I recently ran across this super interesting blog from David Patterson over at UC Berkeley, written almost four years ago.  Take a look at the graph he and Ed Lazowska from U-Dub put together:

 Credit to David Patterson

Credit to David Patterson

To add more color to that graph, Patterson notes that “At Stanford, where more than 90% of undergrads take computer science [note this was from 2013], English majors now take the same rigorous introductory CS course as Computer Science majors.”  I don’t remember my Intro to CS course as being all that easy, so kudos to those English and Philosophy and other majors that dove in!

The fact that the movement to learn computer science, no matter your major or your future, started so long ago shows this trend has legs.  What’s happened since the end of this graph?  Plenty.  An incredibly amazing amount, in fact.  Enough for anyone to feel a little FOMO on a hockey stick:

  • codecademy and codeschool, both founded in 2011,  start the wave of online coding programs for adults (and kids!) to learn how to code.  Kahn Academy and others jump in the fray to get scalable and teach folks everywhere to code!
  • Dev BootCamp is founded in 2012, pioneering a wave of adult “Coding Bootcamps”, crash courses for adults wanting to learn to code and find a job as a developer.  Others like Hack Reactor and Hackbright Academy soon follow, leading to a new industry for training and re-training adults.  (Sadly, Dev Bootcamp is soon closing its doors).
  • Wide reaching organizations like Girls Who Code and code.org are founded in 2012 and 2013, respectively.  These organizations along with newcomers like CSforAll in 2016 have awesome reach around the country and the world in promoting the movement for kids to learn to code.
  • Between 2013-2014, physical location coding schools like U-Code, MVCodeClub, Hackingtons, and our own theCoderSchool start the party with a focus on starting kids coding at a younger age, typically as early as 7 years old.  These physical-location businesses begin sprouting multiple locations, kicking off a wave of many other smaller but growing mom-and-pop coding schools around the country and the world.
  • Kodable (2012), Hopscotch (2013), and a later comer in Scratch Jr. (2016) lead the way in iPad and iPhone apps that gamify and fun-ify learning to code for the even younger set (approx ages 4-9).
  • In 2016, coding schools like us in Silicon Valley, the Ninjas in Houston, and iCode in Dallas begin franchising their concepts to speed expansion using proven systems of teaching.

Did I miss anything?  I’m sure I did, lots more platforms and companies have sprung up in the last 4 years to teach more people to code.  Where are we going?  The only direction is up, and more (is that a direction??).

In 5-10 years, I envision coding schools around the country and the world, one down the block from wherever you live.  Not unlike kung fu studios and tutoring centers, coding schools will find their way into the fabric of all our communities sooner than you think!  And just in time, because it’s high time we all learn a little more coding to support the tsunami of tech that’s coming.  In the final words of David Patterson’s blog from 2013, “Students from all fields want to learn computer science so they can change the world.”  A quote that stands the test of time, indeed.

Code on, friends!

Coding for kids is all the rage these days, but sometimes there’s an expectation that learning to code is scientific, rigorous, and static, but that’s far from the truth.  Coding isn’t about memorizing commands, or repetitive muscle memory, it’s about a way of thinking, a way to build something creatively using elements in your tool belt.  In that way, learning to code is more like learning music than learning math or science.

Coding is Creative

 Coders and Rockers

Coders and Rockers

If you listen to rock songs closely these days, you might be surprised to learn that a large number of them are made up of the same basic 4 chords.  Yet to the untrained ear, those songs sound vastly different, because of the how the chords are played, the lyrics, the rhythm, and all the other creative elements that make up a song.  Coding is no different.  While you’ll have similar foundational elements like variables, loops, and even design patterns, how the rest of the app is pieced together requires plenty of creativity to bring out its identity.  Just like Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin is based on the same chords as the Beatle’s Let It Be, apps like Candy Crush use the same basic coding elements as a completely different application like Facebook.  But just like their musical counterparts, applications rely on the creativity of the developer and how the pieces are put together, more than the formulaic elements that form the core.

