Mar 26, 2019 By Team YoungWonks *
What is coding for kids? Or rather, what is coding? In an increasingly computer-dependent world, we keep hearing the word coding but not all of us know what it means and what it stands for, let alone realize the true potential the field holds and why one must learn coding.
What is coding?
Coding is another term for computer programming. In other words, it is the process by which one designs and builds an executable computer program for completing a particular computing task. So coding is what makes it possible for us to make computer software, apps and websites. Our internet browser, the OS of our computers/ laptops/ phones, the apps on our phones, Facebook, and this website – like all the others - they’re all created with code. A coding language then is a vocabulary and set of grammatical rules for instructing a computer or computing device to carry out specific tasks.
Why kids need to learn coding
The following are the key reasons for kids (or anyone really!) to learn coding:
1. Coding inculcates computational thinking
Computational thinking is one of the biggest takeaways of learning coding, as it involves breaking down complex problems into more manageable bits. For instance, smaller steps allow coders to cut away excesses, repair technological errors and become innovative with their approach to problem solving. In short, coding - and thus computational skills - encourages one’s critical thinking and problem solving skills.
2. Coding encourages innovation and learning from one’s mistakes
Programming can be challenging, but making mistakes is part of the learning process as it is equips one to better tackle errors and push ahead with solutions to real world problems. Learning to code then teaches kids and teens to not be afraid to make mistakes but instead to learn and build on them.
3. Coding gives you an advantage over your peers
Given how our dependence on technology is sure to increase exponentially, coding or programming is akin to basic literacy in the digital age. In the present day, knowing how to code will arm kids and teens with much sought after skills, thus giving them an easy advantage over their less technologically advanced peers, including when it comes to college admissions, scholarships and other academic endeavors.
4. Coding opens doors to more jobs
The scope for computer programming is ever-widening. For instance, it’s being said that by next year there will be 1.4 million computing jobs available but only 400,000 computer science students out there to fill these roles. Attractive six figure salaries are the norm today for those who can code well; this mainly because the demand for technology talent far outstrips the supply. This trend is projected to only skyrocket in the near future. So having an early start in coding may prove to be more beneficial than before!
5. Coding helps ideas become a reality
There may be dozens of new ideas in the Silicon Valley and in tech hubs around the world. But making the idea count by turning it into reality is what matters in the end. An idea is worthless without an app to give it life. Learning to code then will allow people to build these apps on their own or at the very least be less dependent on others for the same. Indeed, learning to code can help bridge the gap between an idea and its execution. This can be tremendously helpful to people in their entrepreneurial journey. Some of the leading entrepreneurs today - think Bill Gates who co-founded Microsoft, Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey - are coders themselves.
6. Coding encourages creativity
There are many misconceptions about coding. It is neither tedious nor boring when taught right i.e. with a hands-on approach. At YoungWonks, for instance, learning coding is a fun and enjoyable activity, just the way making art or music can be. Learning programming allows one to see in action the fruits of one’s labour, whether it is creating a high-tech game or a robot. So coding inspires people to channel their creativity, thereby spurring innovations in technology.
Coding for beginners
There’s no right age to code or learn to code. But like with most things, starting help will give you an edge over others. An early exposure (ages 5 and above) is recommended as kids have good grasping power at that stage. This initial learning in coding also helps them when they opt for Computer Science (CS) at a later age. It is also known that many first-timers are put off in their introductory coding classes in college when they see that they are up against peers who have been familiar with Python and similar programming languages for years.
If you are a beginner in coding, you can rely on several coding resources to help get a strong foothold in the field. On one hand, there are a plethora of coding apps specially created specially for beginners including kids as young as elementary school students. Apps like Scratch Jr are hugely popular, and apps such as Daisy the Dinosaur are known for how easy they are to use. There are many coding kits too, which are basically electronic hardware kits meant for older children (middle and high school students). For example, young coding enthusiasts have found the littleBits Electronics Arduino Coding Kit quite helpful as these kits typically include an instruction guide for a variety of playful projects that are highly engaging.
