Tim Caird is parent, engineer, former primary school teacher and the STEM enthusiast who recently gave Botley 2.0 a whirl on his YouTube Channel, Mr Caird Makes. As an experienced teacher and cofounder of CodeFest, a programme of community-based coding events for kids in the Plymouth area, Tim has some easy, fun ideas for families to nurture a coding mindset at home to help children grow with coding.
How to Nurture a Coding Mindset
Coding is an important form of literacy in the digital age. Everything from using a smart phone to setting up a TV is done through coding, and research puts coding at the forefront of a diverse range of future careers. Parents know that coding is an important skill but often aren’t sure how to start introducing it to their children.
Fortunately, coding doesn’t begin in front of a screen but with fostering a coding mindset. And that is something any parent can do with their children from a young age in any area of life and with a little imagination.
At its heart, coding is simply giving a machine or programme a set of instructions. These instructions are given in a specific order to achieve a goal. You teach a machine or programme to look out for certain conditions and then respond accordingly. For example, an outside light may turn on when it grows dark, a door opens when you get near to it or your thermostat kicks in when it gets too cold.
Explore coding at home
You can start exploring coding ideas with your child through playing games at the youngest of ages. Pretend to be robots and give each other instructions to follow or organise objects by size, colour, or quantity. Even Duck, Duck Goose comes down to one simple coding command: “if goose is called, get up and chase them!”.
The key thing as a parent is not to worry about ‘teaching them to code’. Fostering a coding mindset through activities like sorting and comparing helps to nurture critical thinking and analytical thought processes which prepare for starting to code in earnest.
Hands-on coding resources
Once children reach age 4-5, you can start to look at small programmable robots. A couple of examples of these are Coding Critters or Botley 2.0. These give a good starting point with physical buttons on the outside and embed the importance of sequencing instructions correctly to achieve goals.
From 11 upwards, there are some great options for moving from block-based programming to actual programming languages. The BBC Micro:Bit is an excellent place to start with the Raspberry Pi offering further capability. Each teach the Python programming language and allow for exploring both software and hardware in equal measure.
You’re also not alone in wanting to set your children on the path to coding. There are a wide range of web resources and YouTube channels such as Khan Academy and Code.org which provide coding tutorials and even whole coding curriculums for free. Because it’s easy for children to replay these videos and guides, they can work at their own pace and retrace their steps when they need to.
Coding, like any language, takes time and practice through application to really embed and become fluent in it. The more fun you can make it and the more it’s applied to real challenges in real life, the more engaging and fulfilling it is. Foster that coding mindset one instruction at a time, shape it around your children’s interests and see where it takes them.
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