Coding Has No Pre-Determined Path

Quick, who’s a better musician, Yo Yo Ma or Jimi Hendrix?  Miles Davis or Jay Z?  There’s no right answer (just awesome debates!), because they all play different kinds of music.  Coding is the same way – there’s basics for everyone to learn, but after that, should a student learn Websites?  Mobile apps?  Data Analytics?  Like musicians, coders often are exposed to a number of different styles (i.e., technologies) as they advance, in no particular order.  And when they’re advanced enough, they may dig deeper into one or another “style”.  At theCoderSchool we often use a tree as analogy to learning to code – every tree grows differently, but they’re all rooted in the same foundation.

“Practice” Is Different – but Just as Important

When students practice music (or sports, or some forms of math and science), it’s really about repetition.  HOW to do something (“put your fingers here”, or “keep your elbow in when you shoot”, or “9 x 9 = 81”) is usually the easy part.  How to do it quickly and smoothly (“play A then G”, “keep your shooting form in the game”) is often what takes practice.  It’s the repetition that makes up the practice, which turns into muscle memory.

Coding is vastly different – it’s not muscle memory, it’s a way of thinking.  Unlike music or sports, figuring out HOW to do something (what code to write) is actually the hard part.  Once the code is written, repeating it for “practice” doesn’t make sense because it already works!  Typing it in again won’t make it work any better.  And the next app may be completely different. Instead, practice is about identifying and reusing patterns of logic, ways of solving a problem (sometimes known as “Design Patterns” in software-speak).  Each app built by a student is a new and different problem to solve, with potentially multiple solutions, so the more apps a student builds, the more practice they get thinking in a certain way.

For many students, this can be harder than you might think.  With music, tell a student where to put their fingers and they can go home and repeatedly play that chord until they know it by heart.  With coding, once a student solves one problem, they’re faced with the next, and often have trouble solving it without help until they’ve practiced solving the problems enough to be able to solve the next problem on their own.

Coding’s like Music

While there’s a few differences, by and large I would argue that learning to code is much more like learning music or sports than it is like learning science or math.  The other big difference is that there’s a much bigger shortage of coders than there are of musicians or athletes.  So whatcha waiting for?  Let’s get coding.

A Teen’s First Coding Language

Parents who want their teens to learn to code are often curious what coding language their kids should start with.  Python?  Java?  Scratch, Lisp, or something else?  There are a lot of options out there, but our experience tells us there are generally a few answers better than others.

First, let’s qualify the kind of students we’re talking about.  We’re not necessarily talking about kids 10 and under – for the most part, those kids should be using Scratch, Snap!, App Inventor, or other drag’n drop language.  We’re talking about slightly older kids, about 10 or 11 and up, that aren’t necessarily going to become a Computer Science major.  In other words, it’s most teens and pre-teens!  With that in mind, let’s get started.

Part 1 – What Does it Mean to Learn to Code?

There’s a bit of a myth that learning to code is like learning a new language.  Yes, there are different coding languages, and yes, it’s all greek to a lot of folks who aren’t coders.  But unlike learning French or Mandarin, the most important aspect of coding is not the syntax.  It’s not about whether the word “computer” translates to “ordinateur” (French), or “dian nao” (Mandarin) – it’s about how you put those words into a sentence.  In coding, it’s about *how* you string “words” together, and not the words themselves.  In other words, it’s about the logic.

In that sense, it doesn’t matter so much whether your child is learning Python or Scratch, Javascript or Java, the logic is the same.  Computers in the end, work the same way – you must provide logical steps for them to understand.  Languages are simply different ways to give the same instructions to the computer.  By understanding the logic of coding a language – any language – the student is understanding the fundamental way to code, which can be fairly easily translated into ANY language in the future.

###### THIS IS PYTHON
for x in range(1, 11):
    print “Count is: “,x
////// THIS IS JAVA
public static void main(String[] args){
    for(int i=1; i<11; i++){
        System.out.println
           ("Count is: " + i);
    }
}

Python and Java Examples

Here’s an example of two languages that count from 1 to 10 – Python and Java.  The words are different, but the logic is the same – the “for” loops is a coding concept used in all languages.  This example shows how to count from 1 to 10 – and if you look closely, you’ll see that logically, they are both doing the same thing.  The logic thought process is the same – it’s just the words that are different.  Learn one, and it’s much easier to pick up the other.

