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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.”

Find Lego Robotics camps & classes>>

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.

Find Game Design camps & classes>>

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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Camps Computers Featured Posts Gaming Parenting Resources Programming Uncategorized

Coding for Kids: a Guide to Choosing a Coding Camp

Find various coding schools and programming courses that teach kids python, java during summer or all year-round. Get expert tips on picking the right coding camp to fit your child.

Coding Camps for Kids | Bay Area | Activity Hero Summer Camps

Technology continues to impact our world at an incredibly rapid pace. As a parent, you may be looking for a way to prepare your child for the future. Introducing a child to programming languages could be either a building block for a career or an entertaining option for your young gamer. If your child has an interest in technology or gaming, a coding camp for kids could be a great option. There are also online coding classes and camps that allow your kids to learn from home.

Here are some questions you should ask yourself when choosing a coding summer camp:

  • What is the age and skill level of my child? 
  • Can my child type easily?
  • Who are the instructors?
  • What is the camp schedule?
  • What will my child be learning?

One important note is that coding for kids is not something that can be mastered in a week. It is a process that your child can build on for years, if they are willing and excited to continue learning.  

“My son is at the point where he can envision a problem he wants to solve and begin to develop the code to get there. It reminds me of student development in math and languages–it starts slowly but over time you see real progress and suddenly the child is bursting with ideas,” said a parent review.

Scratch Coding Camps

Scratch is a beginner level program that can be introduced to children in early elementary school. The Scratch coding camps focus on making sure children understand the foundational computer programming concepts. The drag-and-drop format of Scratch does not require a lot of typing skills and is suited for children who have never been introduced to coding. Games and animations are designed through ready-made blocks of code to help students build scripts. Scratch projects will encourage creativity, reasoning and problem-solving skills. More advanced Scratch coding camps will build on previous experience and children can develop more realistic and customized games. 

If a child leaves camp excited to learn more, parents can visit the Scratch website at http://scratch.mit.edu. Scratch can be accessed free online or it can be downloaded for offline usage. 

Minecraft Camps and Java Camps

Does your child love playing Minecraft or spend hours watching Minecraft YouTube videos? If they are curious about how to advance their gaming, Minecraft camps might be a fun opportunity. Introductory Minecraft camps are available starting in elementary grades and are focused on learning the fundamentals of creating fun mods. One important note is that some camps require a Minecraft account, so we recommend checking with your camp director prior to the first class.

Campers will often learn core computer science skills as well as 3D modeling and texture mapping techniques. If your child is an experienced Minecraft user, they may be interested in a more advanced camp where they can create a custom game experience using Java. Java is a widely used programming language, making it a great foundation for students interested in learning more about app development. Java camps are often paired with other coding topics such as Minecraft and Python.

Since Minecraft camps range from beginner to advanced, it is recommended to review class curriculums before selecting a camp. 

Python Coding Camps

Python is a very popular, all-purpose language. The lines of code are shorter and simpler than in other languages, making it easier to learn Python for kids. Python is a great language to learn after Scratch. However, you do not need previous experience if a child wants to skip to an introductory Python camp. While there are some Python camps available for children starting in 4th grade, many are designed for middle school children. The ability to type can be helpful for those starting to learn coding. 

If a child expresses interest in building on their camp experience, intermediate and advanced Python camps are available to take coding skills to the next level. One of the advantages of learning Python is that it is used in real-world applications such as web and software development. 

Web Design Camps

At web design camps for advanced students, Java will be used along with other programming languages such as HTML and CSS. At some camps, students will even learn to program a functional website during the week.  

Video Game Design Camps

If you have a young gamer, they may be interested in specific video game design camps or app development camps. Students will start to learn basic app development principles, including UI/UX design and advanced programming techniques using Javascript, HTML and CSS. Programmers use JavaScript to create interactive features that run on websites, such as games. It is the leading client-side programming language on the web today, making it a valuable learning experience for young coders. 

Roblox Camp

Roblox is an online gaming system where users create avatars and play games in user-generated 3D worlds. According to Roblox,”the types of gameplay on Roblox are just as limitless as the imagination of the creators themselves.”

