By HackEDU

The Beauty of Introducing STEM Disciplines to Children

We live in a time of upheaval and uncertainty, but there are still steps we can take to ensure we pass on a certain quality of life to our children. One of the things we can do is to expose kids to the beauty of STEM disciplines from an early age. Technical and scientific skills are increasingly important in our society, and facility in these highly sought-after fields from an early age can be a great opportunity for the advancement of girls, minorities and the economically disadvantaged.

By teaching kids to code from an early age we are essentially teaching them to speak a different language at a time when the human brain can learn and retain language skills vastly easier. Learning a coding language can instill an attitude of inquiry that will serve a child well over the course of their lives. Coding can be a powerful weapon in the battle to help develop problem solving ability, critical thinking skills and creativity.

Children: Natives of a Digital World

It is also important to remember that modern children don’t know a world where the internet didn’t exist, they are literally natives of the digital world. It is entirely possible that our children are already learning the basics of coding as part of a school or after-school curriculum. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t help them hone their skills in the home as well. Guidance and encouragement from their parents can make a world of difference in their interest levels at such a young age.

Making Coding Fun

So how do we enkindle a love of coding and computer language skills among our youngsters without trying to force them into something they aren’t interested in?

Coding Unplugged: There are a variety of ways to introduce even very young children to the most basic concepts of coding that don’t even require a computer. One very popular method is to use a deck of cards, a collection of small toy figures, and a small toy car. By having the children navigate the maze using directional cues they begin to develop the successive, sequential thinking that forms the crux of any programming language. As they progress and master the process, they can begin to plot their entire path as a series of directions before they start piloting the toy car.

There’s an App for That: There are so many great apps now that are appropriate for aspiring coders as young as five or six years old. These apps encourage exploration, curiosity and lateral thinking and can instill a love of learning and discovery that last a lifetime. Scratch is a long running app that has developed an active community of coders aged 8-16 that allow kids to create animations and basic games and the tools needed to create them.

Find A Program: Even if their parents don’t know the first thing about coding, if they recognize the proclivity toward programming and coding in their children, there are online programs available that will nurture that spark. Many are even low or no cost to parents.

Raspberry Pi: This is a very cheap low frills computer that runs Linux and can help children who are interested in programming bridge the gap from theoretical to actual programming skills. It allows children to build their own animations, and programs and to develop the confidence in their abilities that will encourage them to dig deeper into the art and science of coding.

Keep it Fun: By presenting the principles of coding as an activity that appears to be a colorful, engaging puzzle but is in reality an exercise that develops the ability to think laterally and solve problems. Children who are inclined toward solving problems will gravitate toward toys and games that allow them to do so. Recognize that inclination and nurture it, while not forcing it. Present coding and wait for them to decide.

Give Them Time & Let Them Choose: Some children can spend hours at home focused on what will one day be a lifelong passion for coding. Others would rather play baseball or draw or play an instrument, and that’s okay. Not everyone comes to love coding in quite the same way. While they may be more interested in dinosaurs today, who can tell what will pique their interest tomorrow?

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