The thing about most "crazes" is that eventually, the enthusiasm dies down and people move on to the next big thing. Coding isn't so much a craze as it is a complete shift in technology education. Kids are coding to control toys, programming onscreen computer games, coding to manipulate robots, and so much more!
What is Coding?
Coding is, at a basic level, computer programming. Think of it as a language that tells your computer what you want it to do. Step-by-step, direction-by-direction, move-by-move, you as the Coder, direct your computer to act, move, or do what you want it to do!
Why do we care about teaching computer programming to kids?
Did you know that tech positions dominate the Top 10 jobs list? Okay, so your five year old is a long ways out from entering the job market... but when you take a look at the skills learned through Coding, you'll begin to understand that these computational thinking skills reach far beyond just a job in technology and have real world applications across the lifespan. Its no wonder that schools are including Coding as part of their STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) curriculums!
Breaking it down
Steve Jobs once said, "everyone should learn how to program a computer, because it teaches you how to think." There are so many skills involved in Coding: sequencing, problem solving, estimation, collaboration, creativity, persistence, and communication...just to name a few! These are all 21st century skills for global citizenship and when you look at your child's learning style, strengths, or areas for improvement, chances are that you can find a way to include coding in your next activity.
A while back, I came across this Let's Go Code game from ThinkFun and immediately thought of how this could become the new Simon Says for this generation! My therapy-based mind went to: teaching spatial concepts, directionality, communication by directing peers through basic motor tasks... and then my adaptive mind when to: a way to include some students in STEAM curricular targets in a low-tech way. This is a great starting point to introduce kids to the world of coding from a whole-body perspective.
Preschoolers are Coding!
Yes, you read that right. There are toys that teach basic coding to kids in hands-on, interactive ways that are the basis for higher level skills down the road. At this stage, the focus is mostly on programming these toys for directionality and some simple motor movements (spin, walk, move forward/back/left/right, lights, sounds). We know that multi-sensory modalities are best for teaching these young kiddos, so having the automatic feedback of their codes is super helpful for cause/effect relationships!
These robots offer a bit more possibility as the kids develop more skills. The more complex the system, the more flexibility with how to program the toy - in this case, you can program Dash & Dot from your iPad using Wonder Workshop's specifically designed apps: Blockly, Wonder, Path, Go, or Xylo depending on what you want your Dash or Dot to do.This can be a stepping stone to onscreen coding games for students who still need to see their efforts in 3-D, hands-on ways.
Osmo now offers two programs to teach coding for onscreen characters:
Much like Wonder Workshop, Osmo has designed apps specific to the game your child wants to play, but there is a hands-on component in that Osmo uses coding blocks that represent a different command. The coding blocks are tangible and moveable which can help learners who still need a hands-on component to onscreen programming.
Awbie is a character that you can program to walk, jump, or move through a series of paths to collect food or tokens along the way. Their newest game, Coding Jam, programs an onscreen character to play different instruments for endless variations of musical songs!
Coding Websites & Getting Started
There are so many amazing coding websites and apps if your child is at that skill level of coding. Tynker, CodeSpark Academy, Scratch, Kodable, HopScotch...the list goes on! It's best for you to look at some of the compiled resources for up-to-date information about pricing and content. Just be sure to choose something that is at your child's skill and interest level so they feel successful and engaged!
Edutopia has a fabulous parent guide to coding that offers some beginner resources as well as lists of coding programs for the eager novice. If you just want to cut to the chase and want the basic website links to get your child coding, this resource from ChatterBlock is very parent friendly. Mommy Poppins offers a compilation of free coding websites that would be a good starting point.