Roblox camps can appeal to a wide age range of children because users do not have to have a strong foundation in coding to build a game. Younger campers use the built-in Roblox Studio to create 3D worlds without the need for text-based code. More advanced users can use the popular LUA coding language to create game actions, elements and mechanics. At the end of the week, campers can learn how to publish and share their game to the Roblox community.

Summer Explorations

Regardless of your child’s age or prior programming experience, there is a coding summer camp that is the right fit for your family. There are a wide variety of options available, whether your child just wants to continue their gaming or explore a future career interest. Kids can take a free trial class to make sure they like it before signing up for a longer camp.

You can find all these Bay Area coding camps on ActivityHero or download our iPhone app. You can search by location, category, age, and other criteria to help you find the best summer camps. Early bird discounts could save parents up to $200 a week on summer camp.

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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.

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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.

Shop for coding and programming camps > >

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.

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Computers Digital Media Gaming Overnight/Travel Programming Tutoring

Smart Sites That Boost Kids’ Brainpower






Worried about the time your children spend online? Steer them toward these websites, which can help them explore new interests and expand their knowledge.

By Anita Sharma

girl-at-computer
Kids today are spending more and more time on their computers, TVs, tablets, and smartphones. That’s not exactly news to parents, who have spent years agonizing over how much screen time is okay. What is news? The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently changed their policy on screen time. Though they once deemed two hours to be the recommended upper limit for older kids (and zero hours as ideal for children age 2 or younger), their approach today is more “nuanced.” According to a recent Forbes.com article by Jordan Shapiro, the AAP’s new message, at least in part, is that quality is more important than quantity. One of their new guidelines, in fact, reads: “Prioritize how your child spends his time rather than just setting a timer.” You can almost hear parents everywhere giving a collective sigh of relief.

Of course, this doesn’t give us carte blanche to sit glued to a screen all day (read Shapiro’s complete article for more detailed recommendations). What it does mean? We can feel better about the time our kids do spend on this new media if we’re more selective about what they view. To that end, ActivityHero offers this peek at some quality websites that children can use to expand their world, explore potential career paths, and elevate their education.

Find after school classes & camps near you >>

Sites That Help Kids Excel in School

There are so many websites that can help children with their education. Whether your child wants to get ahead, review previous subject matter, or solidify concepts they’re learning in school, Khan Academy is a great place to start — and it’s completely free. Information is conveyed through videos, which are developed and written by experienced educators. These videos — many of which are still made by the company’s founder Sal Khan — are generally 3 to 15 minutes long and break down each topic into smaller lessons, which helps students understand one concept at a time without feeling overwhelmed. Khan Academy also provides other visual aides such as pictures, maps, and diagrams to help boost students’ understanding. This site focuses mainly on math for students in kindergarten through 8th grade. However, it also offers some content in other popular subjects such as computer science, history, music, and science.

Sites for One-on-One Help

When school class sizes are usually 20 or more kids per teacher, individualized instruction from a private tutor might give your child the extra help they need. Wyzant helps families find a tutor for math, English, or any other subject. Tutors are local or can meet online. The tutors set their own price, and Wyzant says the first session is free if you don’t like it.

Other tutoring websites specialize in only one subject. An example of this is PandaTree, which offers personalized tutoring in foreign languages via video chat sessions. The tutors, many of whom are foreign language instructors or professional educators, personalize each session to make sure that students have fun while they learn. Parents can choose the session duration (25 or 50 minutes), as well as which tutor they believe is best for their child. Students may change tutors at any time; in fact, it’s encouraged. According to the website, “Getting comfortable having conversations with lots of different people is great preparation for real life.” Each session costs $25 to $45, but PandaTree also offers package deals, which allow parents to purchase 3 to 40 sessions at once.

Sites That Teach Kids to Code

According to Business Insider, more people on our planet have a mobile phone than electricity, safe drinking water, and bank accounts. Learning to code can give your kids an edge in this high-tech world, since coders are in demand everywhere and will continue to be in the future.

To help them get started, the website Tynker offers introductory computer science courses for students who are 7 to 14 years of age. Here, students learn how to code through video games that they play on the site. (One scavenger hunt features characters from the Monster High series.) Gamers select blocks with actions on them such as “walk” or “mind control” to dictate what a character should do during each round. In order to complete a level, gamers have to use the correct amount of each block in the correct order. The Parent Dashboard gives you a window into what your child has learned, as well as the projects they have completed, and kids have lifelong access to each course that’s purchased. Tynker offers several pay plans: the Yearly Plan, the Quarterly Plan, and a Family Plan for households with two or more kids. Costs range from $6 to $9 per month.

