I feel strongly about teaching children how to "code" and I'm glad to see this issue getting lots of attention lately. After all, learning to program computers is a wonderful way to boost problem-solving skills, creativity, logic, and technical competence.
Mayor Bill de Blasio's recent announcement that in 10 years every New York City public elementary, middle school, and high school student will take computer science classes is just one sign of the tide turning. But there's no reason to wait for schools to catch on. As a parent, there are easy ways you can cultivate your child's computer programming skills right now:
1. Encourage hands-on play.
There are more and more toys that, through experiential learning, teach the building blocks of coding. Two toys that we love at the Good Housekeeping Institute: Dash and Dot and Little Bits. Kids 5+ will have a blast programming these toys, and may not even realize that they're developing an understanding of how coding works.
2. Create more real-life "coding" experiences.
Recently, MakerFaire made its way to New York City, creating an environment that is basically a science fair for kids of all ages and parents alike, layered with hands on, skill-building activities. Girls Who Code offers a seven-week summer immersion program (among other activities) for rising high school junior and seniors. These students will gain a holistic understanding of different programming applications – from robotics to mobile development to CSS (a style computer language). Another favorite of mine is the Dean Kamen-founded FIRST organization that offers various coding challenges for students ages 6-18 that foster teamwork and facilitate a better understanding of robotic programming.
3. Use online resources.
Code.org is a nonprofit on a mission to expand access to computer science. The site has rich content categorized for students, teachers, and coding advocates. Its YouTube channel is particularly inspiring (check out President Obama!). Microsoft and Google also have dedicated hubs for computer science learning – YouthSpark and Made with Code, respectively. They including resources about places to learn code, activities for engaging with code, networking opportunities and more.
4. Find them a "coding" mentor.
As a female engineer, I'm partial to organizations that help showcase the awesomeness that can come from an engineering or science path. Million Women Mentors is a collaboration effort with a goal to help support the engagement of one million STEM mentors to increase interest and confidence of girls and women in these fields.Women@NASA is, as you guessed it, a hub for female NASA employees to document their career paths and provide virtual mentorship. And Engineer Girl is all about creating a personal connection with written interviews from engineers and the ability to ask them questions (disclosure: I'm one of them!).
5. Let them play with apps.
As we're developing skills for a largely mobile generation, it's important to come up with platforms that are accessible and desirable for them. Kodable and Scratch (from the MIT Media Lab) both have Internet and smartphone apps to help teach kids of all ages programming. Bitsbox is a monthly subscription box that comes with new coding projects, geared at kids 6-12.
Coding is relevant for all disciplines in all industries. Think of a journalist posting an article like this – a content management system, developed by and utilizing code, is integral to its creation. Or a physician using human-computer interactions to more effectively carry out procedures. Whether it's to create music, develop an app, build a robot, conduct a medical procedure, play for fun, or find new ways to approach problems, being able to code is a valuable and useful skill.