Coding for kids: It’s hard finding children who can’t handle electronics nowadays. Before they even begin to walk they’re already playing with tablets and messing around with smartphones. And they’re good at it! Modern technology is as natural to them as breathing and eating. They have no trouble understanding the ins and outs of a tablet, or a computer, or a phone, or anything it seems. Seeing all of this, it’s understandable that many people assume kids born during the iPhone age come pre-installed with full knowledge of fluent “gadgetese”. And, to some extent, that is true.
However, knowing how to drive a car is one thing; understanding its innerworkings is something else entirely. You can expect (most) people driving their cars around the streets to be decently capable drivers, but how many of them would be able to solve (or even identify!) a minor mechanical issue? The same thing goes for computers, phones, and gadgets in general. While the children of today are fully capable to operate the tablets and laptops lying around your home, that doesn’t mean they understand how they function. Doing that requires you to know the language of the machines: coding.
The trope of machines overtaking the world is old, but, let’s face it, they have already won. We’re living in their world right now and the importance of technology to our daily lives only increases with each passing day. As more and more jobs become fully dependent on modern technology, knowledge of coding becomes an invaluable tool for newcomers in the job market. In many fields, knowing two or three computing languages is already as important as speaking two human languages, sometimes more.
And it’s not just jobs directly related to computing. Gone are the days when you’d only have to learn how to code if you were working for IT and the like. A report done by Burning Glass in 2016 revealed that jobs that involve programming skills not only are growing 12% faster than the market average, but are also paying 22 thousand (American) dollars more per year than jobs that don’t. What are those jobs? Apart from the obvious IT and Data Analysis, the report also includes Artists and Designers, Engineers, and Scientists, all of which are extremely broad categories. In other words, if you want to get into, let’s say, marketing, today, you better learn something about coding because point-and-click computer skills might very well not be enough.
And by the way, this trend has reflected on the policies of many countries. In England, the new mandatory curriculum made computer science compulsory for all its primary and secondary schools, and last year in the US, “President Barack Obama launched a Computer Science For All initiative (…), providing $4 billion (U.S.) in funding for states to teach students from kindergarten to Grade 12 to learn coding and other computer skills”, according to The Star. Canada has recently followed suit, with its $50-million coding program, CanCode, “to support initiatives providing educational opportunities for coding and digital skills development to Canadian youth from kindergarten to grade 12 (K-12).”
With the relevance of coding growing each day, now it’s time to seriously consider introducing it to kids early on, while their minds are still young and susceptible to the teachings of our machine overlords. But where to start? Coding for kids isn’t quite included in the official Ontario elementary curriculum for now, so what to do if you wish to get your child to learn how to code as soon as possible?
Well, there are several services that offer coding for kids here in Toronto, like Kids Learning Code, Real Programming 4 Kids, Maker Kids, Hatch, and oh so much more. The list goes on and on, so variety is not a problem here. The pricing, on the other hand…
Most of these services offer both classes and camps. While the camps are great option, their prices, ranging $400 and $700 can be a bit on the expensive side, to say the least. The classes offer an interesting alternative, but, once again, they can be a bit pricy. The Hatch, for instance, offers a weekly program for a fee of $140 a month, while Maker Kids’ weekly program goes for 10 weeks and costs a total of about $325, with each hour costing $16.25.
If those prices seem scary, please do not fret. There are always alternatives.
There is a good number of websites that offer online classes for a small fee, and sometimes even for free! Some examples include Code.org, Codecademy, Code Avengers, and Code Combat, all of which offer programs for kids to learn how to code, with fun exercises and challenges. The clear advantage from these services, apart from the prices of course, is that they can be done from home. The disadvantage is that some children fare better in a classroom, with an instructor physically present to give them the necessary attention.
But here goes another suggestion: CoderDojo Toronto, a free mentorship program that aims to instruct computing and coding for kids. “Free?”, I hear you say, “what’s the catch?”. Apparently, none. According to themselves, they cooperate with community organizations to “break down barriers of access to computer literacy programs”, and they’re sponsored by Sticky Brain, Bitmaker, and Infinite I.T Staffing to do just that. In fact, being accessible to all prospective students is precisely what they’re aiming for.
Coder Dojo works by setting up mentorship events where you can take your children to learn how to code. You’re supposed to bring a laptop and you’re expected to be around for the duration of the event, but other than that neither you nor your child need to have any understanding of coding at all. That’s why you’re there, after all! While it’s not as intensive as the paid programs, Coder Dojo offers a great and free opportunity for you to introduce your child to the world of coding, and that alone can prove very helpful in the future. At the very least, it’s the perfect starting point.
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Feature photo by Ruiwen Chua