Establish Learning Goals
One of the most important aspects of being an educator is establishing learning goals. Once you’ve decided that kids should learn how to code, an important question still remains: what specifically should they be learning?
All coding languages, including the best programming languages for kids, rely on the same fundamentals. Since these coding concepts are also used in math and logic, mastering them through coding is incredibly beneficial to a child’s broader education.
Coding offers visual and real-time feedback as a child experiments and can be an easier way to pick up what might otherwise seem to be purely abstract ideas. Beyond the benefits of coding to math education, these coding basics are also crucial to problem-solving and critical thinking skills.
Whatever path your student takes in learning to code, these are 7 of the most important coding concepts that they should be picking up along the way.
Children already use algorithms, often without knowing what algorithms are or even having the word in their vocabulary. Any time a child follows a step-by-step process to accomplish a task, they are working with algorithms.
A common example of an algorithm kids learn at a young age is over, under, around, and through. Sound familiar? The process for tying their shoes is just one example of the algorithms that children are already using in their lives!
Coding isn’t the first place that your student will encounter algorithms, but coding does offer the opportunity to think about them more explicitly. As they learn to recognize the role that algorithms play in achieving a goal, it will strengthen their problem-solving skills as programmers and in their day-to-day lives.
An algorithm tells you what steps to take, and sequencing tells you in what order you need to take those steps. As an example, when a child plays with toys such as Legos, they are given a set of steps and a particular order in which they need to be completed.
Since sequencing and algorithms are so dependent on one another, they are almost inevitably learned together.
You are teaching kids conditionals all the time at home. Here are 2 quick examples from unplugged activities.
- If your toys are on the floor, pick them up.
- Use a fork if you are eating spaghetti, but you can eat an apple with your hands.
As was the case with algorithms, conditionals are not unique to computer programs, but coding does teach children to recognize when to use conditionals and how to recognize them when they occur. Our intro Scratch project for beginners offers a very simple introduction to conditionals for coders 8+.
Loops are yet another aspect of computational thinking that kids are already practicing in everyday life. When they play a board game, turns take place in a specific order — player 1, player 2, etc., then back to player 1 — and continue looping until the game is over. This is the same way that loops in computer programming work.
Want an example outside of board games? Juni offers a very colorful introduction to loops in our Python July 4th fireworks project.
As with algorithms and conditionals, kids will start to recognize when loops are useful and times when they are already using loops. Once they understand all three of these computer science basics, they will also start to see how they are related — that algorithms are made up of linear sequences, loops, and conditionals.
The last three coding skills in our list are terms that children are certain to run into in their math courses.
In the case of the coordinate plane, prior to their formal introduction in math classes, children implicitly set and find coordinates during visual activities such as drawing. Visual programming offers an excellent way to bridge these two worlds by letting kids see how coordinate changes can cause images to move around on the screen. Even after they’ve learned about coordinates in math, coding can also help further reinforce this important concept.
Want to make coordinates fun to learn? Combine it with the game design! This is why projects like our ocean cleanup Scratch game are particularly effective ways to introduce this concept.
Variables can be challenging for kids when they first start appearing in math classes. Although they are crucial to applying mathematics in the real world, variables can often feel very abstract.
Coding for kids can be an easier way to introduce them to what variables are and why they are useful in many real-world applications. Free coding tutorials like our draw an animal face in Python or build a timer in Scratch projects can help bring variables to life in less than an hour of code.
Even outside of math class, variables are important to understand because they can help kids keep track of unknown or changing values. This can give them an upper hand at solving real-life problems and understanding cause and effect on different factors.
Functions are the chunks of computer code that take some input and use those inputs to do a task. For instance, a function might take any two numbers as inputs, add them together, and give you the sum of the numbers.
Another example comes from games like Minecraft. When a child presses a key, the character on the screen moves. This is because the game contains a function that takes that keypress as an input and uses it to complete the task of moving the character.
Becoming coders of their own games, like our Python pet simulator, is a great way for kids to learn about functions. Mastering functions leads kids to better recognize repeated patterns and understand symbolic relations, crucial aspects of problem-solving and analytical thinking, in both on- and offline life.
Get Started Learning: Coding Classes for Kids
This list may look overwhelming at first, but there’s no need to worry. As your student goes through their programming tutorials, they will already be learning all of these computer science concepts. You should just think of this article as a checklist for monitoring their progress.
As we mentioned earlier, mastering these concepts is sure to enhance your student’s math and logic skills, problem-solving, and analytical reasoning. These new skills will benefit their broader education, as well as serving as an excellent foundation for both coding and non-coding careers.