Another great coding website is Youth Digital, which offers online courses in video game and app design, as well as some unique subjects, such as 3D animation and fashion design. Students can online-chat with instructors to ask questions and make sure they understand the material. All of the instructors have teaching experience and are passionate about working with students. Kids can proceed at their own pace since they are given a full year to complete their chosen course. These courses are designed for children 8 to 14 years of age and range from $74 to $250 each.

kid and grandpa checking out websites

Sites That Help Kids Explore the World

Plenty of websites today help self-motivated children follow their passions and explore more of the world around them. One example is Jam, which offers courses in careers that kids might want to pursue. Subjects reach beyond traditional school curriculum to include subjects such as cooking, singing, illustrating, inventing, and animating. Students learn from professionals who are up-and-coming in their field, and they can interact with other kids online, complementing (and learning from) each other. A mentor team ensures that students are on track and provides regular feedback on their work. A year of access to 20 “quests” costs $99.

Our global economy also means that fluency in more than one language can open doors to more career opportunities for your child. Conjuguemos is a website that offers free instruction in French, German, Italian, Korean, Latin, Portuguese, and Spanish. Created by textbook publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, this site offers printable worksheets on verbs, vocabulary, and grammar, as well as games and graded practice sessions to evaluate their progress. Users can test listening comprehension by playing videos and writing out the words that they hear. Their efforts are graded right away, providing the student with instant feedback on what they need to review. Students can also track their overall progress by making an account on the site.

Another site that can prepare kids for life beyond their own borders is Kids World Travel Guide, which provides information about other locations and cultures and can help families prepare for upcoming trips. This site goes beyond listing facts and figures, helping kids explore other countries’ cultures through descriptions and photos of local wildlife, food, holidays, and more. The team that created this site includes young writers and travelers, and it’s headed up by travel-savvy adults who have lived on multiple continents. Kids World Travel Guide is based in Cape Town/South Africa, but their menu of 15 countries includes familiar locations like Germany and Spain, as well as some surprises like Qatar and Mauritius. You’ll also find tabs for trivia and quizzes, fun facts, travel tips, and games, including ones to play when traveling in a car.

Last, everyone in your family (you, too!) should take a few minutes to peruse the offerings on Masterclass, a website where people of any age can learn from celebrities who are tops in their field. For example, students can take a singing class from Christina Aguilera or a writing class from James Patterson. Each $90 course includes video content from the celebrity instructor, along with a workbook, interactive assignments, and community activities. Enrollment provides students with lifetime access to the course materials, so students can proceed at their own pace; however, the workbook does provide a recommended pace for completion, which can help students motivated and on track.

Editor’s note: All prices and information are accurate as of August 2016. Please check the actual websites for current pricing and details.

Take Kids’ Interests to the Next (Local) Level!

The web is a great place to start when trying to find some new hobbies, interests, and activities for your kids. Once they’ve hooked into a new subject matter or discovered a hidden talent, it’s time to search ActivityHero for in-person instruction provided by talented educators and program directors who live and work right in your own “backyard.”

Find kids’ computer classes & camps near you > >

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Computers

Code Like a Girl: Female-Friendly Computer Classes






Does your daughter love STEM subjects? Enrolling her in a computer coding class may preserve her confidence. Here’s how to find one she’ll love.

By Laura Quaglio and Reesa Lewandowski

Code Like a Girl: Female-Friendly Computer Classes

Many young girls who love STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) subjects may wind up abandoning these interests before high school or college, according to a recent study from Florida State University. That’s a shame, because it means that many highly-intelligent women are not bringing their talents to bear in these fields—ones that typically offer excellent job security and higher-than-average salaries.

The study reveals that part of the problem lies in a tendency among high-school girls to underrate their abilities in subjects like math, which may lead them to pursue other interests instead. “I think the real issue, which research supports, is that girls need extra encouragement regarding STEM interests,” says Jessie Arora, Founder and CEO of Embark Labs, a company that is dedicated to inspiring diversity in the field of computer science. And the sooner the better: Arora says that she sees girls begin to drift away from their STEM-related interests as early as fifth or sixth grade.

