If you grew up in the days of the early Internet, coding was a skill reserved for specialized technicians, meant pursuing a degree in computer science, and building computer software for desktop computers. It was not a widespread skill, and older computer languages like C and C++ were challenging to learn and required a solid foundation in Mathematics.
Nowadays, code is everywhere. Every game, website, and Youtube video your child watches was made possible with code. Programming is now one of the most in-demand skills employers are looking for, even in nontechnical staff and those not directly involved in tech companies. Because of this, parents and teachers everywhere are encouraging their kids to learn coding earlier than ever. Computer Science is increasingly seen as an essential course in school, alongside English, Math, and History.
Luckily, as coding has become more ubiquitous, it has become more accessible. There’s never been a better time to learn programming, and in this article, we have outlined how to teach your kids programming.
Learn how to teach kids programming
There are as many resources online to study coding as there are reasons to start coding. We have broken down the five steps you should follow if you want your kids to learn about programming.
1. What is coding?
Answering this question is the first step in learning how to code. Put in the clearest possible terms, coding is the process of giving instructions to computers to complete certain tasks. It’s that simple. But also, very complicated. Coding looks confusing because computers cannot understand the ambiguity and nuances of human language. They think in terms of binary choices, so the language programmers use must be precise and easy for the computer to understand if a program is going to run smoothly. Computers can do many amazing feats, but without code and programmers to write code, they would sit idle on our desks collecting dust.
2. Cultivate an interest in coding
Kids love coding, but when they understand that code built all of the games and programs that they love, they become positively thrilled at the idea of designing their own. If you can define coding and explain how different coding languages work, you can relate those languages to things your kids already enjoy. Are they into gaming? They might like to learn Java, the language used to make Minecraft, or Unity and Unreal, which are used to make most major PC and console games. Do they like VR or AI or Robotics? Then Python might be perfect for them. Even if they only like LEGO or sports, you can find ways to relate these interests to coding in a way that will get them excited about coding. It’s important to remember that there are different learning styles, and every child prefers and learns best in certain contexts. Understanding your child’s learning style coupled with in depth communication about what motivates them will highlight their best path to success.
3. Slow and steady wins the race!
Frustration is a major part of being a programmer. Failing and troubleshooting are daily activities in professional software development, but for kids, this constant frustration can prevent them from pushing forward and engaging with material that seems challenging or cryptic. Especially for young learners, being self-paced can be a great way to cultivate a sense of fun and enjoyment around coding. Self-paced doesn’t mean self-taught, however, and while it’s possible for kids and adults to learn coding on their own, for beginners, having a structured environment, and ideally a talented teacher, can make a huge difference in building long-term interest.
4. Start from Scratch
Scratch was developed by engineers at MIT, who wanted to make learning computer science fun for young people. Scratch is a free, visual, block-based coding language that allows kids to develop their own games, apps, and animations using colorful, easy to understand blocks of code reminiscent of LEGO blocks. By sticking the blocks together, kids can go from coding simple animations to coding sophisticated games that they can then share with the largest community of kid coders on the Internet. Scratch is fun and will be sure to capture the attention of the most book-shy children with its intuitive interface. Scratch teaches fundamentals and is a stepping stone toward learning more advanced, text-based computer languages. It’s great for beginners and intermediate students, but more advanced students with an existing knowledge base might start with something like coding in Roblox, Minecraft, or Python. Create & Learn offers a fun beginner-friendly course in Scratch, during which a live expert guides students through learning core concepts while bringing awesome projects to life.
5. Find a great teacher
Coding is a challenge, which is why finding an enthusiastic expert is crucial to support kids and help them push past the initial learning curve. At Create & Learn, we offer coding classes led by industry experts who have worked with companies such as Netflix, Google, and universities like Stanford. They will guide your kid through the basic coding terms like variables, loops, and functions, while helping them to construct their first online games and videos using code.
At what age can a child learn coding?
There is no easy way to answer this question, but the simplest answer is that you should start when your child is ready. Have they expressed an interest in coding, working on the computer, or gaming? Do they love solving puzzles or working with numbers? There are now great resources for even preschool children to study coding such as Code.org, and apps like Daisy the Dinosaur and Code Karts, which even children as young as 4 or 5 can start with. A basic knowledge of reading and numbers is helpful at the start, those learning to code will reinforce these skills as well. Scratch also released Scratch Jr. a few years ago to help even younger kids to become software developers, and Create & Learn offers a fun Scratch Junior course.
How to teach kids programming resources
Here we have five great resources to teach kids to code. There’s a great range of free and paid tools online, but finding something structured around your kid’s interest and led by a great teacher are the best options.
1. Free Coding Classes with Create & Learn
Create & Learn is driven by a mission to make coding fun and accessible for kids. We have a bunch of free trial classes as well as expertly designed courses and camps which can be either a first-time introduction to coding or a thorough foundation that takes kids through the basics of coding toward gaining mastery in professional coding languages.
Ages: 5 - 18
2. Code with Google
Google is one of the largest and most successful tech companies in the world, but they are also a major driver in making computer science education accessible to younger students. Code with Google and CS First were designed in collaboration with educators and kids to allow any child who wants to learn coding to be able to develop the collaborative, critical thinking, and creative skills necessary to grow as a software engineer. They also begin with Scratch, but also include instruction in how to use Google Workspace tools such as Gmail, Docs, and Slide, which are excellent tools for any student. They even have resources to make this process easier for students with physical and learning disabilities. Coding is an essential part of the world, and Google wants to ensure that every kid has a chance to learn it.
