Coding for Kids: 4 Ways Your Child Can Become a Software Engineer or Developer

That's right. You can teach your kid to code before they even learn Algebra.  It goes without saying that you are probably eager to set child up for success. It seems a bit intense to teach your kid how to code before they can even complete a sentence, but there are things your child can do before they even set foot in a classroom. Nowadays, plenty of learning takes place outside of the classroom.  A Stack Overflow Developer Survey in 2015, found that 41.8 percent of developers surveyed described themselves as "self-taught," which means you can easily set your child up with the building blocks they need for future employment: creativity, communication, innovation, problem solving, etc. I'm a firm believer in starting education young by providing games, toys, and activities that encourage an aptitude in critical and strategic thinking, both necessary for programming.

From Crayons to Coding: How to teach your kid to be a computer programmer

How Games Make Learning Way More Awesome

The best form of learning for kids is a good balance of open ended play and structure with instant results. There are a lot of games circulating that can help teach your child (perhaps your little one is older than toddler age) to code. Using games as a vehicle for learning is one of the best ways for children (or anyone) to learn because they don't realize how much they're learning by having fun.   It's been proven that e-learning is most successful when the content is gamified and fun.

5 Benefits of Gamification

  1. Better learning experience
  2. Better learning environment
  3. Instant feedback
  4. Prompts behavioral change
  5. Can be applied for most learning needs

1. STEM activities for kids

S.T.E.M. is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Separate from your classic childhood activities like hide-and-seek (kids do still play that, right?), STEM activities focus on developing the part of their little brains that understand complex problems and teach critical thinking.   Cultivating innovation and imagination is one of the most important things we can do for our children.The internet is full of tutorials, especially on Pinterest, but here are a few links to get you started:
15 stem challenges for kids
12 amazing engineering projects for kids
Planet Smarty Pants STEM activities
STEM Activities for kids by the STEM Laboratory

This is one of my favorites because it is culturally relevant to both you and your child - Star Wars STEM Projects for kids.

Star Wars STEM building activities

2. Toys to Teach STEM Skills

Mattel recently unveiled a $300 3D printer called the ThingMaker that lets kids make their own toys in conjunction with an app called ThingMaker Design. While there are several 3D printers on the market, the Mattel version is geared towards kids to create figurines, creatures, jewelry or toys. As they get a little older, they might request a Glowforge.There are a ton of computer building kits out there, but the Kano computer kit remains a favorite among shoppers. The Kano helps people of all ages assemble a computer from scratch and learn basic coding skills starting at a price of $149. Additionally, the Kano has a highly collaborative just-for-kids online community and message board.Pick up the Super Solar Recycler Robot and teach your child about both recycling and solar energy with this fun kit that lets kids build robots using repurposed recyclables, a motor, and a solar panel. Since 1932, Lego has created toy bricks that help kids create and imagine their own landscapes. Highly revered as a toy that teaches kids engineering, Lego is also trying their hand at programming with the Lego WeDo 2.0 kit that teaches kids to design and build to enhance their skills in science, engineering, technology and coding.If you need more ideas, this article on modernparentsmessykids has 17 toys for fostering STEM skills in kids and this list on AMightyGirl has 40 science toys to choose from. What a great way to teach your little one about engineering!

Lego We Do Kit for STEM Education

3. Coding Apps for Kids (and Yourself!)

There are plenty of apps for teaching children coding and STEM skills, with more introduced all the time. These apps "gamify" learning, which has proven to be one of the most successful way for people to learn.   Venture Beat did a fantastic article in 2014 discussing 12 games that teach kids to code.

Minecraft is one of the most popular games of all time.  Minecraft uses draggable blocks to create a set of instructions in a computer language called Javascript. The code tells computers what to display on the screen.

Move the Turtle touts itself as "programming for Kids on the iPhone and iPad," and that it teaches children (5+) the basics of programming. For a low price of $3.99,  your kid can learn how to plan complex operations composed of loops, procedures, variables and conditional instructions; all important aspects of real life coding. Get it on the App Store.Hopscotch is one of my favorites because of it's fun UI; made for kids Ages 9-11, this App for iPhone and iPad teaches kids to make their own games or whatever they want.  Their website states, "Explore CS fundamentals like abstraction, variables, conditionals, loops, and more—while making stuff that you actually want to play."  Get it on the App Store. Lightbot and Lightbot Jr teaches fundamental programming with fun game-like tasks that involve a little robot turning on a light. The app costs $2.99 or you can play on your computer, which I've been doing for the last 10 minutes…

Your child can start computer programming at an early age with STEM activities and apps geared toward teaching coding.