But what is perhaps even more important and useful for coding beginners is the right guidance. With the help of good coding teachers/ instructors, one can get a better understanding of coding and popular coding languages.
It is after all imperative to know which coding languages are the ideal ones to start with and what projects one can work on using the said languages.
What you really need to learn coding
Vishal Raina, founder and senior instructor at after-school coding program YoungWonks points out how the most important things needed to learn coding are the right support system and an open mind. “Coding kits and toys can be helpful but they are usually props which come in handy only when one’s basics are in place. And that’s where an after-school program comes in. Such a program will not stray from its focus and help the kid build a strong foundation in coding. At YoungWonks, we rely on a self-paced, enquiry-based style of learning where we encourage kids to use these props by employing analytical thinking. Moreover, we have a specially created curriculum for the students,” says Raina.
Another area where after-school classes score over coding toys and kits is the fact that the latter are usually mass-produced and thus provide anything but a customized experience. They also end up dissolving the fundamental engineering challenges that they should, in fact, be encouraging students to take on. “More often than not, drag-and-drop does the job with these kits; this in turn moves them away from a maker culture where one is encouraged to use coding to make/ build things,” Raina reveals.
Meanwhile, afterschool programs like YoungWonks offer people an environment that can suitably harness their talents. They have a curriculum that lays emphasis on converting ideas into working projects. This helps students develop critical thinking and logical reasoning even as they approach and solve problems.
Misconceptions about coding
There are several misconceptions about coding and here we look at them.
a. Myth: Only geniuses can code
Wrong. Many people think that only a highly intelligent person can learn coding, when in fact, anyone who is committed to learning coding can do so. Coding is just like any language; it has its own vocabulary and grammar, and it allows you to communicate with a machine to complete a task. Yes, it can seem daunting at first to some. But dedication, creativity and critical thinking can help one get past the challenges. Also, today’s modern programming languages are logical and easy to understand.
b. Myth: Coding is boring
Given that coding entails developing computer technology found in cars and airplanes, video games, robots and space exploration, it is a fascinating subject, especially to those who have a curious bent of mind. Coding is synonymous with computers, which means you’ll need coding everywhere today. It is a highly relevant field today; plus it thrives on creativity.
c. Myth: You have to be excellent at math to learn coding
One doesn’t have to excel at math to be good at coding. Basic algebra - what you learn in school - is all you need. In fact, a lot of coding just needs simple logic. To achieve larger objectives, one can always turn to the resources shared by the coding community.
d. Myth: You need to learn every coding language from scratch
e. Myth: You can only learning coding at a school/ university
A school or a university is certainly not the only place to learn coding; as mentioned earlier, there are many other resources (both online and offline) to help one learn coding. With YoungWonks for instance, anyone can learn coding from the comfort of their own home. This means you will get undivided attention irrespective of your geographical location. Moreover, YoungWonks also believes in employing non-traditional teaching techniques such as inquiry-based learning and flipped classroom.
f. Girls don’t have the aptitude for coding
While there aren’t as many women in coding as there should be, time and again, women have busted the above myth. Examples that come to mind are Coursera co-founder Daphne Koller and leading cinematographer and director of photography Danielle Feinberg. And with the rise of organizations supporting women in computer science -- Girls Who Code, Girls Develop It are a few that promote coding for girls/women -- looks like women are waking up to the bright prospects this field has to offer.
To sum up, learning coding will keep you in good stead. Whether you are planning to pursue a career in the software industry, wishing to set up a business and make a website for it yourself, looking at coding as a new hobby or just wanting to understand the technology to expand your worldview, coding or software programming is one skill you want to have as we move towards a tech-dominated world.
*Contributors: Written by Vidya Prabhu; Lead image by: Leonel Cruz