Coding for Kids

Many parents realize that one of the skills that is not being taught to students in schools is coding. These forwarding thinking folks are looking for opportunities for coding for their kids that are engaging, fun, and yet based on professional practices. 

kid coding using a tablet, the coding blocks are in different color for different functions - such as movement, voice, light
Photo by stem.T4L on Unsplash

Kids as Young as 4 Can Code

Did you know that “there is great research from MIT and Tufts showing how kids as young as 4 years old can learn very sophisticated computer science concepts if you get the mouse, keyboard and syntax (meaning “how code is written”) out of the way (for example)”, according to the Huffington Post?

Several commercially available robot kits use symbols for coding through the drag and drop method on a phone or tablet,eliminating the need for a keyboard, mouse and the use of words (ability to read).

If coding experiences are what you are searching for, you will be pleased to learn that many opportunities are very motivating, fun as well as being educational. The kids often don’t realize that they are learning valuable life skills, as they are having so much fun enjoying the challenges of the activities that it feels more like a game rather than arduous learning.

Online Fun through Coding:

Hour of Code: http://www.code.org

A Professional Approach to Fun: The technology industry leaders are also concerned that kids are not being prepared for the needs of the future, also. They realize that the current shortage of software designers is only going to increase as our society becomes more and more infused with technological advances. So, these leaders have designed an online set of challenges to help kids understand coding in a game-like format that can progress to standard coding challenges.

Does My Child Need these Skills? You might argue that your child may not need to code as they have another career path in mind. It is hard to find a career that will not be enhanced by knowing something about what is possible through coding and how it works. Even something as hands-on as farming is now being augmented through technology. From tilling the soil with programmable tractors, through computerized seeding and harvesting machines, the entire process has been improved so that the farmer can realize a maximum yield. Every square inch of the farm and its local environment can be optimized for the crops. 

Is this Experience Up to Date? Leaders such as Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg have engaged a team to provide an environment online to encourage kids to dabble and even become proficient in real coding languages. “An unprecedented coalition of partners that have come together to support the Hour of Code — including Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Boys and Girls Clubs of America and the College Board,” reports the Hour of Code website.

And all of the online coding challenges are without cost. 

Success to Date 

These influencers have also hooked into the school systems across the USA, and throughout the world, as every year they have a challenge called “Hour of Code.” Their numbers are awe-inspiring.

  • 40%      of students have accounts on code.org
  • 20M    are young girls and women
  • 70M    projects have been created   
  • 1M    use the website 
  • 50    states support computer science

And beyond the Hour of Code are many opportunities for learning.

Meet the Angry Bird Challenge: Hour of Code -Beginner

Angry Bird provides an easy start to coding. The Angry Bird challenge has the child code the movement of the bird to catch the pig. Each challenge gets more and more difficult while introducing different aspects of programming.

Run the program so angry bird can catch the pig.

In 3 hops forward, the bird captures the pig. How easy is that to understand?

Even Parents can Learn to Capture the Pig

Have your child experience the joys of coding. Many teachers begin their investigation of the site by playing the games themselves so that they can assist their child if they get stuck. Angry Bird is a very engaging way to begin. If you have a child who is reluctant to try new challenges, you may want to start with this step. Still, other parents who introduce the site as a game environment can stand back while their child masters the concepts in response to the game-like environment. You can rest assured that these challenges are the steps to understanding the coding world.

Extend the Online Coding Experience to Hands-On Opportunities 

Several toys will extend the challenges of coding for kids right to your own home with robots and other devices they can control.

Will the Real Learning Experience for Coding for Kids Stand Up?

Be aware that there are robots that are merely remote-controlled vehicles, and there are robots that promote knowledge of programming skills. Any robot with just a remote control is not cultivating your child’s understanding of programming. 

On the other hand, robots that demand that your child must move them through selecting pieces of code to meet a challenge are enhancing your kids’ understanding of programming.

Meet  Dash

Dash is a ready to go sturdy robot right out of the box. No building required. It is very suitable for younger students to learn programming concepts to make their robots perform in many ways. 

