Whether or not my daughter chooses to become a computer programmer, research shows that engaging in coding and programming activities helps kids develop important skills, such as:
- Social skills
- Understanding mathematical concepts
- Divergent thinking (the ability to think originally, or “outside the box”)
- Metacognition (the ability to think about one’s own thoughts)
- Sequencing, or being able to plan and order activities in the correct order
Each of these skills alone would be reason enough to encourage children’s engagement with coding. But taken together, these findings suggest that coding and programming go beyond teaching children what to think to teaching them how to think.
And here’s the cool part—kids don’t have to stay after school to participate in these types of coding challenges anymore. Thanks to apps developed by the likes of MIT and PBS programmers, kids can learn and practice these skills from almost any Internet-enabled tablet. To help parents begin to explore such coding apps, here are a few to check out:
Scratch was designed by a programming group at the MIT Media Lab. Scratch is a free program that allows children to design and tell their own stories through programming. Kids learn to control character movement, sounds, color, music, and more by creating a sequence of instructions for the program.
PBS KIDS ScratchJr is similar to Scratch, allowing kids to snap together programming blocks to tell stories that feature some of their favorite PBS characters from shows like Wild Kratts, WordGirl, and Peg+Cat.
Code.org has a number of simple videos and tutorials to help both kids and parents learn the basics of coding. Code.org also organizes a worldwide Hour of Code event that takes place each December (in 2017, it’s December 4–10) to encourage kids of all ages and experience levels to get familiar with coding and its benefits.
Like you, I want my kids to be media literate. I want them to get the most of the cool technology that’s available to them today. Today media literacy involves more than just knowing how to think critically about media content. It includes the ability to create content, and using apps to teach them how to code is a great place to start.