Part 2 -What About the Language?

Part 1 was admittedly a little over-simplified.  While it’s true it’s all about the logic, our experience shows there are some languages better suited as a beginner language.  Those languages – you might have guessed – really allow the students to focus on the *logic* of the code, and not on the nit-picky syntax of the language.

Before we go on, it’s interesting to note that there isn’t a “right answer” here, in fact you may find this is a bit of a philosophical two-sided coin.  Some folks (typically academia or hard-core comp sci) believe a more “hardcore language” like Lisp (for data structures or recursion concepts) or Java (for object oriented concepts) are better to learn early, as it helps cement fundamental computer science concepts.  Fundamental as in real core Comp Sci degree stuff, low level how-a-computer-works kind of stuff.  While there’s a good argument to that, we don’t think everyone needs to be a Comp Sci major, so we believe a step back to a common denominator makes the most sense.  A common denominator that’s useful for any career – plain old logic.

Try it Yourself
How would you write a “program” to print the Fibonacci number sequence, using plain English?  Congrats, you’re “coding”!

Speaking of plain old logic, there’s nothing wrong with a 15 year old starting to learn code with Scratch, Snap!, or any other drag and drop language.  In fact, one very powerful and even more basic way to learn is pure pseudo-code – basically logic written in plain English. While both are powerful ways to push the logic learning, in practice, we use these techniques more sparingly as kids get older because languages like Javascript and Python afford a closer experience to pure coding without hindering their learning at that age.  That said, even a 25 year coding veteran like myself still has a ton of fun, and lots to learn, when coding logic games and programs in Scratch!

So let’s go back to our example of the two languages from Part 1, above.  Notice how Python is alllllmost readable as english text.  For x (the variable) in a range of numbers, print “Count is 1”, “Count is 2” and so forth.  Pretty logical right?  Now what’s up with Java?  You’ve got a public function with an array of args, a System.out.println, a static void main…  Not the easiest to read is it?  A lot of typing to do the same thing, right?  While each of these are important concepts in understanding computer science, we feel instead these concepts become a distraction when learning to code (c’mon, admit it, it was distracting to you too, right?!)

We’re in the camp that feels that kids tend to learn better when they’re able to get things done quickly, build their confidence, and not be frustrated by distracting concepts early in their coding journey.  If they have the desire to dig deeper, it’ll always be there – but to start with a language like Java or Lisp, we’ve found, is typically more a hindrance than a help.  It’s something we’ve seen time and again at theCoderSchool, and has really become a part of our teaching philosophy.

So what camp do you fit in?  Either way, pick a language and let’s get our next generation ready!  Learn to Code.  Chang the World. ®

As we talk to more folks interested in opening coding schools, it’s amazing to see the amount of interest in getting more girls interested in tech.  So we thought this article titled “A Brief History of Women in Computing” by Faruk Ates was a fitting blog topic.

Believe it or not, women were the first software engineers.  The first language I used at my first job was Ada, named after Ada Lovelace.  In 1843, she wrote the first algorithm for the Babbage Engine, one of the first computing machines.  Lovelace, in fact, is widely regarded as the first computer programmer – ever.

Many women since have been crucial to the development of computer science.  Hedy Lamarr, originally an actress, helped co-develop a frequency hopping algorithm in World War II, which formed the basis of technologies used today from wifi to cell phone technology (CDMA) and bluetooth.  Jean Bartik and 5 other women were the first team of programmers (or “Computers” as their job was called back then) for ENIAC, one of the first multi-purpose electronic computers.  In 1952, Rear Admiral Grace Hopper created one of the world’s first compilers (a compiler is a program that translated human-readable code into computer-readable language).  And don’t forget the true story of the movie Hidden Figures, of the women who were crucial to the complex computing and math for our space program.

