Basic Coding Skills You Can Learn without a Computer
Studies have shown that the best age-range for children to learn a second language is between 2 and 7. Learning to code is very similar to learning another language, so if you want your children to be proficient in coding, it’s best to start them young.
Like many parents, however, you may be concerned about limiting your young child’s screen time, so how can parents limiting screen time still encourage the skill of coding and help their children succeed in a coding-dominated world? Fortunately, many of the basic skills of coding can be learned without ever turning on a computer.
The most basic skill needed for coding is what the experts call “decomposing.” To decompose in the realm of coding means taking long or complex processes and breaking them down step by step.
Decomposing can be taught with simple child-led instruction. Tell your child to give you instructions for reaching a goal. You can use a goal like making a sandwich or moving a figurine from one side of the table to the other. Follow the instructions your child gives with painful specificity to show how important clear instructions are. Do not assume you know what your child’s instructions mean. Follow them exactly as they are said.
This may be frustrating for your children at first, so encourage them to see how specific they need to be. Explain to them that writing code is just like giving written instructions to a robot.
The next skill you want to foster in your child is the ability to see from all perspectives.
In the instruction activity explained above, your child may give instructions like “Move to the left” or “Move forward.” Seeing all perspectives means challenging your child to see that not everyone will be coming to the situation from the same angle. What if the person receiving your child’s instructions is on a different side of the table? Will the “Move left” instruction still work? What instruction can you start with to make sure the instruction works?
This is a great way to teach your child if-then statements which are central to code. An if-then statement in the child-led instruction game might look something like this: “If you are not behind the figurine, move yourself so you are behind the figurine.” With that starting instruction, now everyone, no matter what, is starting from the same perspective. This is called coding a reference system.
Parenting reminder: As your child is working through how to solve the issue of multiple perspectives, avoid simply giving them the answers. See what they come up with; after all, there are usually multiple ways to solve a problem.
How do your children react when they are told their answer is wrong? It’s very common for kids to get embarrassed or discouraged by a wrong answer and throw out, delete, or erase the whole thing. However, the ability to reroute when something goes wrong is essential in coding and is a valuable skill in many other parts of life as well.
Fixing coding errors requires being able to find the one mistake in a long string of good code. If coders threw out their entire code every time there was a bug, we would have some serious issues.
If your children are commonly throwing the baby out with the bath water when they make a mistake, encourage them to slow down in these moments. Have them review the whole answer and find the one part that needs adjusting rather than letting them start from scratch every time a wrong answer comes along.
If you’re playing the child-led instruction game, write out or have your child write out each individual step on index cards. If something goes wrong, identify the single index card that needs to be changed and point out that one bad step doesn’t ruin the whole string of instruction.