How Your Kids Can Learn to Code
Coding for Kids has become a hot and ever hotter movement, with STEAM or coding-specific schools popping up around the country. Awesome organizations like code.org and Girls Who Code are helping to push the message to code, and the public school system is even getting into it, with some like San Francisco starting to require computer science in their curriculum. As a parent, you've got lots of options these days, some better than others, but all better than nothing! Let's take a look at some of them, and along the way maybe help you decide what's best for you.
1. Online Coding Courses
A quick and easy way to get set up is free online courses. Sites like khanacademy or codecademy, or a host of others provide free online courses your kids can follow to learn the basics of coding. Some of them allow some creativity in between as well, but they all provide some form of structure, some goal to get to the next chapter or level (e.g., "draw a circle").
- Pros - Easy to get on, often free
- Cons - Not all kids understand the material, some just click to get to the end; many kids don't have the discipline to self-learn much online; need a real person to generate passion, answer questions
2. In-Home or Online Tutors
Another common model is your good old traditional tutor. Wyzant is a good online marketplace, and if you're in the Bay Area, Breakout Mentors provides some great tutors too. Many of these guys will come to your home, so that's a big plus for the busy parents out there. Start your dinner cooking while tutor shows up in the comfort of your home!
- Pros - Tutors often come to your home or teach over Skype, so are quite convenient; Tutors often work in a small ratio (often private), and can customize what is taught
- Cons - Kids learn alone, so don't have a chance to connect with other kids and be inspired by others, or by a cool learning environment; You're also dependent on the single tutor - they may be sick or on vacation at times; It's up to you to find a new tutor and switch if the fit isn't right
3. School Curriculum
These days there are plenty of school systems starting to get into the game, and providing a basic curriculum for all kids. There's even a consortium that helps support CS Teachers in schools called CS For All. Countries around the world like England and Vietnam are requiring their students to learn CS as part of a core curriculum, so we should too!
- Pros - Super easy, just a part of the normal school day for your kids
- Cons - Not every district has coding (in fact, most don't quite yet); Those who do (e.g., San Francisco) are still early and going through some growing pains; Even when settled, the likelihood is the curriculum and learning will be aimed towards a wider audience, and will stick to basics
4. After School Programs at Your School
Schools in many part of the country are outsourcing some of the teaching work to businesses who can provide the coding education. These programs are often at the school itself, and offered after the normal school day is over. We at theCoderSchool offer this to some schools, as does other companies like Sparkiverse in the Bay Area and Coding With Kids in the Seattle area.
- Pros - Super convenient, kids typically just walk over after school; Can help parents with a form of "childcare" if parents aren't able to pick up at normal time
- Cons - Similar to coding programs at school, these typically don't have the time or teacher ratio to get too far in depth; Typically use a static curriculum for all kids;
5. Coding Camps
Camps are a great way to spend some weeks in the summer. One of the largest coding camp providers is IDTech, who offers their camps at various universities around the country. theCoderSchool and many (most?) other STEAM or coding schools also offers summer programs and camps.
- Pros - Great way to spend the week in the summer and get exposure to coding; Gets kids out of the house while parents are at work
- Cons - Summer is a tough time to get kids to really dig in and learn; Camps are often full or half day, with enough breaks so kids aren't on a computer for six hours straight; Camps are short-term - like everything else, coding takes year-round constant practice
6. Coding Clubs
Lots of schools and kids at schools are starting to form coding clubs at their own schools. Kids can meet kids with similar interests and really help each other develop skills. Coder Dojo is a popular "super-club" where professional coders volunteer to teach kids the basics in free classes.
- Pros - free, meet other kids with similar interests, great inspiration for each other
- Cons - Some clubs aren't meant for education so don't have a teacher nor curriculum; Coder Dojo sessions are free but are fully booked very quickly; Typically don't have a long term learning strategy - more for learning in spurts
7. Coding (and STEM/STEAM) Schools
Finally, coding schools! These places specifically teach either just coding, or general engineering topics. The movement to teach kids to code is really gaining steam (no pun intended!), so while these after-school businesses are popping up fast, they still aren't quite in every city yet. We've found three general styles of teaching for these schools:
Curriculum Based - This just means your standard traditional school that you might think of, folks who offer classes for X number of weeks where a certain goal is presented. For example, "take our 10 week Python Course for Beginners, and learn to do X by the end!". Many examples of these exist, iCode in Dallas or Zaniac, a national franchise, come to mind.
Software Based - Some schools have spent time to create an online platform, using that platform to help guide kids through to learning new things - but combining that with in-person guides to keep the kids moving along. Examples might include Hackingtons to an extent, and Codeverse in Chicago or the Ninjas in Houston.
Staff Based - Finally, some schools (including theCoderSchool) feel their strength is the smarts of their staff (along with curriculum resources/tools) when teaching kids. This often allows students to be taught in a more flexible manner, customized to the student. Breakout Mentors (above) and Young Wonks in the Bay Area are some examples.
The pros of a coding-specific school is pretty obvious, all we do is this stuff! So we have great experience and expertise. The cons? Well, I suppose we typically cost more than some other options - but if you're itching to learn to code, you can guess that I'm biased and think a coding school is by far the best way to learn to code!
And, since I'm writing this blog, the best part is I can separate my own school and put it through the hype machine! Yes, theCoderSchool teaches kids using amazingly fun and knowledge staff. We also have super-small ratios of 2:1 so we can really customize what we teach. To top it off, we have a really cool energetic space to inspire and impassionate (is that a word?) a wide range of students.
So parents - what are you waiting for? Whatever option you choose, it's time to get your kids coding. The future awaits!