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4 Ways to Get Your Child Started with Coding

Computer programming isn’t just for college students and hackers. Here are four engaging ways to get your kids started with coding.

By Ashley Wang

It’s pretty clear by now that technology is a force to be reckoned with. Tech companies are ever-growing and demand for programmers has never been higher. Computers dominate our lives right now, and they will dominate the lives of our children, as well.

So it’s not unexpected that many parents are interested in coding for kids. But getting them started can be rather tricky, especially if you don’t have too much experience with programming, yourself. Here, we highlight four ways to introduce your child to code.

1. Scratch

Used by millions of children around the world, Scratch is considered by educators to be the gold standard for teaching beginner coders the basics of programming. The reason? It uses blocks-based grammar that has users drag and drop commands rather than typing code. Because Scratch doesn’t require learning any complicated programming languages, even eight-year-old kids can use it.

Using the website, you can create everything from short animations to simple games. It’s intuitive, logical, and familiarizes kids with the computational thinking behind programming without overwhelming them with abstract ideas.

And if you want to get your child started even earlier, say at five-years-old, ScratchJr is the perfect learning tool. It doesn’t even require the ability to read; instead, children only need to connect together icon-based blocks to animate their characters.

Find Scratch camps & classes>>

2. Lego Robotics

Looking for a more hands-on experience for your child? Lego robotics might just be the perfect fit. Lego Mindstorms, a hardware-software platform produced by Lego for children aged 10 and up, combines the fun of Lego-building with the intellectual challenge of programming robots to walk, talk, and even think.

Calvin Grewal, a Palo Alto High School senior who interned at a startup as a web developer over the summer, thinks it’s especially great for keeping kids motivated because of the immediate results it lets them see.

“It’s a good way to make coding not so dry,” Grewal says. “Building a physical robot is definitely a lot more interesting, especially for younger kids.”

Grewal does, however, warn against having children learn robotics and coding without the proper assistance that is provided at robotics camps and classes.

“If you’re in high school then you may be able to study code on your own and be properly self-motivated,” Grewal says. “But for kids, camps are definitely better to help facilitate learning and engagement.”

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3. Game Design

Camps that teach video game design are another great option for children. Because if your kids can’t seem to peel their eyes away from their screens — be it iPads, laptops, or TV — then why not have them learn how to make a video game, themselves?

Grewal is a major proponent of game design camps, citing them as the reason for his initial interest in coding. He started over the summer in elementary school, where he was taught basic Python to develop a simple computer game. Because he was doing something he was already interested in, Grewal viewed learning something as complicated as coding as more of a fun activity rather than a school-related task.

Game design is also becoming a rapidly-growing industry. Especially with eSports on the rise, specialized software developers are needed now more than ever to help create the next bestselling video game.

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4. School or Online Clubs

For kids that love interacting with their peers, joining a school or online coding club may offer additional benefits. While programming is often viewed as an individual activity done in solidarity, clubs encourage students with like-minded interests in coding to help each other out with tips and advice. Students often find it beneficial to have others help them troubleshoot their issues.

“It’s a good way to talk with other people who are interested,” Grewal says. “You learn from other people, who then learn from you.”

However you plan to approach coding for kids, it’s important to always keep an open mind. Because no matter how much they may like legos or game design, it’s still possible that coding just isn’t the right activity for them. But starting by gauging your child’s interest with some of these tips wouldn’t hurt, and perhaps they might just become the next tech founder.

>> Find more coding camps & classes on ActivityHero
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Computer Animation Computers Programming Robotics

The Coding Camp Gender Gap

When it comes to computer/coding summer camps, girls are much less likely to attend. Here’s why they should, and how to find a computer camp they’ll love.

By ActivityHero Staff

computing_gender_gap

Coding camps are one of the most popular categories here on ActivityHero, the leading nationwide marketplace for kids’ activities — and with good reason. As today’s kids grow up, occupations in the fields of computers and information technology will be growing right along with them. In fact, computer and IT careers are expected to grow faster than all other types of jobs, with a projected 12% job growth in these areas between now and 2024, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. These are high-paying jobs, with an average annual salary more than 2 times higher than the national average. So it, quite literally, pays for kids to begin exploring these areas and preparing for careers in these fields.

Even if kids are not destined for tech-centric careers they can hardly escape the impact of technology in day-to-day life. They are surrounded by grown-ups (and other kids and teens) who spend the day with a smartphone in hand, using apps and keeping up with friends on Facebook or Snapchat. Computers facilitate navigating roads, ordering dinner, and voting in elections.

With all this growth and innovation underway, it’s understandable that kids are eager to learn computer programming. Yet, when our ActivityHero team looked more closely at the registration data in recent years, we noticed something striking: In coding summer camps, boys outnumber girls 3 to 1.

Let’s Help Close the Computer Gender Gap!

While almost as many girls as boys were registered for summer camps on ActivityHero in 2017 (left pie chart), among those who signed up for coding camps, 75% were male (right).