Ages: 8 - 18
3. Blockly Games
Blockly Games is a series of instructional tools that use games to teach coding. It was made for kids with little to no prior experience with computer programming. There are puzzle games, mazes, videos, and more, each teaching a specific concept, and all of which cater to a child’s interests and abilities. The games use visual-coding to get kids up to speed, and by the end, young coders will be ready to progress to traditional text-based languages.
Ages: 7 - 13
4. Coding Games
There are so many coding apps on both iOS and Android that it can be hard to choose. Many of them are free to play with optional, and affordable paid options. While some games are better than others, we love games like Code Karts, Daisy the Dinosaur, Block Island, and CodeSpark Academy, all of which use games and colorful animated videos to capture a child’s attention and to make coding fun. You can even check out some free coding games.
Ages: 5 - 13
5. Create & Learn Camps and Courses
If you have tried some apps or a free trial class and you got the green light from your child, consider enrolling in a coding course. At Create & Learn, our courses run in batches of four individual classes per session, which use scaffolding to build knowledge step-by-step. Scaffolding means learning through steps, getting progressively harder, and building on previous learning. We have something for everyone, from digital art and design, game design, and app development. We also have great courses for teenagers and advanced students looking for support in their high school and AP Computer Science classes.
Ages: 6 - 18
If you want more resources, check out these free STEM resources, free online coding resources, and resources to teach your kid to code.
How to teach coding to beginners tips
There are a million paths toward success, but consistent effort is the best way to progress on any of them. You should ease your child into coding if you want to build a lifelong love of Computer Science. With beginners, it’s important not to overwhelm them and to meet each child where they’re at. At the end of the day, learning to code will be challenging for everyone, but a growth mindset and having fun are the keys to building habits of perseverance and curiosity.
1. Take a free coding class
A free coding class is a great way to test the waters in a risk free environment. As a professional teacher who has taught math, English, and coding, nothing is easier as a teacher than using Scratch to get kids interested in coding, especially when they realize how much coding drives their favorite games and online videos. The first step is often the hardest, but we have made the process easier with a range of free trials.
2. Don’t get stuck on one language
Every programmer will learn many languages in their career, and while many kids will start on Scratch, it’s important to know that all computer languages share common concepts and terms. The key is that kids understand the concepts more than any specific language. Scratch and other visual languages are intended to teach these ideas and then to be left behind as coders progress toward textual languages.
3. Scaffolding and teamwork
Scaffolding is a crucial pedagogical tool for any subject, but it is especially important in CS. Kids will need to begin with understanding what coding is, where it is used, and how to perform simple commands. If kids begin with a desire to create the next Minecraft, they might get overwhelmed or frustrated by the sheer complexity of larger programs. Ultimately, a developer works in teams with others, and learning to collaborate, share knowledge, and problem solve together is one of the most important non-technical skills that kids will pick up while learning to code. While working in teams, a student’s education can be enriched by helping others and discussing what they’re learning, which builds confidence and reinforces key concepts.
4. Have a growth mindset
Salman Khan, the founder of Khan Academy, once wrote an article, “The Learning Myth: Why I’ll Never Tell My Son He’s Smart,” in which he encourages parents to shift from a fixed mindset of intelligence to a growth mindset. A fixed attitude assumes that some kids have natural talent and intelligence in some subjects and not others. The world is divided into smart people and dumb people. Khan totally rejects this idea. The key to learning anything is to recognize that no matter how smart you are, the key to gaining mastery is perseverance, problem solving, and communication. With these tools, anybody can learn anything! They can thrive in subjects that they never considered before. As parents, one challenge is to introduce kids to unfamiliar concepts, to challenge their existing assumptions, and to praise them for working hard to solve problems, rather than saying, “You’re so smart!” when they get an A.
5. Encourage gaming
Many parents worry about their kids spending too much time playing games, which many see as a waste of time. This could not be further from the truth. Gaming teaches kids to problem solve, to communicate with teammates, and to explore. These skills can facilitate deeper thinking, while creative storytelling and social gaming are excellent places of social and intellectual growth. Gaming has been shown to improve the educational outcomes of high school students. While gaming at the expense of school could be bad, placing boundaries is part of the parents’ responsibility. Going one step further, if you encourage kids to game while encouraging them to learn the code that makes the game, you could be opening the door to one of the most in-demand professions in the world today and certainly in the future. Here are some of the best coding games for kids, as well as easy games to code.
Now you're ready to teach kids programming
If your child wants to learn coding, or if you simply want to encourage them to better understand the digital spaces and products they know and love, learning to code is a challenging, fun, and fulfilling activity that is no longer reserved for professionals and adults. More kids are learning to code than ever before, and every child deserves a chance to try it. If you want to support your child, get started today with a coding lesson for kids!
Written by Bryan Gordon, a Create & Learn instructor. After ten years of working as an English teacher, Bryan began studying Math and Computer Science over the past few years. Aside from writing and teaching, he likes cooking, gardening, playing guitar, and hanging out with his cats, Baguette and Wally.