 Pioneers in Computer Science - Lovelace, Bartik, Hopper, and Lamarr

Pioneers in Computer Science – Lovelace, Bartik, Hopper, and Lamarr

Faruk goes on to argue that it isn’t biology that caters to it being a male dominated field but that women were “forced out” and that different cultures are more welcoming to women. For example, in India coding is looked upon as a field for both men and women. While “women in the U.S. made up only 18% of undergrads in Computer Science and Engineering” in India “that number was 42%.”

What do you think? We’d love to hear your opinion on this as it plays out.

Learning to code is much bigger than just getting a good paying job. It’s challenging, empowering and will help you change the world for the better.  Coding doesn’t discriminate, and neither does someone’s innate ability to learn to code.  No matter your race, religion – or sex – coding helps you think critically, and sharpens problem solving skills essential for any career.

Some unfortunately, don’t agree.  James Damore, a recently fired Google employee, wrote a 10-page memo about how Google’s efforts to improve diversity were misguided. One of his big arguments revolved around evolutionary psychology and how men and women are fundamentally different, implying that women aren’t as well suited to be coders. We wholeheartedly disagree and believe anyone and everyone can – and should! – code. Apparently, so does Google and most other companies in tech right now.  Take a look at the full Recode article.

There’s no denying that we’re a bit skewed today on the male/female ratio in computer science majors and jobs, but theCoderSchool is joining others in hopes of helping change that soon.

 Girl Coding Power, in our San Francisco location Girl Coding Power, in our San Francisco location

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!

The standard assumption is that in order to learn to code you need a computer. To some degree this is true, but not in all cases. In this article, we’ll present ideas and options for teaching coding concepts to kids without the use of a computer. We call this “Offline Coding”.  What better time to learn to code while being offline than during the summer. It’s always good to be balanced so even if you’re 100 percent into coding, theCoderSchool always recommends to not forget to participate in physical activities as well. The summer is a perfect time to try out offline coding. Go outdoors as well if you can and get some sunshine with vitamin D.

Offline coding is not only just something worthwhile because it can give your eyes a break combined with some physical exercise, but it can also be a nice and needed change of pace. Learning to code is not easy and grinding away on the computer for hours requires lots of breaks and at times a change of pace can really make a difference.

If all this sounds like it makes sense to you, and you’re interested in offline coding, here’s a few ideas for you.

Activities & Games

Teach kids about binary numbers which are the basis of all coding languages through a fun physical activity. Great for groups of 3-5 so if you have more, simply break them into a few different groups and perhaps make it a competition. The goal of the game is to line the kids up and have each of them represent one binary number, a zero or a one. But they have to be lined up and each becomes a one by raising their hand or remains a zero by keeping their hands down. There place is what’s key. So if you have 3 kids, the one on the far right can be a 1 or 0 with 1 or 0 being the value. The second one can be a 1 or 0, but their value is either a 2 or 0. The 3rd one can have a value of 4 or 0. You call out a number and they have to represent it as a team. It builds team and collaboration skills. You have to understand how binary works to run this activity, but it can be lots of fun.

Another fun activity is to have one kid be the sprite and the other kids have to take turns giving them specific instructions like turn 90 degrees and go 3 steps. You can build a coordinate playing field using cones for them to use. Be creative with this one as well and do all kinds of variations like having one kid be a sprite that has to get across the playing field as the other kids are trying to capture them. But each kid can only either turn of go 1-2 steps.

Teach the kids about sorting efficiency by having them all stand in a line and try to make the least amount of comparisons in order to get themselves in line sorted by height. You can also do this with bottles of water if that’s easier.

Play Techionary – This is essentially Pictionary but you only select technology items to draw. This can get the kids really in a frenzy of competitive fun!

Play Coding Simon Says – Kids have to do what Simon says, but mostly movements based on the x/y coordinate system. Simon says if you’re wearing a green shirt to move along the X axis 2 spaces.

Board Games

If free form activities and games aren’t your thing, you can always go with something more structured and known such as a purchased board game. There’s quite a few out there, but here’s a few of our favorites.

