A Parent’s Guide to Teaching Coding at Home

“First, solve the problem. Then, write the code” – John Johnson, computer programmer for Game Ready

If we accept Mr Johnson’s premise, then we must first figure out what the problem is.

When it comes to teaching kids how to code, that might be a bit of a challenge.

Kids are not computer problems so we can’t write code to ‘solve’ them. Your child might

not have any problems using technology so you have nothing to fix there, either.

However, there is a connection between kids and coding that could grow into a problem.

Therefore, proactively solving it means preventing problems later on.

Already, technology drives every sector of the economy. We find computer applications

everywhere from the corner coffee shop to healthcare, finance and all areas of

engineering. We stand at the threshold of the Fifth Industrial Revolution, a period defined

by technological advancement.

Teaching your kids how to code ensures them a smooth transition into this new era. More

importantly, teaching your child how to code arms them with the skills they need to thrive in

this new environment.

This article explains the steps to prepare your children for their place in tomorrow’s

technology workforce. Along the way, we’ll cover the cognitive skills your kids will develop

and the wider benefits of learning how to code.

 

My Child Isn’t Interested in Coding

Parents pushing their children into extracurricular study is nothing new. We’ve seen

dramatic examples of such, typically filed under the ‘Tiger Parenting’ label.

To be clear, parents wanting their children to succeed is not bad. Parents goading their

children to success can be harmful. If your child doesn’t show any interest in coding, it

would be best not to force them into programming language lessons. You might pique their

interest in robotics as an introduction to coding, instead.

For most people, coding is not exciting, even if the results of a well-executed program are.

If you feel that way as an adult, imagine your child’s take on the matter. Particularly if your

child is preschool-aged. Which, incidentally, is a good time to start teaching your child how

to code.

You don’t have to ‘promote’ coding education right away. You might instead begin with

lighthearted critical thinking exercises. For instance, you could ask questions like “What

makes a smartphone so smart?”. Or “Which is smarter: the family car or the family pet?”

If your children are younger, turn their ‘why’ game back on them: every time they make an

assertion, ask them why they think that.

Coding is fundamentally a critical thinking function. The sooner you help your child build

those skills, the more readily they will embrace coding concepts. Even if they never

embark on a coding career, critical thinking skills will do wonders for their future.

My Child Is Interested, What’s Next?

Defining your limits is crucial. By that, we mean the limits of your coding knowledge as well

as teaching skills. You don’t need to be a master in either field to teach your child coding

basics but you must recognise your boundaries.

With that said, let’s emphasise that you don’t have to be a ‘teacher’ in the traditional

sense. You can tailor your teaching style to suit your relationship with your pupil. If you

have a casual, jokey manner about you, incorporate that into your learning sessions. You

can also use similes and analogies to help your child grasp fundamental coding concepts.

Your learner might ask coding questions you don’t have a ready answer for. Don’t say

“We’ll get to that later”. Such a response will cost you credibility and cause them to lose

interest. Do say “I don’t know. Let’s look it up.”.

Engage With a Platform

Learning a programming language is like learning any other language. You can master the

basics on your own but your learning is theoretical until you apply those skills. For

example, you can study French words and phrases on your own. However, you won’t

know if you can communicate in French unless you speak with someone in that language.

You have a wide selection of coding platforms to choose from. The one you select

depends on your child’s age and preferences.

For the youngest learners, Scratch is an excellent platform. This colourful, block-based

coding platform engages users visually as well as intellectually. The interface presents the

user with a series of choices arranged in blocks. Your child will drag and drop variables to

create games, animations and stories.

Code.org is a great platform for kids aged six and up. This site offers hour-long tutorials

and fully fleshed courses your child may learn from. The courses are self-paced; they

revolve around several popular themes. If your child is a Minecraft enthusiast, they’ll relish

exploring Code.org’s initiatives.

Your teenager might explore Python.org, and perhaps even join the Python community.

This group welcomes anyone whether they’re absolute beginners or have a bit of coding

experience.

Python is also a modular programming language. You only need to select the block of

code from Python’s vast library and drop it into your program. This programming language

is one of the easiest for beginner coders to work with. The Pythonistas – members of the

Python community are always ready with advice and help if you don’t know which blocks

you need.

