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.
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.
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.”
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.
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 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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. Wyzanthelps 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.
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.”
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
How 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!