1. Code Master – This is a great board game which is fun for beginners up to advanced as well. It’s amazing how they’ve put these coding challenges into a fun board game. You have to try it to believe it.

2. Rush Hour – I’m sure you may have already seen this one as it’s quite popular. You’re forced to use your logic skills to get a car out of a a traffic jam.

3. Chocolate Fix – This one is similar to Rush Hour in that it’s super engaging and just about as popular. This tends to be a great one for the kids as its primary pieces are all cupcakes.

Other resources for Ideas

The field of teaching kids to code is growing quite fast and so are the resources. Here’s just a couple of the resources available that you can browse to get tons more great offline coding ideas.

https://code.org/curriculum/unplugged

http://csunplugged.org/

Summary

In order to learn to code, you will always need a computer in the end. We just want everyone to know that along your journey of learning to think like a coder, you can employ quite a few things that don’t require a computer to make it more fun, dynamic, and keep things interesting. Balance is the key. It’s not just with with diet, but pretty much everything is better and healthier in moderation. A Code Coach® from a Coder School can work with you to help maintain your healthy coder balance.

 Student in deep coding mode

Student in deep coding mode

When it comes to raising kids, our increasingly technology-heavy lives have hit a fork in the road. Parents are starting to wonder whether too much technology is good or bad for our kids’ growth, whether it’s time to limit exposure to tech – or to open up the possibilities. As a parent myself, I see how tech has become an accepted part of all our lives, but also how tech can overwhelm my own kids. But now isn’t the time to hold back – now is a time to guide, encourage, and expose our next generation to this tech so they form a good relationship with it, and so they are ready for their own future.

Sometimes, technology is designed so seamlessly that kids get lost in it while they use it. Ironically, that’s the goal of the tech companies – create something so seamless that users don’t need to think about it. But I say we fight against that. We turn our kids into Critical Thinkers of technology, not just users of it. By thinking through how technology might work, or why its designed in certain ways, we are setting a foundation for our kids to think critically about the things they use, things that they themselves may soon be a part of creating.

Almost any tech or application can be viewed with a critical thinking eye. Playing Pokemon Go? Ask how small businesses benefit, or talk about GPS position tracking. Spending $27 to buy Minecraft? Talk supply and demand pricing, or a license vs subscription model. Watch a lot of YouTube? Find out how youtube the company makes money, or how youtubers themselves become successful (it’s not easy!).

The best part is, it’s not the answer that’s important, it’s the thinking process. In fact, if you don’t know an answer, take it a step further and find out the answer together on the Internet. Not only is learning how to learn an important skill for kids – but now you’ve learned something too!

At theCoderSchool, we use this method every day. We encourage inquisitive, critical thinking not only through the code we build (“why did the tank disappear?”), but through the broad tech talks we hold (“how does Uber work?”). We even Google the answers to our own questions sometimes. By setting up a habit of critical thinking of everyday technology or applications, we set a foundation for next generation to think, learn, grow, and create.

Too often we parents get busy and let the computers and kids get lost in reality on their own. But just as there’s no substitute for a passionate Code Coach® that brings out the technical curiosity in our Coder School students, there’s no substitute for the engaged parent who teaches and learns along with their kids’ technology-heavy lives. So let’s find these teachable moments. What are you going to ask your kids today?

I have three kids, and they’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me. But you know what? They also drive me crazy like no one else in the world can. If you’ve never thought that before about your own kids – well, I’d venture to guess you don’t have any! Owning a kids education business isn’t much different. Some days it’s “Who IS this spoiled brat?!?”, and other days, it’s “Wow, these kids are AMAZING!”. Like having real kids, the positive rewards of a Kids Ed business can certainly outweigh the negatives you’ll face. But unlike having real kids, you might actually make some money instead of spending it on the latest fidget spinners or doll craze!

I’ve been in the Kids Ed business for over 5 years now, having bought a School of Rock franchise (teaching kids to play rock music in a performance setting) and having created my own franchise system, the Coder School (teaching kids to program computers). I’d say you learn a thing or two after having thousands of kids – angels, brats, geniuses, OCD, ADD, even two blind kids – go through your schools. While I haven’t owned a restaurant, cleaning service, or retail business before, I can safely say there are a few things that make a Kids Ed business different.

