Teaching kids how to code is top of mind for many people these days. With all the discussions about bolstering STEM education worldwide (not to mention STEM+ and STEAM) and with all the changes to the economy that have pushed technology companies to the forefront, it’s clear that large-scale change is in our future, and coding could someday very well become as integral a part of early education as reading, writing, and math.

Fortunately, you don’t have to wait for “someday” to get your school coding. Here are six tips to help you spark and sustain a child’s interest in programming inside and outside the classroom.

1. Emphasize that Coding = Creativity

Coding is as much about creativity as it is about math, science, and problem solving. The stereotype of computer programmers as math nerds scares many people away from coding, adults and children alike. But coding is creating and making things come to life — drawings, games, robots, applications.

Most kids like to create things, so coding will come as naturally as painting a picture or building something with Legos. Capture students’ interest by emphasising creativity, and they’ll naturally learn some core programming concepts along the way. Keep it fun and don’t force it — not all kids like to paint, and not all kids will like to code either.

2. Encourage Exploration

Find age-appropriate tools that give your students enough room to play without needing to read an instruction manual every few minutes. The process of discovery — or the “I wonder what will happen if I do this?” moment — is a core component of a coder’s world.

Encourage students to experiment, and keep an eye out for signs they’re reaching the limits of a specific app. Even if you’re not a coder yourself, you can learn along with the rest of the class.

3. Tap Into Each Child’s Passions

Coding can be used to create many different kinds of programs — encourage students to try what seems interesting, and not write off coding altogether if they don’t enjoy one specific flavour.

4. Make Coding a Social Activity

Find opportunities and encourage students to code as a team. As they grow, having a network of friends and classmates who are also interested in coding will go a long way to keeping them engaged. “Kids become coders because they are friends with other coders or are born into coder families,” Mimi Ito recently pointed out in a Fast Company article. Group coding projects encourage teamwork and allow students to learn from one another. You could also have your class participate virtually in an online program with students around the world, or find someone to help you create a project to get them started.

5. Find a Mentor

Seeing a programmer code and sharing his or her enthusiasm is a great way to get students excited, but hope is not lost if you’re not a programmer yourself! There are plenty out there, and most would be excited to help you and your students. Find a friend or colleague who codes or works in a technical field and ask them for assistance, or set up a buddy system and pair older students with novice coders. Either way, a mentor can guide your students when they hit roadblocks with their programs, challenge them to keep exploring, and show them what different coding careers could look like.

6. Keep Problem Solving Fun

Programmers like to solve problems, and many professional coders choose where to work based on the types of problems they’ll get to solve. Whether or not students get hooked on any of the apps listed above, you can always encourage them to be curious, to tinker, and to solve problems. Push them to learn how something works and to find different ways of doing things, or make puzzle games a regular rainy day activity. A child who enjoys creative problem solving may get into coding somewhere down the road, even if they’re not interested today.

Introducing children to coding will open up a whole world of possibilities for them later in life, not to mention the enjoyment they’ll get from having new tools to create with today. But it’s also important to remember that coding isn’t for everyone. Not every child likes to paint or play baseball or dance, and not everyone will like to code either. Don’t force it. Show them the apps, provide some support, and let them drive. If they don’t show an immediate interest, they may yet come back to it later.

Author : Jen Mozen is Delivery Principal at Table XI and Organiser of Girl Develop It Chicago