Digital literacy is an increasingly important skill for many reasons. As the number of jobs in computer programming, information technology, and engineering continues to rise, the importance of STEM education is becoming widely recognized. In fact, job opportunities in STEM industries are growing at a rate of 17 percent, which is much faster than other occupations.
Because of this growth, teaching topics like coding and computer programming in high school or college courses is no longer sufficient. Instead, children are starting to learn coding and other areas of STEM in elementary school. Here are four methods children have been using to learn to code in fun and engaging ways.
1. APPS & ONLINE GAMES
Among children, one of the most popular approaches to learning coding is through apps and online games. The educational games are enjoyable for children of all ages, approaching lessons in a way that doesn’t feel like learning at all. Many of these apps are free, while others can be purchased through the app stores.
Popular computer games:
These games are just several examples of the vast number of options that are offered to young students wanting to learn coding and computer programming. Games vary by level, so some are more suitable for preschoolers and kindergarteners while others are appropriately challenging for middle and high school students.
2. TOY ROBOTS
For hands-on learners, toy robots are the perfect way to gain exposure to coding and computer programming. The toy manufacturers that have created educational and learning products for decades now make toys that introduce components of coding to children as young as three years old.
Children make these robots move or make noise by applying coding and programming concepts. For example, some robots designed for younger children move according to how the child connects building blocks. Other toy robots use colors or voice commands.
A lot of parents prefer robots for their children to apps because they normally do not require any screen time. The robots allow them to learn more about STEM and the digital world without staring at a screen for long periods, which can cause blurry vision and headaches.
The following are popular toy robots:
- Codapillar (ages three to six)
- Botley the Coding Robot (ages five to eight)
- Wonder Workshop Dash Robot (ages six and up)
- Wonder Workshop Cue Robot (ages 11 and up)
- Evo Coding Robot (ages six and up)
- AC-D2 (ages seven to nine)
3. BOARD GAMES & OTHER HANDS-ON TOYS
Board games can introduce coding and programming concepts like sequencing, planning, reasoning, logical thinking, and problem-solving skills. Like robots, board games introduce these concepts without adding screen time while also providing kids with hands-on practice applying these skills. Popular board games include:
- Learning Resources Code & Go (ages four to seven)
- Code: On The Brink by Thinkfun (ages eight and up)
- ALEX Toys Future Coders Poppin’ Pictures (ages four and up)
- Robot Turtles (ages four and up)
Another toy option is the BitsBox, which is a subscription learning system that integrates hands-on toys with online applications. The service is available to both schools and parents.
Although board games are effective in familiarizing students with elementary coding concepts, at a certain point, children will need to graduate to more complex programs to further develop and expand on these skills.
4. STEM CURRICULUM IN CLASSROOMS & AFTER SCHOOL PROGRAMS
Educational games and apps are wonderful tools for students to learn coding. However, it should also be incorporated into elementary school curriculum. Many schools offer after-school programs or summer camps that teach these subjects, but educators have been slow to implement them into the classroom. STEM subjects should be more integrated, so students have more opportunities to further develop their skills in coding, computer programming, and other STEM areas.
Since most teachers do not receive training or education on teaching these subjects, STEM curriculum has been developed to supplement a teacher’s instruction in the classroom. There are a variety of services from which to choose, such as the Acellus STEM 10 program or code.org’s org’s CS Fundamentals for Elementary Schools. Rather than a text-book heavy curriculum, these programs focus on interactive learning and the hands-on application of theories and concepts.
Starting to teach students coding and other STEM-related concepts at a young age is beneficial for both children and society at large. It will open up opportunities as children grow up because we will need more people in STEM careers as these industries continue to expand. When young children are exposed to coding, engineering, math, and chemistry, it encourages them to be curious and interested in STEM fields, which may lead to potential career paths.