The computer gender gap is nothing new — but what’s shocking is that it’s getting worse. Back in 1984, only 37% of computer science graduates were women, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, and today only 18% of computer science graduates are women.

Peggy Chang, co-founder, and CEO of ActivityHero comments, “I was really surprised to see that there are fewer women majoring in computer science than there were two decades ago. I thought that the success of internet startups and mobile apps would have brought more women into this field. Now that we see the data, we need to work extra hard to get more girls to try out a coding workshop or camp.”

Why Girls Should Try Computer Summer Camps

1. Computer summer camps are targeted at ages where girls’ interest is at risk of dropping.
Girls are plenty interested in computers when they are young: Girls Who Code reports that 66% of girls ages 6-12 express interest in computing programs. But at ages 13-17, they aren’t so keen; only 32% of these teenagers report an interest in computing. Computer summer camps are generally tailored for kids ages 8-16, so the timing is perfect to kindle a new interest — or keep the flames of an interest burning when it otherwise might wane.

2. Summer “brain drain” learning losses are real.
There’s tons of research about the impact of a long summer on kids’ learning progress. As The New York Times reported, when students don’t study math or reading over the summer months, their skill loss is measurable, and cumulative, summer after summer. But what is the effect of going all summer with no exposure to computer science or coding? And what happens to the gender gap if boys go to computer camps and girls don’t?

3. Computer summer camps are a low-risk way to explore a new interest.
Summer is a great time for kids to experiment with new interests of all types. Camps are usually only one week long, so even if a child doesn’t fall in love with the activity, it’s over in a few days. Also, most summer camps place an emphasis on fun, and they tend to include playful activities that will capture kids’ interest.

4. Computer summer camp can be a springboard to further computer education.
Many businesses that offer computer summer camps also offer after school classes and weekend workshops during the school year. So the summer camp experience serves as a trial run, and kids can look forward to taking further classes with teachers they now know and like. And if the business doesn’t offer fall and winter options? Children who enjoy a fun week at a computer camp may just be inspired to find a new teacher elsewhere, sign up for a computer class at school, or take free online classes (like Khan Academy) on their own.

How to Choose a Computer Camp for Your Daughter

1. Search ActivityHero for computer camps near you.
ActivityHero is an online marketplace of summer camps. Search by age, date, and location to find computer camps with openings that meet your needs, or see a list of all computer and tech camps.

2. Look for appropriate-leveled computer camps.
When considering a camp, check the activity description carefully. If your daughter is truly a newbie, look for camps with no prerequisites, or camps that are based on beginner-friendly learning platforms like Scratch or Tynker. If your daughter has more computer or coding experience, be sure to review the activity descriptions with her, and ask her which languages or platforms she’s most interested in: Python, C++, iOS, Raspberry Pi, HTML, Unity 3D, etc.

3. Attend computer camps just for girls.
Is your daughter unsure about attending a camp with a majority of boys? Look for girls-only computer camps, like Digital Media Academy. Tweens and teens might especially appreciate the opportunity to meet other girls who share a curiosity about computers. If there aren’t any girls-only camps near you, you can register your daughter with a friend (or two!) to make sure she won’t be the only girl.

4. Find camps that combine computing with other interests.
Maybe your daughter isn’t interested in computer coding … yet. But is she interested in another topic where coding just happens to be part of the fun? Maybe she has a passion for fashion and wearable tech? How about movie-making and 3-D animation? Or maybe digital photography and photo editing? Or how about blogging or web design? Even cracking secret codes from centuries past? Be sure to ask your daughter whether she is interested in robotics, Minecraft, or Lego building, too — there are tons of computer-oriented camps with these themes, all around the nation.

When girls spend even just a few weeks of summer learning new computing skills, there’s hope that they’ll fall in love with the fantastic puzzles they’re solving and the inventions they’re creating. And if we can start to close this gender gap — and keep young women interested through their teen years — perhaps we’ll widen the pipeline of women in computing in college and in the lucrative careers of the future.

Categories
Computer Animation Computers Programming

Put Coding Camps on Your Kids’ Must-Do List

Our kids are growing up in a digital world. Here’s why a coding or programming camp can help them get ahead — and how to find one they’ll love.

children learning to program computers at camp

Attend any college open house, and you’ll hear plenty of talk about the careers of the future. The common theme? Today’s high school kids need an education that will prepare them for jobs that already exist, but even more so they will need to be ready to step into jobs that haven’t been dreamed up yet. If that’s the case for kids in their late teens, it will be even more of an issue for those who haven’t left middle school yet. That’s why Mallika Thoppay, founder of TechSmart Academy in the San Francisco Bay Area, says that all kids — even those who aren’t really interested in coding or programming — may benefit from trying a coding camp at least once in their lifetime.

“Technology is playing a huge role in our lives,” she says. “The child is using apps on their phone, playing video games, visiting websites. They’re doing these, even if they’re not a technology-oriented child. These camps give them an idea of what goes on behind the scenes to make these apps, games, and websites look and work the way they do.”

