes on your screen without you doing anything.

    Minecraft

    Minecraft is a sandbox video game, meaning a game where the player has the ability to create or change their environment. Players explore a 3D world and because of the lack of rules or instructions they can create pretty much whatever they want. It’s often referred to as ‘virtual Lego’, for the creativity it inspires.

    Programme

    A programme is a series of coded instructions that a computer can understand to solve a problem or produce a result. Two basic types of programmes are an operating system, which provides the most basic instructions to operate a computer and an application programme, like Word or PowerPoint, which does a specific job.

    Roblox

    Roblox is an online platform that enables its users to create and share their own 3D games and experiences using custom tools. The biggest difference between Minecraft and Roblox is that Roblox is predominantly played online, meaning your child can communicate with other players, whereas Minecraft is more often played in an offline gaming environment.

    Scratch

    Scratch is a computer programming language where you can create interactive stories, games and animations. Scratch has a zero-code interface, meaning that users don’t write the code for the games or animations they create, they just use the directions that already exist in the programme. Instead, users build blocks of ‘directions’ that instruct their chosen ‘sprite’ or character to do something, like walk 10 steps or say hello. Once the user has built their series of blocks, they can click a green flag to run their directions.

    Zero-code interface

    A zero-code interface, in its simplest terms, is a paint-by-numbers way of programming. Users build their own games without actually writing the code, they simply utilise code that already exists.

    Code Ninjas teaches kids to code by building and playing their own video games. If you’d like to find out more about Code Ninjas and if a centre is coming to your area soon, visit www.codeninjas.co.uk

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