4. (Mostly) Free Websites That Teach Kids Computer Programming is a non-profit program that provides courses for people of all ages, but most notably, they have several options for computer science fundamentals for children ages 4-18.  Try one of their Hour of Code programs. One of my favorites' teaches JavaScript fundamentals using popular culture characters like Minecraft, Star Wars and Frozen. They also provide local workshops for teachers K-5 to learn how to teach computer science.

Code Monster by Crunchzilla is a simple way for older kids (or adults) to learn Javascript with code on the left and what it creates on the right.

CodeAcademy provides step by step instruction for learning coding in a color-coded WSYWYG (what you see is what you get) editor that feels like a game, so even older children can understand it.  I've been learning JavaScript in my spare time with CodeAcademy because they provide great descriptions and instructions. I recommend CodeAcademy for middle/high school kids (or yourself).

KhanAcademy provides computer programming courses that claims that you can "learn how to program drawings, animations and games using JavaScript and ProcessingJS, or learn how to create webpages with HTML & CSS."

Tynker empowers kids to become makers using STEM, games, robots, and apps

Tynker is another website that provides self-paced courses for kids to learn programming fundamentals using games. Their website recommends use for kids age 7-14. A lot of their courses are behind a paywall, but they do offer quite a few free courses on their Hour of Code site.

CodeCombat allows you to select programming between JavaScript or Python in their game "Dungeons of Kithgard" where you can "guide your hero by writing a program!"

STEM education for kids

Many schools are beginning to teach computer programming fundamentals, but if not, there are a lot of resources away from school. The Hour of Code is a global movement reaching tens of millions of students in 180+ countries. One-hour tutorials are available in over 40 languages in plenty of websites.

If you're in the Seattle area and want to send your child to a school that focuses on all of this, consider checking out the Technology Access Foundation (TAF) Academy. TAF is a nonprofit that equips students for success through the power of STEM education. TAF Academy is a 6th-12th grade STEM-focused public neighborhood school that prepares students for college and careers via a project-based curriculum.  They also just announced an expansion for the 2017-2018 school year!

Only 29 states allow students to count computer science courses toward high school graduation.
There are currently 607,708 open computing jobs nationwide.
Last year, only 42,969 computer science students graduated into the statistics

From this data, we can see that our education system is trailing behind our job market and leaves roles unfilled. Here at Wimmer Solutions, we typically always have a surplus of Java Engineering roles, with not enough people that know Java Engineering to fill them.  Exposing your children to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics at an early age can spark a passion that can later lead to a successful career.

The Secret to Your Child's Future Success

Surprise, it's learning! But also, books. Real books. With real pages. A recent Italian study postulates that kids who had more than 10 non-school boots at home went on to double their lifetime earning of upwards to 21%.

The Future of Employment as a Developer

Recent reports (and our own job postings!) show that a career as a software developer is one of the most in demand careers in the US job market. The Bureau of Labor Statistics states, "Employment of software developers is projected to grow 17 percent from 2014 to 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations. The main reason for the rapid growth is a large increase in the demand for computer software."  A job as a software engineer pays pretty well, too; according to our friends over at Payscale, the average salary for a Software Engineer in Seattle is $89949 per year in 2016.  That said, even if your kids don’t end up coding for living, an understanding of programming concepts improves problem-solving and critical thinking skills.

Final Words: Don't Let Your Child Say They're Not Good.

I sat down and spoke with our CEO, Matt Sauri, about his advice as a parent and founder of a technical recruiting company. With confidence, Matt announced, "don't let your child say they're not good at something." To me, this advice rings so true because of my own insecurities - the ones that get in the way when I'm taking on a new project or doing something I've never done before. My own parents were very supportive and exposed me to science and art as a child, but I didn't learn the technical skills that I might need in my adult career. In a time where parents are scolded for being "helicopter parents," and jokes about "participation awards," be the parent that provides the right tools and solutions for your child to succeed. Don't just tell them they are great, help them become great by exposing them to STEM education early in their lives.