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A young girl codes her Sphero Mini Golf ball with a tablet.

In today’s digital world, learning to code and being familiar with coding concepts are crucial parts of a child’s education. In addition to the practical applications for coding, it also provides a framework for kids to become familiar with using technology, solving problems, and applying critical thinking skills from an early age.

However, there can be confusion over how and when to introduce these key concepts into the classroom or home. Many educators are left wondering if they’ve missed their students’  window of opportunity, or questioning if it’s too soon to start teaching coding.

Nate Ubowski, Sphero’s Educational Content and Professional Development Manager, believes in the importance of teaching coding from an early age. He explains, “In our modern times, technological literacy is a driving force in helping kids be prepared for their futures. We don’t know what technological advancements will be present, but we can prepare kids to be able to adapt and solve problems that are prevalent in a technological world.”

As Nate suggests, coding is quickly becoming a central element of core education. Many educators and experts now consider programming skills to be as essential as literacy

Nate agrees, saying, “Computer science and coding are becoming basic elements of core education. Just like we want all kids to experience and learn Science, History, Math, and Language Arts even though they won’t all have careers in those fields, we should give kids the same exposure to programming and computer science.”

In this blog, Sphero, with the help of Nate, will lay out the ideal ages for teaching children different coding skills and provide a few actionable tips for incorporating coding lessons both in the classroom and at home.

When Should You Introduce Coding Concepts?

So, when is the right time to start bringing coding basics into the classroom? According to Nate, this should be done as early as age four or five.

“Kids at that age are starting to understand multi-step directions, and this helps lead them to understand the basic concept of sequencing, which is foundational for coding,” Nate explains.

Sequencing is a concept necessary to the four steps of computational thinking: decomposition, pattern recognition, abstraction, and algorithmic thinking. Two of these fundamental concepts — algorithmic thinking and pattern recognition — can be taught from ages four to five, whereas decomposition and abstraction require more cognitive development and should be introduced when students are ready to advance their problem-solving skills.

So, it’s best to start with the simpler concepts and work up to more complex ideas as your students develop their coding skill sets.

4 Activities That Teach Kids To Code

Once a child is at an appropriate age to begin coding, how can parents and teachers go about introducing these computational thinking skills? Fortunately, there’s a wealth of great resources to help kids get to grips with the fundamentals of coding in a way that’s fun, engaging, and rewarding.

Let’s take a look at some activities for new coders:

Coding Apps for Kids

There are many free coding apps to help kids learn how to code. Sphero’s own Play app is built to give kids a basic introduction to block-based programming. Children can send a series of movement or light commands to the Sphero BOLT or Mini, then watch the robot complete the commands.

If you give students a maze to navigate, or ask them to draw a square, they can use the Block Drive mode in the Sphero Play app to program their robot, practicing creative directives. This helps kids make the connection between coding and real, tangible outcomes and makes the whole concept more practical and less theoretical.

Writing Recipes

One fun activity for kids to learn code is to use cooking recipes. For example, ask kids to tell you how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and then follow their instructions exactly. When they get frustrated with you following the instructions exactly, you can explain how their directions must be precise and in order.

This is a great introduction to computational thinking. “A robot or computer program will only do exactly what it is told to do, so this is a good way to reinforce that algorithmic thinking and sequencing,” Nate tells us. Afterward, have them evaluate what went wrong in the recipe and fix their directives.

Simon Says

Nate also recommends playing Simon Says. This exciting game offers kids an unplugged introduction to important computer science fundamentals. 

In Simon Says, players need to follow instructions in the correct order to win. Similarly, a computer program only follows the commands it receives. If a programmer doesn't give it instructions, the computer won’t understand how to complete an action.

Sphero Edu App

The Sphero Edu app allows kids to use the Draw programming canvas to control a robot. This is designed to teach the basics of sequencing — the order in which kids draw on the canvas will determine the order in which their robot acts.

For example, you could have your student draw three different shapes using three different colors, and then see what the robot does. Did it function the way they expected? If not, why? Evaluating what went wrong here will help your students think critically and solve problems — two crucial skills for computer science and life in general.

There is a wealth of activities available for kids to become familiar with coding and build the skills necessary to develop solid technology literacy

Here’s a helpful tip to get started: Sphero’s guide to coding for kids is full of more lessons and ideas for integrating coding into your kids’ education.

Start Teaching Kids Code Today

Coding is an incredibly useful skill, and as time goes on it’s certain to increase in importance. Teaching coding fundamentals to children from an early age is giving them a powerful advantage, helping spark a passion and laying a foundation for lifelong skills.

It’s important to teach the right subjects at the right time, ensuring your students receive exposure to necessary concepts. One of the most effective ways to learn these skills is through play using Sphero’s educational tools that make learning to code fun and engaging. Explore our programmable robots and STEM kits today!
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