Why Your Kid Should Learn to Write Code
There’s a movement stirring to recognize the need to teach advanced computer skills like programming to children from elementary school on up. You might think that computer programming requires an IQ in the Bill Gates territory, that it’s boring, and requires painstaking attention to detail. Usually you’re right. I remember trying to write programs for my TI-99 and becoming extremely frustrated when my hours of copying code was foiled by a misplaced “.”, requiring going through hundreds of lines of code to find the offending punctuation. Thankfully it’s not nearly so difficult today. While writing programs in Java and C++ do require a bit more heavy lifting brain-wise, there are programming languages that are much easier to learn and even ones specifically made for educational purposes.
For example, Scratch is a programming language developed by MIT and is appropriate for elementary school kids. It helps to teach programming principles through visual tools and a drag-and-drop interface. It’s free and has a ton of resources and ideas available to users. It’s especially helpful in that it has a colorful interface and helps kids become acquainted with how code looks and works without actually having to write it.
A tool geared more to high-school aged kids is Alice, which also uses visual designs and cues to help students create 3-d art and games. The graphics quality is much higher than that of Scratch, which is an immediate draw to kids. It’s geared to help students become interested in computer science and IT, and is a very effective bridge to more advanced languages such as Java and C#. It’s also free, available for both PC and Mac platforms, and instructional materials are available for educators and parents on the Alice web site.
A third language appropriate for high-school students to learn is HTML, which is used for web site and animation creation. HTML itself can be a bit unwieldy and doesn’t produce the instant, dramatic results of Alice or Scratch. HTML can be written in any text editor, such as Windows Notepad or Word, so it doesn’t require any special downloads to get started. The code itself is fairly simple and one can learn the basics of it in less than a day’s reading. Editors such as CoffeeCup Free are also helpful tools for creating and learning HTML but don’t have as much help as Alice and Scratch. The benefit of learning HTML as a language is that it is immediately transferrable to the real world market: one can start a web design company with a good knowledge of HTML and some design software.
Although computers are pervasive in our society, computer science programs are still under-enrolled in colleges and universities, and employers are clamoring for quality graduates. Even if you don’t think your son or daughter will ever become a programmer, learning the basics of programming will help develop logic and reasoning skills. That should be enough to at least get you thinking about teaching your kid to code.
Oh – and it will look fantastic on their college applications.