“Parental support is vitally important to children, regardless of the content area,” adds Arora. One way to champion their efforts? By helping kids find classes and camps that will invite them to explore these (and other) areas of interest. “I would encourage parents to introduce their children, both boys and girls, to a variety of STEM-related activities at various points in their lives,” says Arora. “The more exposure to different learning opportunities kids receive, the more likely they are to find the right fit for them.” Computer science, she adds, is a good subject for every child to explore at some point. “At Embark Labs, we believe computer science is the ideal vehicle to teach kids how to think, focusing on creative problem-solving and critical-thinking skills,” she says.

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Here, Arora offers a few suggestions of what to look for when shopping around for a computer science class or coding camp.

Find a Program That’s Engaging

If you pay a visit to the classroom, you shouldn’t see kids just staring at computer screens, says Arora. This approach can become dull, and it doesn’t help students understand how science and technology relate to the world outside the classroom. “Engaging programs give kids a chance to build something that they are interested in,” she adds. “We’ve seen equal enrollment of boys and girls in our programs, which we attribute to our project-based, student-centered approach.”

Ask About Learning Goals

Before signing up, request an overview of the curriculum and the materials that will be used, such as programming tools. Also find out what tasks the students will be performing, and what projects they will tackle. “Look beyond the buzzwords,” advises Arora. “Ask what the learning goals are. What will your child be able to do after the program is over? What do the instructors hope the students will take away from their experience?”
Inquire About the Approach

Teamwork and problem-solving both hold a strong appeal for girls. “As we’ve seen with Embark Labs, the more that computer science programs focus on problem-solving and working in collaborative teams, the more girls will participate in—and enjoy—their experiences.” Again, the program’s director should be able to tell you if these components exist within their curriculum.

Find the Right Level

You might think it’s best to put your child in a program based on her grade level or age, but that’s not always the case. “Often times, students fall across developmental stages, rather than right at their age, so being in a mixed-age group is better,” says Arora. “If possible, look for programs with an age range, such as 7 to 10 year olds or middle school students.” Also remember that it’s never too late—or early—to begin. There are some great kindergarten-level STEM programs that work on skills such as logical thinking, patterns, and sequencing, which form the foundation of computer programming.

Continue to Support Girls’ STEM Interests at Home

On November 1, 2015, a new documentary called CODEGIRL is being released. It follows the journeys of a number of real high-school girls who are competing internationally to develop meaningful and useful apps (codegirlmovie.com). Set up a time to watch this with your daughter, and do some additional research on women who are currently successful in STEM careers. This gives you some great face-time with your child, shows your support of her interests, and provides role models to inspire your daughter to pursue her dreams.

“Girls showing other girls that they can be successful in STEM fields in extremely influential,” adds Arora. “At Embark Labs, our goal is to inspire the future generation of innovators and creators. We hope that in the future, women will be more equally represented in all fields, not just STEM.”

Learn more about classes and camps offered by Embark Labs > >

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Categories
Computers

What Modern Kids Need to Know About Computers






Kids want more screen time? Offer these options to build strong skills in keyboarding, online research, internet safety, and yes, video game play too.

By Rachel Stamper

what-modern-kids-need-to-know-about-computersRemember when school was about the three R’s — reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic? These days, it’s more like the three R’s and a C — computers. There’s been plenty of media talk in recent years about how programming and computers in general essential subjects for kids. And while the school year may offer children exposure to computer use and even coding skills, summer is a great time to build upon that knowledge base and expand into new and related areas.

Here are some summer activities to help your kids gain the computing skills they need to keep up (and get get ahead).

Enroll in a Video Game Camp

Why you’ll like it: All your kids want to do is play Minecraft or Geometry Dash for hours on end. Many video-game-themed camps allow them to play — but also encourage them to dig deeper and learn about how games are actually built. There’s also a social aspect, since your kids will get to make friends with like-minded gamers in the camp.

Where to find it: You’ll find dozens of options in the San Francisco Bay area, and beyond, on ActivityHero’s list of Gaming Camps & Classes (Note: Summer camp spots fill up fast as early as springtime, but there are still options for July and August, so don’t fret if you’ve waited till the last minute!)