So let’s dig into what makes a Kids Ed business the oxymoron that makes you love it but hate it too. Along the way, I’ll hopefully give you a sense of what it feels like to own one, and maybe even help you see if it’s right for you.

It’s Usually a Straightforward Business Model

Whether you’re teaching music, kung fu, or coding, these businesses usually have a pretty straightforward business model. There’s no food to spoil, no inventory to manage, no secret formulas to keep… Often, your main costs come down to labor and rent.

In my two schools, it’s about as straightforward as you can get. Parents pay a monthly fee at the start of the month, and I pay our instructors and coaches as they spend their time teaching kids. Add on a little bit of equipment here and there, and it’s a pretty simple business model.

Now does that mean the business is easy? Heck no! It means you’re focusing on other things, like quality, marketing, or scheduling – and especially customer relationships.

It’s All About the Parents. Oh yeah, the kids too.

Speaking of customer relationships, it’s uber-important in Kids Ed. When I first opened my Coder School, I spent almost the entire 5 hours we were open each day just chatting with parents and getting to know them. The kids are who you’re teaching – but your clients are really the parents. When they get to know you as a person, and trust that you’re taking care of their kid, it goes a long, long way towards customer retention (and it’s fun, too!).

I’ll give you a great example – my son’s dentist. This is a guy that I see maybe once every 6 months for about 2 minutes each time. Twice now, I’ve seen him outside of his office – once in a restaurant, and once at the airport – and both times he came up to me and said “Hey Hansel, how’s it going?”. My response? “Hey… there… guy… (and who are you again??)”! Here’s a guy who has hundreds of kids as patients, sees me for a few minutes a year, and he remembers my name when we’re outside his office. I’ll tell you what, I have no idea what he does to my kid’s teeth, but to me, he’s the best dentist in the world. VIP Customer Service – lots of effort, but worth its weight in gold!

Camps are nuts. Good nuts.

Many Kids Ed businesses will also run camps during the summer, and sometimes during holiday breaks as well. And – they’re nuts. Imagine a big group of kids stuck in a small-ish confined space for 6 hours a day, and you can picture the chaos that can ensue. There’s more breakage, more wear and tear, more bathroom usage – you name it, there’s an exponential amount of it when compared to the normal after school business. By the end of the summer, only the most patient of us aren’t praying for an early end to the camp season!

But camps aren’t just nuts – they’re GOOD nuts. Why? Because they can be pretty profitable! Summer camps double as day care for the busy parent who doesn’t have someone to watch their kids during the day, so there’s really a double-reason for good demand. Depending on the part of the country, some camps can charge upwards of $600-$1000 for a week of camp – that’s some serious camping!

Not all Kids Ed businesses can support camps, of course. Kumon or Mathnasium come to mind. Others like martial arts may or may not be strong camp contenders. STEM and Coding Camps these days are some of the higher-demand camps. So make sure you check your franchise business model – if it includes camps, there’s a good chance they’ll give your projections a boost.

Want a big emotional reward? You might find it.

Ever get tears in your eyes from a great taco? Goose bumps from a treadmill session? Probably not. But when you’re dealing with a kid education business, there’s a different emotional factor involved because they’re kids. Kids can do the most amazing things that can wow you like no adult can. I remember my first year at Coder School, there was an 11 year old kid who created a billiards game in Python. But instead of hitting a cue ball, you create gravitational anomalies that suck the cue ball towards it, using actual newtonian physics formulas. Now I’m a pretty good coder, been coding for 20 years. When I looked at his code, and I had no idea how it worked – that’s when I knew we were doing something special. Chills. Still feel ’em!

Helping kids get better at something is helping our next generation and helping our communities, so that in itself lends to some major gratification. Add on watching the kids grow and learn before your very eyes, and you’ll have something that can add up to an amazing emotional reward.

