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kids & education
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How to get your kids to love coding
BY YUMIO SANEYOSHI
As parents, we want to expose our kids
to as many intellectually stimulating and
emotionally growing activities as possible.
When we see our friends’ kids taking
a coding class, we immediately think,
“Should we be signing up our kid to be the
next Mark Zuckerberg?”
How exactly should we go about this?
From a fancy coding camp at Stanford
University to free online resources, there
are tons of choices, which can be overwhelming.
Many think that coding is like learning
addition and subtraction in math. Take
a few lessons to learn what a loop is and
how to write an if/then and you’re done.
But memorizing the defi nition of a loop is
useless unless the student uses it to solve
a problem or task. Parents have a specific
language in mind when they sign up
their kids for coding lessons. Th ey might
say, “My offi ce IT uses Python. I want my
kids to learn Python.” But when it comes
to kids learning to code, they fi rst need to
start by unlocking their passion for creation.
Learning coding is like learning
a musical instrument
I oft en tell parents that learning coding
is like learning to play a musical instrument.
Th e most important criteria for
choosing an appropriate instrument for
your child should be the child’s enjoyment
of playing that instrument. Just as a parent
should not force a child to play the oboe
because it will help them get into Stanford
(it doesn’t), you should not force a particular
coding language on a child because of
some market demand for certain coding
languages at a particular time.
Th e primary ingredient for success in
coding education is motivation. While an
adult might grind through coding boot
camp with the promise of a high-paying
job, kids are best motivated by inner
joy. Th e most obvious inner joy is when
hard work and patience is rewarded by
their newly found ability to create something
of value that can be shared with others.
Inner joy is one of the most powerful
motivations to overcome kids’ tendencies
to give up when faced with a challenge.
I found that even the most technologically
reticent child can be coaxed into
spending a few hours per week working
on code if they see that their eff orts
lead to creating a game or app that they
can call all their own. We have seen
numerous eyes light up when they make
their fi rst simple calculator (as long as
they can color the keys lavender and use
sequence that they designed to tell
Th rough carefully curated projects and
exercises, kids gradually pick up how to
talk to the computer. Th ey learn to channel
all the great ideas they have about
what they want to build into a structure
that a computer can understand. Once the
code language makes sense to them, nothing
can stop them from creating the next
great app or algorithm.
Teaching to debug
Beyond the basic concepts of coding like
loops and conditionals, the most important
thing for kids to learn is the ability to
debug their own code. Once kids gain the
self-confi dence to debug their own code,
like the proverb about teaching a man to
fi sh to feed them a lifetime, you’ve taught
them how to self-learn from the vast
world of online resources for coding. No
matter what programming language they
need to learn, they will have the ability to
overcome challenges with the assistance
of billions of online resources if they possess
this critical skill.
You do not learn debugging by memorization.
Debugging requires an understanding
of how the computer thinks and
how you must adapt your commands
to conform to that thinking. Kids need
to develop a “sense” for what works and
what doesn’t in coding without trying
to memorize the rules. Th ey must think
like a computer, not memorize 10 diff erent
ways to write a for a loop. As anyone
who has tried to talk to Amazon’s Alexa or
Google Home Assistant knows, the computer
has a certain pattern that it recognizes,
and it’s useless to try to plead it to
understand how we think. We must adapt
our commands into phrases that it can
In coding, don’t sweat the details
Some parents, especially computer programmers,
want their kids to learn best
practices in soft ware development from
the very beginning. I oft en discourage
this approach. Soft ware development best
practices make sense for professional coders
and those who already understand the
consequences of certain coding patterns.
It can be quite confusing and inexplicable
for those just learning coding for the
fi rst time.
Th e child needs to possess some basic
vocabulary to build up their computer program,
but putting them together to accomplish
the task should be entirely up to
them. Let them discover the faults in certain
approaches to problems so they can
learn from their mistakes. Worrying about
the most effi cient way of doing something
should only come aft er the student has
gained enough experience to understand
the need for such best practices.
It is cliche to expound that fact that coding
opens so many doors. Almost all our
teachers who learned to code aft er they
arrived in college wish they had started
when they were still in grade school.
Coding is a lifelong pursuit, even if you
never become a professional soft ware
developer. Let coding become a tool to
foster your kid’s inner joy.