Teaching children to code is increasingly ‘trendy’, even if some find it useless. Personally, I am convinced that knowing the basics of coding will tomorrow be as important as knowing a second language. Today I’m sharing my best tips for helping kids learn to code. In fact, I have already implemented them with my children, who are now 10, 8, 6 and 4 years old.
Important detail, I don’t use my developer skills to teach them. I just offer them toys and electronic games and let them do it alone. Sometimes out of conviction, sometimes out of constraint when they eject me from the game to do what they want I am then present only to support their request, and again, I mainly look at the instructions provided in the game.
Should learning be reflective?
Before we delve into the subject, I would like to clarify this point which is important to me. Especially since it implies that you can very well educate your child about programming even if you don’t know how to do it yourself.
We tend to overthink how we learn new things. Does a child think before learning his mother tongue? Does he first learn grammatical structure, conjugation and vocabulary before being able to express his first words? No, of course!
He listens and, little by little, his brain creates causal links between the context, the environment, the action and what has just been said. This is how, without having any outside help, we all learned to understand our mother tongue and then to speak it.
On this subject, Aark Learnings recommend the very good book The Amazing Powers of Transformation of the Brain by Norman Doidge. I learned a lot about our brains there.
Children are naturally curious about everything around them. They want to play, fiddle with, manipulate, and test all the possibilities of everything they come across until they have seen it all. And again, they come back to it several times just to check that it still works in the same way. Why not use this and simply put them in front of toys and games that will naturally confront them, little by little, with programming?
The little Cubetto robot for the youngest
From 3 years old, I recommend that you offer them Cubetto.
This is a small wooden robot, of very high quality. To make it move, you have to use the control board on which you place small steering blocks. Forward, right, left. Once the program is written on the platform, you must press a button so that the robot receives the instructions to follow, wirelessly.
At first, my children wanted to move the robot by hand, We had to explain to them that it didn’t work that way…
Then they try to press the button without having given any instructions… And quickly they understand the link between the command blocks they put and the movements of the robot. And there, the learning begins. They quickly understand that they must prepare the order list before asking the robot to execute it.
The robot is supplied with a mat separated into different boxes. We can then ask the child to write the program that allows the robot to go from one box to another.
Cubetto even offers a “procedure” type zone which can be called on demand with dedicated blocks. This increases opportunities and learning.
The robot was very well designed. It is pleasant to the touch, durable, and designed for young players. The only downside remains the price of €219. Even if I find it justified given the quality, it is not within the reach of all budgets.
Intermediate: The Lightbot game
Incidentally, the Lightbot game has a free trial version and costs €2.29. It is available on a tablet or smartphone.
You must also program the movements of a small robot, virtual this time. The goal is to light lamps along the way, always with a finite number of instructions.
For younger children, you will need to read the instructions to them. You can select the French language on the home screen of the application.
The child quickly understands how the game works. Then comes the gentle headache of solving each puzzle.
Little advice: sometimes the child is stuck on a level and he really doesn’t understand why “it doesn’t work anymore”. He was probably too fast on the level before, or 2 levels before. Encourage him to start these levels again by looking for the solution using the least order of movement. This forces the child to better understand a concept (like the PROC1 and PROC2 procedures for example).
The CodeCombat site, when they know how to read and write
I recommend the code combat site which is very well done on the learning part of a programming language.
I just put my 8-year-old daughter in it, she is in CE2. She does it quite well.
You don’t need to know the programming or be present, because you just have to read all the instructions to get there. Please note, I mean ALL. Indeed, sometimes you have to look in the documentation directly accessible in the interface. The child must read everything, copy pieces of code and adapt them. He even works on his knowledge of computer tools, the keyboard, copy-paste, etc.
I find that this idea of encouraging them to read the documentation provided with a language is a very good idea because it is one of the skills to have when programming.
Finally on the site itself. The child plays a fighter, boy or girl of your choice, who must cross worlds, collect Gems and fight to save other people. As you level up, you even have to buy new equipment to be stronger and more resistant.
Scratch: very good, but much less autonomous
There is also the scratch site which allows children to create a virtual scene from scratch with characters that they will be able to animate. They can even react to events, saying what happens when the character approaches the edge of the display area or when an object, a ball for example, arrives in a particular area of the drawing. It is thus possible to create your own games (basketball, tennis, etc.).
I recommend that you read the many books on the subject. There are also YouTube channels, game idea cards to create, etc. The range of possibilities is very large and so is the community that uses Scratch. It’s reassuring, whatever problem you have with Scratch, you will most certainly find an answer on the Internet, thank you Google.
The board game “Mouse Code and Go”
While researching this article, I came across the “Mouse Code and Go” board game from Learning Resources. I dreamed of a game like this, so I ordered it straight away! So I can’t give you any feedback on it yet.
A priori each player must quickly do a little code to move their mouse and collect the most cheese. I think it would be very nice. The reviews on Amazon are pretty good, with 4.5 stars out of 11 reviews at the time of writing. I think it’s very complementary to Lightbot.