Coding and computer science shouldn’t just be left to schools.
A new computer curriculum was introduced into schools in 2014, putting programming for kids at the heart of their education. It’s easy to see why. Our lives are governed by machines and gadgets that run software. The world our children will grow up into will be even more digital and online than our own. In this guide we talk about where to get the best starts for our children.
Why Coding matters for us and our children
Knowing a little about programming is already an important work skill, and will become more so in years to come. Not every child will need to know coding in depth, but most will need to know something about the way computers work. One job sector that is especially safe from the coming era of automation is one that programmes, maintains and manages our robot workers. So it's vital that our children are building their knowledge and skill early.
Can’t we leave coding and computer science to schools?
There's two answers here.
The first is that you can’t have too much education. We've previously covered some of the best coding clubs in the UK to help develop your children’s interest in computers with activities, many of which are more fun than the stuff taught in school.
“Will every job in the future involve programming? No. But it is still crucial that every child learns to code.” Dr Dan Crow.
The second answer is that, although schools are meant to teach coding, many of them don’t do it very well. In fact, the British Computer Society has warned that the number of school pupils studying for a computing qualification could halve by 2020, which could have huge negative consequences for the economy.
“Will every job in the future involve programming? No. But it is still crucial that every child learns to code,” said Dr Dan Crow, visiting professor of computer science at Leeds University. “Computational thinking is a skill that everyone should learn. Even if you never become a professional software engineer, you will benefit from knowing how to think this way.”
With that in mind, here’s our pick of the top resources when it comes to programming for kids, that will help your children learn computer science and coding.
The 3 best online courses
If your kids play games on a computer you’ve probably heard of two of the most popular games platforms, Minecraft and Roblox. What unites these games is that they are modifiable, and Code Kingdoms teaches coding skills by letting children make their own mods with drag-and-drop code.
What they do really well - It’s a simple, superb idea. Get children learning on platforms they already know and love.
Price - It costs around £10 a month.
One reviewer said: “This is a fantastic way to teach kids about coding - really simple to use and so much fun.”
Scratch is a programming language and community that lets kids create stories, games and animations and share them with others. It is maintained by the clever people at MIT in the US, and it is designed to teach mathematical as well as programming skills.
Why they do really well - Without really knowing it, children will be grasping concepts like coordinates, variables, and random numbers.
Price - Scratch is free.
The Scratch team puts it rather well: “To be considered fluent in English, Spanish, or other language, you must learn not only how to read but also to write – that is, how to express yourself with the language. Similarly, to be fluent with digital technology, you must learn not only how to interact with the computer but also to create with it.”
If you’re concerned about screen time already but want children to learn about both coding and computer science, CS Unplugged is a great resource.
Yes, it’s a website, but the lessons use printable games, puzzles, card, crayons, string and lots of physical activity to teach Computer Science concepts.
Why they do really well - Some activities are created for larger groups, so you can also invite a few of your child’s friends around.
Price - CS Unplugged is free of charge.
The CS team says: “We want to capture people’s imagination and address common misconceptions about what it means to be a computer scientist. We want to convey fundamentals that do not depend on particular software or systems, ideas that will still be fresh in 10 years.”
There are lots of online resources, but old fashioned books can be a powerful way to teach the basics of computer science and coding too.
The 3 best books that teach coding for kids
This interactive guide to computer and coding basics is colourful, fun and packed with games and activities that cover fundamental principles in an engaging, child-friendly way. There’s lots of laughs and quirky facts, and plenty of sound information.
One reviewer said: “The use of flaps and colourful cartoon-style illustrations helps bring a really difficult topic to a level children can master.”
Scratch - mentioned above - is a popular coding platfirm for primary school children and beginners. This book can give your kids a helping hand, with step-by-step guides for creating games, animations and more.
The Guardian said: “An accessible introduction, walking children through the basics before getting them started on some fun projects to stretch their skills.”
This useful companion will help children (and parents) get to grips with the key principles of computer science, from hardware and software to coding and the internet. It covers topics that children will come across both in life and on any potential computer science course, from cyber safety to Bitcoin and malware.
Parents in Touch said: “This is one in a superb series from DK, which covers the key subjects taught at school.”