Find computer classes & camps near you > >

Build Strong Keyboarding Skills

Why you’ll like it: Many kids hunt and peck and never learn proper home-row typing skills. After all, they only need four keys to navigate a character through most video games (W, A, S, and D). Summer is a great time for your child to learn legitimate keyboarding skills. Worried they won’t be into it? Don’t be. Today’s typing instruction is way cooler than the dull “quick brown fox” drills that you remember.

Where to find it:

  • Dance Mat Typing – The BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) has tons of free educational tools online, and you don’t have to be a Brit to use them. This is a fun typing game that uses a talking goat to instruct. It’s perfect for kids in elementary school
  • Fun to Type – The plus of this site is there is a wide array of typing games to play. However, some games can be played via hunt-and-peck, such as Ninja Cat (which has you type to kill zombie dinosaurs). Good for elementary through middle school.
  • Power Typing – Here, you’ll find a tab that leads to “Qwerty” lessons. These are more traditional lessons that are better for kids in middle school and older. If your older child continues to use hunt and peck, try this program for 30 to 45 minutes a day.
  • Typing Club – This is a program that many schools use. While it’s not as gamified as others, the “stats tracking” feature can spur your child toward faster mastery and allow you to monitor their progress. Great for grades 4 and up. Learn here, then reinforce with games on Fun to Type.

computer-skills-can-take-your-child-far-in-this-world

Create Docs, Spreadsheets, and Presentations

Why you’ll like it: Your kids will need to know how to create documents, spreadsheets and presentations like slide shows to be successful in high school, college, and the workplace. Get them started now. And if they need a little motivation, challenge them to use these tools to make a sales pitch — like, 10 reasons you should boost their allowance or take them to an amusement park. If their presentation is on point, be sure to reward them!

Where to find it:

  • GCFLearnFree.org offers lessons on Word, Access, Excel, and PowerPoint for gratis. These run the gamut from how to create documents through advanced topics like mail merge and creating tables and charts. With video tutorials, written instructions, and downloadable practice sheets, these are best for older elementary schoolers, up through high school and beyond (adults too!).
  • TES.co.uk has a set of great spreadsheet activities for grades 1 through 6. You have to register, but it’s free. Click “Download all 13 files” (find the blue bar on the right of the screento get the pack.
  • e-LearningforKids.org has PowerPoint lessons aimed at the younger set of kids that are quite engaging for the younger set of kids. These are developed for the 2003 version, but will apply to the current iteration as well. Check out ActDen too, although it is heavy on text.
  • KhanAcademy.org offers a wide array of courses on a variety of subjects (not just computer-related topics). All are free and all delivered online in an easy-to-understand format.
  • udemy.com also has a wide selection of online content for different age groups. Not all of it is free, but when you search by course keyword, you can filter for courses that don’t cost a dime.
  • Libre Office and Open Office are both free office tools to try if your Microsoft Office Suite is out of date or if you don’t want to pony up the big bucks to buy the new version. These are open source alternatives, completely free, and include document, spreadsheet, presentation and database applications. You can save documents from these programs into Microsoft-compatible files and can open Microsoft-created files.

Find computer classes & camps near you > >

Dive in to Online Research

Why you’ll like it: When you were a kid, if you asked Mom how to spell something, she’d tell you to look it up i the dictionary. You can do the same with your kids — but with everything, not just vocab words. For many kids, doing online research consists of seeking out video game cheats, watching YouTube videos, and searching for the next toy or tech they want you to buy. But in-depth internet-based research using legitimate sources will be a critical skill that can help them throughout their schooling and beyond. When your child asks a question, instead of answering, send them to the web. Do ensure your younger child’s computer has “safe search” turned on or a kid friendly web filter. Here are some excellent (and safe) internet research resources to satisfy the most curious minds.