The motivation is inherent in the process as the child can easily understand the symbols, and the robot is very responsive to the commands. Many different fun options, including sounds, a recording of your own voice, surprise actions, and expansion kits, keep your kids motivated to learn more. 

Dash accepts voice commands to make things happen through 4 free apps:  Wonder, Blocky, Go, and Path.  The kids select from several preprogrammed actions from making sounds, turning on lights to moving using a picture-based coding language.  With additions to the basic robot, you can use Dash to draw, play the Xylophone, or launch an object. Dash has a method to secure lego blocks to the robot to transform the basic shape for many different purposes.

See the Youtube by KhanFlicks video for a display of the many possibilities.

There are two different models of this robot. Dash is for younger children.  Cue robot is for kids 8 plus.

Pros

  • No building required, but there is an option to use LEGO to enhance the robot
  • Use a graphical or symbolic interface to control the robot
  • Learn complicated programming concepts
  • As you learn to control the robot, more features are added for you to experiment with
  • Co-ordinate with mathematical concepts (length, angles) to control the movement
  • Fun activities  are included in the apps or from the website, or you can create your own challenges
  • Control option lets you use the robot in remote control
  • A more advanced robot is available
  • Under $140

Cons

  • You can purchase accessories for the expansion of the robot’s capabilities, but with additional costs

Introducing mBot Robot 

When your kid opens the kit, the first task is to build the robot. All of the parts and tools are included as well as an exploded diagram for assembly. With the app, you can also follow a step by step procedure to build the mBot. This process will take at least 15 minutes.

The mBot robot is an inexpensive way to begin understanding how to use code. It is a follow up to an online activity called Scratch, developed by MIT (Massechetes Institute of Technology) and will be a smooth transition for anyone who has used this website. The coding blocks or commands are in words, not symbols, so a child requires a minimum of reading skills. The app begins with accessible commands and then adds more in a game-like environment to introduce the capabilities of the robot. The mBot has a variety of sensors and devices that will pique the interest of all kids. The mBot can even follow a path through its “line follow mode.” It also has a built-in “obstacle avoidance” mode as well.

To see how easy and how much fun it is to use the mBot, watch this video.

Pros

  • Need to build the robot (can be a con), will take at least 15 minutes 
  • Very sturdy robot when built
  • Simple to program, but uses words not symbols, therefore reading required
  • Able to program or use a remote
  • Under $75

Cons

  • Need to build the robot (can be a pro)
  • Has add-on pieces for variations you can purchase for different capabilities for an added cost

 

Say Hi to LEGO Boost    5 devices – endless possibilities

Lego Boost is 5 kits in one. It has 847 LEGO parts, but will also accept pieces from the kits you already own. Construct the devices first and then code.

1)    Get Vernie the Robot to talk, move and even dance 

2)    Rock out on the Guitar4000 to change the pitch blend and sound effects

3)    Pamper Frankie the Cat to hear it purr, wag its tail or express its other moods

4)    Design with the Autobuilder. This production line can build miniature LEGO models

5)    Explore a new discovery with the M.T.R.4 (Multi-Tooled Rover4) that has 4 different attachments

These 5 devices are only the beginning as LEGO can be modified for many different purposes. These serve as a jumping off point for creativity.

Download the free app for instructions and the symbolic coding language. It is rated for kids from 7 to 12.

The coding is color significant with the green blocks as movement, the purple blocks as speech, and the blue blocks as actions.

View the video for a walkthrough of LEGO Boost capabilities at this link.

Pros

  • Requires building of the various robots (can be a con)
  • Symbolic programming through a free app
  • Very adaptable, creative explorations are part of the experience, use all of your LEGO parts
  • No remote control
  • Under $130

Cons

  • Requires building of the various robots (can be a pro) 
  • Robots must be carefully constructed for sturdiness
  • Not suitable for very young students

Which Robot Will I Select?

Each of these three choices of robots has its strengths and appropriateness for various age levels. All are expandable in many different ways and include support through websites, user groups, and YouTube videos. So, go ahead and take the plunge with your kids into a new way of interacting with the world.

Many adults enjoy learning code with their kids. The experience is often bonding as adults and kids work through the problem-solving process.  

Enjoy!

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