Truthfully, preschoolers don’t do anything for a whole hour, except maybe play. It’s just not developmentally appropriate to ask them to do anything for that long. Still, we did take some time this week to introduce the children to coding in honor of Computer Science Education Week’s Hour of Code event. And, they loved it! The tool we used to introduce coding to kids was an iPad app called Kodable.
This app is specifically designed to teach programming skills to children. One highlight of Kodable is the way that it teaches sequential processing. The child directs an adorable little fur ball through a track using step by step graphic directions. The track becomes more and more complex as the child completes each level. They must complete lower levels to unlock the harder levels, much like Angry Birds. They also can unlock new cute little fur balls, which the kids found particularly motivating. One of my favorite things about this app from a teacher’s perspective is that it allows each child to have an account and progress at their own rate. It’s a little tricky for the children to navigate to the place where they select their own account id, but so far, we’ve managed it. The kids loved this game. On the day after I’d introduced Kodable, the kids were given the opportunity to choose any of the five learning games we’d introduced so far. Kodable was easily the top choice. They just love those little fuzzy balls!
I did do some teaching with the children as I introduced them to the app. The app is fairly self explanatory, but I knew the concepts would still be challenging, and I wanted them to experience success. I walked them through solving the first couple of levels, making a couple of “planned errors” along the way so that I could show the students how they could make changes if they didn’t complete a level on the first try. Then I turned them loose. Since I was working with four to five students at a time, I wasn’t carefully tracking any one student’s progress. After our center time was over, I was shocked to see just how many levels some students had completed. Some of them were natural born programmers!
Talking about teaching kids to code is very trendy right now. I hate being trendy. However, I must admit, I think there is a good reason for this trend and that there are even more important reasons for kids to learn to code. Practically speaking, in this day and age, coding is where the jobs are. On US News & World Reports list of the 100 Best Jobs, a quarter of the top 25 jobs would require some knowledge of coding to do the job well. According to this infographic, the field of computer programming is predicted to grow twice as quickly as most other fields. Educationally speaking, the kind of thinking that goes into learning to code is very sophisticated. It’s complex, multifaceted, and requires children to think deeply, not just spit back rote information. It’s the kind of thinking we want our kids to be doing to develop their brains. Now I’m certainly not going to advocate that we sit preschoolers down in front of screens for hours at a time so that they can learn to code. Most early childhood educators have read the research and recognize that the time children spend in play is far more valuable any set of skills we could ever teach them. However, I think letting children explore the concepts behind programming languages early in the game sets the stage for success in learning to code in later years.