From the practical to the philosophical, five reasons to expose children to programming.

The coding education movement is growing. From the Hour of code movement through to the UK’s drive to teach coding for kids in schools, teachers and parents are embracing the idea of computer programming courses for children. But why is it important?

There are practical, economic reasons. There are the connections between coding and general learning abilities. And then, there are other, more philosophical reasons.

It’s a lot to take in. If you’re a parent or a teacher that needs more information about the potential of code to change a child’s future, then you’ll be interested in our five solid reasons why coding for kids is important:

Using technology creatively increases analytical thinking

Turn on your PC to get the best Internet access so you can more fun with your kids, after that you can spend an hour coding with your children, and you’ll understand how it encourages them to think analytically. Computer programming involves understanding how a process works, by breaking it down into smaller parts. Debugging computer code (trust us, there will be bugs) is a valuable part of the process.

When kids have to walk through a computer program to find out why it isn’t working, they’re analysing logic and instruction flow, and approaching things methodically. So coding for kids promotes a powerful skill, and today’s modern, child-focused computer languages mean that you’re never too young to learn it.

Coding for kids can be a foundational skill

Coding skills can support and fuel many other skills and activities in a child’s life. The analytical skills themselves can enhance their capabilities in other areas, but coding for kids can also inspire other endeavours.

Coding their own video games encourages storytelling skills, and gets thinking about graphic design. Older kids may enjoy thinking about ways to solve social problems with code. Building web sites, as nine year-old Lauren did with Cool Kids Studio can inspire a child to think about communication, and to write from an audience’s perspective.

“This blog is for parents and teachers who want their kids to control technology,rather than to be controlled, and to create with it, rather than merely to consume.”

Let’s not forget entrepreneurial skill. Lemonade stands are great. Nothing wrong with that. But coding gives kids a shot at building the next killer app, and perhaps even selling it. This seems a little bigger and bolder somehow.

Just ask Chris Owens, who was making $700,000 from bundling Mac software online at 14. Or Nick D’Alosio who wrote Summly in his parents’ bedroom when he was 15, and sold it for $30m two years later. That’s a lot of lemonade, right there. Coding for kids isn’t about making money – but it can give them a platform to test out their business skills.

Tech jobs are in high demand

Technology skills are in short supply now, and they’ll be in short supply in the future. Two thirds of Canadian technology companies anticipated a significant skills shortage in a November 2013 survey, while four in ten leaders in London, UK’s technology sector cited a talent shortage as their biggest challenge.

Outsourcing programming work to inexpensive countries is a good idea in theory, but far harder to accomplish in practice. Teaching coding for kids now is a great foundation for their future success.

Programming computers builds self-confidence

Coding for kids builds self-confidence. It gives them the basic tools to create their own worlds, with their own rules. Children can apply their coding experience to their own creations. This gives them a sense of satisfaction, and proving to themselves that they can succeed.

Coding means control

We all want our kids to be able to change the world. If nothing else, we want them to have the control to shape their own world as they want it to. Code is one way to shape reality.

More than ever before, today’s rules are executed in code. Whether you’re being approved for a bank loan, trading shares, or even being told what to watch on your TV, algorithms control it all. Facebook’s software frames how you communicate with your friends. Software routes your voice and video calls from one place to another. No wonder tech VC Mark Andreessen said that software is eating the world.

Tomorrow’s adults will either be shaped by those rules, or help to shape them.

In his book, Program or be Programmed, Douglas Rushkoff talks about major milestones in human intellectual development: the development of text, the invention of the printing press, and then, the emergence of computing and the Internet.

Each of these developments ushered in something new. Text meant reading. The printing press meant writing. And then, finally, computing bought in programming. Except, he posits, it didn’t quite work out that way.

Each of these developments made new capabilities available to a small elite. It didn’t reach the masses until the next development happened.

When text was invented, a few people could read. The rest simply had to listen. When the printing press emerged, a few people could print their work, but most could only read what the elite printed. Finally, when the computing era came along, anyone could distribute their work via a blog or Facebook post – but relatively few people could create those platforms by programming.

Here’s Rushkoff talking about it at the SXSW interactive and film conference in 2010:

Today, there’s no excuse for a generation to lag behind a technological elite. Teaching coding for kids sets them up to take control of the technology that they use, and mould it for their own purposes.

This blog is for parents and teachers who want their kids to control technology, rather than to be controlled, and to create with it, rather than merely to consume.

Most kids in the western world will grow up knowing how to use a Powerpoint presentation (lord help us) or to watch a YouTube video, or play on an XBox. Far fewer of them will grow up understanding how the underlying technology works – and how it can be used to build other tools, for their own purposes.

The question is, which group will your kids fall into?

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