No matter what age your future programmer is, they will have to learn Hypertext Markup

Language (HTML) at some point. This is the language behind every webpage. They should also master Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) and JavaScript. These two dictates how webpages look and function. Your teenaged coder should get familiar with the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) site. This page’s resources tab offers an encyclopaedia of coding tools and standards. You can even find open-source code validators and test tools there

 

A Word on Safety

Once your child has mastered coding basics, you may feel comfortable letting them work

on a project unsupervised. The resources listed in the previous segment are kid-friendly

and safe. Turning them loose there means you don’t have to sit at their elbow and monitor

their screens.

However, some kid-friendly sites aren’t as safe. Some deceive kids into buying extra

features. Others have faced accusations of fostering extremism and making sexually

explicit content available on their platforms.

One, in particular, was recently charged with exploiting junior game developers. In 2021,

the British investigative group People Make Games (PMG) reported that a platform

promised large paydays for successful games. However, those payouts were mere

pennies, while the platform kept most of the revenue.

Such an experience could turn your child away from any further efforts at learning how to

code, to say the least. Before your child explores a coding platform, you should investigate it. Don’t just read the terms and conditions before creating an account. Read reviews and testimonials; maybe even ask around coding communities what the platform is like.

 

Expand Learning Horizons

The trouble with coding is digital. Unlike, say, building with Legos, typing code typically

results in nothing tangible or even recognisable. For kids who like to be hands-on, that can

be frustrating.

To keep your child’s coding interest alive, you might invest in a Sphero RVR+

programmable robot. This robotic vehicle comes with basic programming and a lot of

sensors. You can drive it as soon as you unpack it but don’t forget to code more advanced

features.

By contrast, the micro bit fits in the palm of your child’s hand. It’s a programmable

computer that connects to other devices. It looks simplistic but you and your child will be

amazed at all it can do.

Arduino is another type of programmable board. It has its own easy-to-understand

programming language to code your projects with the features you want. You may access

this platform to program your Arduino and for technical support.

VEX is more like Sphero, a tangible robot that you and your child can program. VEX robots

are available for coders of all ages, from three years old to adolescents.

And if your child is a Lego enthusiast, you don’t need any other platform. You might start

with a Lego Mindstorms. Your child will train their robot to perform through its built-in

sensors.

If your Lego-loving coder doesn’t mind sitting in front of a computer, introduce them to

Lego Spike. This platform’s visual coding capabilities are a lot like Scratch’s. It’s a drag and-drop coding system that will drive their physical Lego creation.

As always, the key to learning well is to not make it seem like learning is a chore. These

fun, engaging options will make for lively learning sessions that won’t even feel like

learning.

 

Diversify the Learning

Homeschooling is not a new concept, even if it’s become all the rage, these days.

Caregivers, dissatisfied with public education standards, choose to educate their children

at home.

Teaching your child how to code at home doesn’t mean you’re homeschooling. However,

your and homeschooling parents’ efforts have a lot in common. One such instance is

seeking outside influences.

You might sign your junior coder for a few code camp sessions, for example. These are

typically weekend events that are often free of charge. There, your young coder may

witness demonstrations pick up tips and tricks for more efficient coding.

Around the United Kingdom (UK), different groups host such events. Before you sign your

child up, make sure the sponsors have no age restrictions in place. You should also verify

that your young coder’s skill level is equal to the event’s agenda.

Coding boot camps are the same as code camps, they just last a bit longer. Signing your

child up for such an experience also depends on their age and level of coding ability. You

must also consider how the scheduling will impact their school learning. Most coding boot

camps host events during school breaks but not all of them do.

Camps give your child the chance to socialise with other kids who share their interests.

These connections can inspire your child to work harder and reach further than if they

worked alone.

Once you reach the limits of what you can teach your child about coding, you may search

your area for coding classes for kids. These are more formal lessons that typically take

place in a school setting. Your child may feel more comfortable learning how to code in

such an environment. For them, a classroom often signals ‘learning time’.

If you’re still toying with the idea of teaching your kids how to code, consider joining a

‘coding parents’ group. These caregivers have valuable experiences to share; they will

likely pass on a few tips to get you started on the right foot. No need to worry if there’s no

such group in your area; you may join a group online.

Going back to our John Johnson quote, now – “First, solve the problem”. With this guide,

the problem of how to start teaching your kids how to code is solved. “And then, write the

code.” That’s the adventure that awaits you and your child.

 

Author’s Bio: Sophia (Birk) is a retired language teacher and a strong advocate for skills building outside the classroom. As a content creator for the SuperProf tutoring platform, she enjoys writing educational articles on a variety of topics.

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