You Might Work Some Weird Hours

One of the negatives of managing a Kids Ed business is the hours they’re usually open. During the day, kids are usually at school – so most kids ed businesses aren’t open until school is out. That means your working hours are often 1-3pm doing admin work and then actually managing the business from 3pm-8pm. For you late-waker-uppers, starting work at 1pm might sound pretty cool. But for many of us who have kids, the working hours just happen to coincide with the hours you’d normally spend with your own kids. There are ways around it, no doubt (open on certain days, hire extra help, bring your kids to work), but it’s certainly a bit of a sacrifice. In fact, I recall that sacrifice being the hardest part of my first year as manager at both my School of Rock and Coder School – I just didn’t have a lot of time to spend with my own kids in the beginning.

So Is Kids Ed Right For You?

It depends. We’re not all built for the chaos of a big group of kids, but some of us thrive on it, and the rewards of helping kids. There are a lot more nuances to running a kids business like safety and insurance, the space and the staff, or even its potential for being somewhat recession resistant. So what’s the best way to find out if a Kids Ed franchise is right for you? Easy – just pick one and contact ’em. Good luck – we parents will thank you for it!

In this article we’ll discuss some ways to introduce and teach your 6 and under youngster how to code. Before we begin, let’s first make it clear that it’s actually absolutely fine not to teach your 6 year old coding. There’s plenty of other things that a 6 year old is still trying to learn such as reading, basic math, or even riding a bike.  But we know some parents might like to get a head start – so we thought why not write about it.

I have two daughters ages 4 and 6 so I have some relevant real world experience. Neither is currently actively learning to code. I did introduce my oldest to Minecraft when she requested it. She had some fun building structures in it, but then lost interest and I have not forced it. When she’s ready again, maybe next year, we’ll try it again, perhaps with a drag n’ drop platform. Of course if your child shows an interest and is a bit ahead of the curve with their reading and math, by all means, it’s a great idea to introduce them to coding via some very fun and engaging tools.Remember at this early an age, your kid probably won’t even be able to type well enough to learn any typed language coding. Also, keep in mind their cognitive development level and ability to process logic is still forming. At this young of an age, here’s a few ways to give them some exposure and introduce them to coding concepts.

Drag n’ Drop

The drag n’ drop coding platforms are a great way to go for young kids. These platforms remove the need to be able to type and any frustrations from syntax requirements, and can be good for even older kids.  MIT’s Scratch is one of the most popular of these languages – but generally we don’t tend to recommend that for the really young since there’s quite a bit of functionality to it.  For the under 6 set, we recommend a more contained version like Scratch Jr. or Hopscotch.  These are great iPad apps to get started, and are fairly self-driven and colorful with a simpler set of commands.

Engaging Logic Sites

There are many great logic sites for the youngster, but a couple of our favorites are:

1. Kodable (www.kodable.com) – This is a fun site for the youngsters to learn basic logic through fun logic challenges where they have to provide the steps and directions to navigate themselves from a starting point to an end point.

2. Code.org (www.code.org) – This is the ultimate site in trying to get everyone around the world to try coding. It has one of the best collections of fun logic games and challenges for kids to be entertained while also learning to code.

Offline Activities

Ironically you don’t have to be on a computer to start learning to code. Especially at such a young age, offline fun activities are a great way to get that coding mind started. Below are some of our favorite games:

1. Code Master – This is a great board game which is fun for beginners up to advanced as well. It’s amazing how they’ve put these coding challenges into a fun board game. You have to try it to believe it.

2. Rush Hour – I’m sure you may have already seen this one as it’s quite popular. You’re forced to use your logic skills to get a car out of a a traffic jam.

3. Chocolate Fix – This one is similar to Rush Hour in that it’s super engaging and just about as popular. This tends to be a great one for the kids as its primary pieces are all cupcakes.

Is your 6 year old Ready to code?

Don’t forget, coding isn’t for all 6 year olds!  Some just aren’t ready, and there’s plenty of time.  If they want to and are engaged though there are lots of different options available to get them started. And of course, all options are better when they are getting guidance and direction from a parent, or even better, a Code Coach® from a Coder School!