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Coding for Kids

The best part about coding is that it will hone the power of reasoning and enhance problem-solving skills.
twitter-logo Nidhi Singal        Print Edition: December 1, 2019
Coding for Kids
Over the past decade, computing has invaded every sphere of our life, right from agriculture, construction and healthcare to shopping, communications and entertainment.

Nine-year-old Chaitanya Gupta from Gurgaon entered the world of coding two years ago. He started with weekend classes on Scratch, a graphical programming language, followed by HTML and Java. He has recently designed his first website and wants to code for artificial intelligence applications. Gupta is not alone. An increasing number of parents are keen to teach their children the basics of coding or even more. Does it indicate a kind of economic salvation? Not really - not all of them are likely to join the tech community. On the other hand, this may open new avenues for aspiring coders, young entrepreneurs or those who want to be self-employed.

Over the past decade, computing has invaded every sphere of our life, right from agriculture, construction and healthcare to shopping, communications and entertainment. And all this is done using a computing programme, the result of a few lines of code-writing. Simply put, coding is a set of instructions, in a language that a computer understands, so that it can carry out a specific task. And just like humans who can understand different languages, computers can be commanded using a whole bunch of languages, the popular ones being Scratch, JavaScript, Java, Python, HTML, Swift, C++, and so on.

The best part about coding is the vast scope of learning. Choose the language you want to learn and go for it whenever you want - there is no age barrier here. You can start when you are four or take it up when you are in your 40s or 50s. Apart from learning a computer language that can be used for developing websites or apps or other tech tools, coding can hone your problem-solving skills and enhance the power of reasoning. What's more, you need not enrol at a tech school to learn to code. Several coding apps are available on iPads and Android devices that use a lot of fun elements to help children learn. In fact, both kids and adults can find suitable online courses and learn while sitting at home.

Coding apps: Apple believes everyone can code and has developed Swift Playgrounds, an interactive app that offers built-in lessons and helps you master the basics of coding. Here, each coding concept comes in the form of an animated character, and one can choose and experiment with them to write commands and solve puzzles. Simple instructions are given at this phase. For instance, words must be mashed together - there will be no space between them - and commands always end with parentheses (). There are additional challenges as well, allowing you to explore more codes and create programmes. You will also find lessons for advanced levels. Incidentally, the full-blown Swift app is used to design apps for iOS, iPadOS and macOS.

Daisy the Dinosaur is a free and fun app with a drag-and-drop interface, designed to teach coding to those aged between five and seven. The app helps children animate Daisy and make her dance on the screen. The idea is to help them grasp the basics of objects, sequencing, loops and events. The app has a free play mode and a challenge mode.

Google's Grasshopper is another coding app for beginners and helps them learn JavaScript, one of the most popular programming languages used to build phone apps, websites and more. The app quickly checks if you have ever coded before and uses bite-sized puzzles and quizzes to get you going. Google has recently launched new classes to teach more about code editors, HTML and CSS. As one completes each course, the app provides an official certificate.

Online courses: If you have children in the 6-14 age group, let them try WhiteHat Jr, one of the best coding platforms to learn the fundamentals, especially logic, structure, sequence and algorithmic thinking. This knowledge can be used to develop computer games, animation and apps, thus changing their role from tech users to developers and creators. The beginners' level has eight classes so that one can develop games and simple apps using sequences, fundamental coding blocks and loops. You can also choose the standard or the premium course that includes UI Events, turtle programming and the likes.

Then there is Scratch, a project of the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab. Scratch is a free programme and helps you develop interactive stories, games and animations by using a block-based visual programming language. It was originally designed for the 8-16 age group but can be used by all first-time learners. There is also ScratchJr, a simplified version for the five-seven age group.

If you are looking for more specialised lessons, check out Coursera, which offers dedicated courses in different languages such as Python Programming Essentials and Programming Foundations with JavaScript, HTML and CSS.

@nidhisingal

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