Of late it has been impossible to miss the latest buzz in ICT: Coding.
Children are now expected to learn how to code at a very young age, which is all very well and good, you might think, except when your panic-addled brain bemoans, “what on earth is coding?”
What is Coding?
Simple put, coding is what makes the vast array of modern technology work.
From apps to websites, games to internet browsing, it is coding (not tiny computer pixies inside the screen) that is the language required for each system to run.
Before you panic (yes we can hear you), “My child has only just learned to read, I can’t imagine teaching him to write computer software at this age!”, here’s the thing – coding, like any language, doesn’t require fluency from birth.
Just in the same manner that your now linguistically fluent (to the point of verbal diarrhoea) youngster once learnt to say just simple words and phrases, coding can be built up in much the same way. You don’t need to run before you can walk.
Start with helping your child gain a solid understanding of instructional language; if your child can give clear, sequenced instructions, then they will later be able to turn this into a simple, basic computer or technology based instruction (Yes, you’re getting it=coding!)
Why should children learn to code?
Before we begin thinking of ways to support early coding skills in children, let us consider why your child could benefit from learning to code.
In the long term, the ability to code provides a distinct advantage in the working world.
Our world is increasingly influenced by technology and its reach is expanding at an exponential rate. We know that the technology industry provides a huge number of employment opportunities, so it stands to reason that many of our little ones will grow up working in some form of technology based employment.
It isn’t all about thinking ahead however – there are many benefits children can gain immediately from learning and applying coding skills.
Aside from the general confidence and deeper understanding it builds in the use of technology, it also helps develop creative thinking, logic and problem solving skills.
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How do you get started?
So now that you are keen to get started, let’s look at some ways you can help build early coding skills without ever pressing a button.
That’s right dad, there’s no need to rush out and buy that $300 programmable robot that you’ve been itching to buy. Concepts of coding can be taught without a piece of technology in site (sorry!).
A great activity to get your child started is verbal instructions. Take an everyday task, such as putting a coat on, and ask your child to instruct you on how to complete the action.
This activity is an excellent way of teaching your child to be precise and detailed in their instruction giving. Respond to every instruction literally. You might find the first run goes something like this;
Child: put the coat on
You: hang the coat over your head, or attempt to put your legs through the arm holes etc.
Child: manic laughter and groans of “No, not like that!”
Once your child realises that their instructions need to be more refined, they will soon adapt their language, consider their chronology and deliver more detailed instructions.
If they struggle, you can model it, giving them the instructions for a few turns. Have fun making mistakes – “What end is the top?” “What is a sleeve?” “How do I zip it up?”
As your child learns to give more complex instructions, you can apply the same activity to other tasks – anything from brushing their teeth to making a sandwich. Even the simplest task requires a clear sequence of events, instructions and processes to be completed; that’s coding!
Another great activity as a precursor to technology based coding is to sequence instructions. A simple way to do this is visually with images or photos.
For example – if you are baking a cake with your child, take photographs of each step. They can then sequence the task chronologically, learning to ensure each stage is completed in a logical order, e.g. you can’t stir in the milk until you have taken the lid off the bottle.
There are also plenty of ready made printable resources for this activity available online if you don’t have time to produce your own. Just search for ‘sequencing activity kids’.
If and then:
One of the most common concepts in any programming language is ‘if’ and ‘then’. You can practise an understanding of this in a simple game similar to Simon Says.
One of you is the programmer and stands at the front, any children playing are the devices or ‘computers’. The children must follow your commands according to the ‘if/then’ sequence.
For example, “If I put my hands on my head, then you must jump up and down.” The great thing about this activity is that it can be very physical, so your children get to burn off some energy whilst learning coding!
Customise your instructions according to the ability of your child. Initially as you introduce the game it might be easier to keep ‘then’ commands to replicas of the ‘if‘ command, e.g. “If I stand on one leg, then you stand on one leg”. As they gain familiarity and confidence with the concept, you can make instructions more varied and more complex.
As a more advanced form of coding, you can even add the ‘else’ command. “If I spin around, then you lay down, else you jump up and down”.
At this stage the children are confident with “If/then” conditions and know that ‘if’ you don’t spin round, or you do some other action, then they should follow the ‘else’ command.
So there you have it. Three simple at home activities that can give your child some foundations in coding, whilst avoiding any use of actual technology.