Where to find it:

  • The Internet Public Library (for teens) offers a great guide for research on the web. It explains what search engines are and how they differ from directories, how to phrase search terms properly, and how to bookmark internet sites for easy access during future research.
  • Research Starters is offered by Scholastic in conjunction with Grolier Online and offers a wealth of resources for academic projects, research papers, and science projects — or kids can just have fun learning about the world.
  • Virtual Middle School Library is a compendium of resources for research from student-friendly search engines to digital magazines and newspapers.
  • Most public and school libraries offer free and extensive digital (online) research resources. Search your state’s name and “state library digital resources” to get login information to access them, or ask your local public librarian or school librarian for access information.

computer-skills-are-important-for-kids-to-learn

Learn Internet Etiquette and Safety

Why you’ll like it: Any kid growing up today has to know how to participate appropriately in social media. And even though you’re comfortable that you can keep an eye on them on Facebook, are you ready to supervise their use of Snapchat, Instagram, Tumblr, Vine, Yik Yak, and others that seem to be cropping up constantly? Give your kids some firm ground rules and practical instruction about the do’s and don’ts.

Where to find it:

  • StaySafeOnline.org offers a wealth of resources to help your entire family stay safe online.
  • BrainPOP offers a great video on digital etiquette for elementary and middle schoolers.
  • Teaching Channel features a short, easy-to-grasp 2-minute video lesson on email etiquette that’s perfect for kids of all ages.
  • Tween Parenting prepared a great lesson on text etiquette for tweens that’s worth watching and sharing.

Explore Coding and Computer Science

Why you’ll like it: Coding and computer science are the critical job skills of tomorrow, and the United States is trailing devastatingly behind on educating young people in these specialties. Don’t wait for them to learn the basics in college. There are many resources available to get your kids coding now — even as early as elementary school. Even President Obama is pushing the Hour of Code, an initiative to demystify computer science. Introduce your kids to these resources, and set them loose so they can find out the secrets behind creating the apps and video games they love.

Where to find it:

  • Code.org is a nonprofit dedicated to educating young people of all ages on coding and computer science. Their resources use Frozen’s Elsa and Angry Birds to engage kids.
  • KhanAcademy.org offers computer science classes, including a badge that takes middle school and older kids through lessons on everything from algorithms to cryptography and information theory.
  • udemy.com also has a selection of coding content suited for middle and high schoolers and those kids who are mastering coding more adroitly.

Find computer classes & camps near you > >

Added together, these resources give your child a great way to get all the computing essentials. But did we forget anything? What tools would you recommend to other parents? Let us know in the comments section below your thoughts on what kids need to know about computers.

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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Categories
Computers Gaming Keeping Kids Active, Healthy + Engaged Programming

4 Lifelong Perks for Kids Who Take Computer Classes






Prime your kids for a brighter future in school and the workplace by encouraging them to enroll in camps and classes featuring technology and computers.

By ActivityHero Staff

kids working on computerHow many times can you hear the Angry Birds sound effects (wheeeeeeee), see the blank texting face, and put up with the Call of Duty marathons before you say enough is enough?

Although kids and technology are not always the best combination, integrating technology into children’s lives has more benefits than you might imagine.

1. Improved Critical Thinking Skills

It’s no secret that video games get a bad rap, they may actually help improve with vital brain development. Many interactive games encourage strategic and critical thinking, which helps kids grow intellectually. Video games have actually been shown to increase attentional ability, reaction times, and the capacity to identify specific details.

2. A Stronger Independent Work Ethic

Technology facilitates cooperative learning, encourages new roles for learners and the ability to work independently. Students who use the technology for real communication with a real audience are much more capable of talking to adults because they are used to it.

3. A Greater Sense of Empowerment

Computers and other kinds of technology give children a greater sense of empowerment because information is readily available at their fingertips. The more educated kids are on how devices work, the more confidence they will have in their ability to expand their knowledge in any subject area. Technology-powered learning puts students (not educators) at the center of their own education and empowers them to take control of their own learning.

4. More (and Better) Career Opportunities

With technology changing at lightning speed, we need to make sure our children have the skills to compete in this new global economy. Every child deserves the opportunity to succeed in the 21st century. Although seemingly complex, techniques like coding and programming may come to kids more easily than you might think. Learning computer coding is basically like learning another language. Think about it: If you’re learning the rules of grammar at age 7 or 8, how is that different from learning the rules of programming? When you think about it, programming is actually far more logical than any language. What’s more, kids need to pay special attention to things like syntax and spelling, because if they don’t, the code won’t work.

Help set up your children for a more successful future by encouraging them to learn more about technology and computers. Find local camps and classes near you that fit your schedule and budget on ActivityHero!

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