Even if your child finds that they don’t want to make a career of programming, they may develop a peripheral or related interest. For instance, they may want to explore digital art or graphic design. They might try digital editing of music or video. Or they may want to conceptualize game characters or design the story and structure of the levels. Whatever you do, don’t wait until your child is shopping around for college to start them exploring! “There are so many careers that span off of programming,” says Mallika. “It’s important for every child to get a taste of it, and then decide if it is something they want to do.”

Bay Area parents can check out TechSmart Academy, which provides summer coding camps, after school enrichment programs, and programming workshops to children of all ages in subjects that include (but aren’t limited to) game programming, app development, web design, and understanding of algorithms and program logic. Recently ActivityHero asked Mallika a few questions to help all parents make a good choice for their child’s first computer camp experience. Here are a few things to think about when comparing coding camps near you.

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What programming language should my child learn?

What they choose as their first language is based more on the age of the child. For younger kids, obviously a better choice would be something that requires less typing and uses more “drag and drop” features, which allow kids to select commands from a menu of programming options (rather than typing instructions in code). Scratch is definitely the best program for these kids. It helps them think algorithmically, which will prepare them for more complicated programming later on.

If your child is 10 or older, even if they haven’t done any programming, they shouldn’t have to start with Scratch. They should be able to enroll in a program that teaches Java or Python. Python requires less typing, so that may help you make a selection that best suits your child.

At TechSmart Academy, most of the audience we teach is higher elementary and middle school. These kids need a lot of visual stimulation. We teach programming fundamentals such as use of conditional structures (if-then statements) and iterative statements (loops) and also core concepts such as object-oriented programming. The kids can then apply these to more-complex programs as they move into high school.

What should I ask when choosing a coding camp?

Parents may want to find out what will be included in the curriculum each day and what the child will be able to do by the end of the camp. This can help you ensure that your child will not be under-challenged or overwhelmed. If they are taking a web design camp at TechSmart Academy, they will build a website by the end of the camp. They will begin by using drag and drop, creating something that looks cool visually. But they also will learn what actually goes into making the site look like that. We talk about html and Java script so they will learn the coding that goes behind the drag and drop tools to power those technologies. A camp director or instructor should be able to explain the camp’s goals in terms like these, which can give you and your child a better idea of what will be offered and whether it is a good fit for them.

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How do kids coding camps differ from classes and workshops for adults?

We strongly believe that the curriculum needs to be delivered in a way that makes kids want to learn. Our programs are extremely kid-centric. A child learns differently from an adult. Ultimately we want a child to want to return to camp — not just because the parents signed them up for it.

What makes for a great instructor at a coding or tech camp?

It’s important that an instructor has technical expertise in what’s being taught, but beyond that, we look for someone who is patient when working with kids. Ultimately what happens is you go through instructions, and the kids will ask, “What was that again?” They do that over and over. That’s how they learn. You need to be patient when explaining concepts, and sometimes you need to explain them in a different manner. A good instructor also needs to know when to hold a child’s hand and when to let go and let the child handle it, so as to allow the child to figure things out. And the instructor should make learning fun and engaging so the kids will be excited to come back the next day … and next year.

Categories
After-School Activities Computer Animation Computers

How to Engage Girls in Computers and Tech

Co-founder of Sparkiverse Labs Mare Lucas shares why her company seeks to spark girls’ interest in STEM subjects, and how to do the same for your daughter.

By Mare Lucas, Co-Founder, Sparkiverse Labs (and Lifelong Tech Geek)

A Princess Party at Sparkiverse Labs.

Girls + Tech. We’re finding a way to make it happen. We started Sparkiverse with the mission of introducing tech to ALL kids. But we have a special drive to get more GIRLS into tech. Why? It’s personal, and it’s from our hearts …

I’ve been a female in tech for most of my professional career. And it’s been lonely. expected things to have changed dramatically since I was in college in the 1980s, but surprisingly it hasn’t. There are still few females in technology-related fields. I know this because I have sought them out to hire. So the time came to decide whether to keep TALKING about my passions to get more females into tech — or to get busy DOING something about it.

What I saw from my experience as a mom and technologist was that somewhere in elementary school, girls start deciding that they “aren’t a math person” — or some sentiment to that effect. I felt that we were losing kids to tech — particularly girls — because it wasn’t creative and engaging. And as we talked to more parents once we started Sparkiverse, we heard that girls in particular don’t like to sit glued to a computer for hours. And that girls enjoy a more diverse approach to tech — a larger mix of creativity and problem solving.

We listened to the feedback. And weaved in our own experience and intuition. Now we’re proud to say that at Sparkiverse we have some classes where we have MORE girls than boys! Many of our new classes are designed to particularly interest girls — like our Creativity & Circuits, Wearable Tech, and Build Your Own Games classes.

Looking forward, we’re going to continue making sure that our company creates an environment where girls can feel comfortable letting their tech side shine through. I believe that if we expose girls in elementary school to coding … and circuits … and robots … and all things cool tech, that we will see the numbers of girls sticking with these fields rise quite organically. That’s my goal and my hope for the next generation.

Book a Sparkiverse camp here > >

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