It’s no secret that coding is the future. Computer programming, software and app development, and basically anything technology-based are the most lucrative industries to break into as far as salary is concerned. With technology playing an increasingly important part in everyone’s lives, this trend is set to last well into the forseeable future, and beyond. But there’s one small problem – the world does not have enough coders.
Schools have only added computer programming to their curricula within the past couple of years, and most adults barely now what ‘coding’ means, let alone how to do it. So encouraging your kid to develop coding skills is a surefire way to set them on an excellent career path. If your child has shown an interest in learning to code, here are some great, kid-friendly languages to start them off with.
Scratch is free, works on any platform, can be downloaded easily online, and is both fun AND simple to learn. Created in 2003 by MIT students and staff, Scratch was designed specifically for 8 to 16-year-olds – so you won’t find a more kid-friendly language for your mini-me. Students learn programming principles by dragging bricks onto a workspace to animate characters. It’s straightforward enough for elementary students to understand, but also has plenty of complex functionality that older kids and even adults will find useful. It’s best suited to animations and games, but guess what – pretty much every kid on the planet enjoys both of those things. Easily the best jumping-off point for your future coding genius.
Slightly more complex than Scratch, Alice is a fantastic introduction to object oriented programming. Another language best suited to animations, interactive stories and games, students learn to code in a 3D environment while engaging socially with the characters they create (sounds weird, but you’ll understand when you see how it works). Although it’s simple enough for younger kids to pick up, Alice was intended as a transitionary language for high school students. For younger students or complete beginners, another version called Storytelling Alice makes a good primer for ‘original’ Alice (and it has even more storytelling fun).
Yes, really. It’s a tool to facilitate programming rather than a language itself, but Excel is one of the best ways for kids to pick up the basics of coding. If your child is mathematically inclined, they’ll love Excel; it’s a fantastic tool for mathematical modelling, solutions, and simple programming functions. Most people who use Excel only scratch the surface of what it can do – let your kid loose and they’ll soon be teaching you more than you ever knew before. That said, Excel isn’t exactly relatable for children; it’s probably a better option for the teenager in your life, especially if he/she already has a little programming experience.
Once your child has progressed from beginner to intermediate coding, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t learn a ‘real life’ language. By ‘real life’, we mean a language that people actually use in the professional world, but that’s still simple enough so they don’t get discouraged. Enter Python. Not only does Python read almost identical to standard English, it’s also fast becoming the gold standard language of lots of industries. It’s also the first language taught in most university programming courses. So if your kid has aspirations of studying code at college level, there’s no harm in starting them off on Python as early as possible.
Okay, so this may not be a good choice for young kids just beginning to develop their skills, but for confident young coders Java is the obvious choice. It can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be, so it’s a great option for kids committed to learning. The more they hone their skills, the more complex their projects can be. It’s another object oriented language so if they’ve dabbled with Alice and Python, they’ll be able to get their head around Java. A solid foundation in this decades-old language will make learning ANY other programming language much easier. Did we mention it’s one of the most consistently demanded languages across most industries? So if they get good at Java, they’re all set once they leave college.
You don’t need to seek out a specific language for your child to learn if they want to code. The basic principle of coding, no matter what the language or the project, is to think and plan in order to make something happen. There are plenty of apps out there (most of them free, too) that can encourage this way of thinking, and demonstrate how interesting and fun coding can be while they’re at it. Try some of these for size:
- GameStar Mechanic: One for your little gamer. This app teaches kids aged 7 to 14 to design their own video games, completing quests while learning to build game levels, teaching critical thinking and problem solving. It turns game building into a game!
- Hopscotch: Similar to Scratch, Hopscotch uses the same block-dragging format to teach coding principles. While free, it’s unfortunately only available on iPad.
- Cargo-Bot: Another game disguised as a teaching aid, Cargo-Bot moves crates by programing a crane to move left or right, drop or grab. It’s very simple and a great choice for younger kids.