Learning to Code Helps Kids Build Digital Literacy

An increasing number of children are diving into computer programming. Proponents say it teaches valuable skills beyond just understanding technology.

Heather Lofy
Coding is becoming a popular pastime for many kids and is showing up in classrooms as well.

Whether it’s soccer, gymnastics, piano, scouting or math club, your children likely have a long list of extracurricular activities. But is coding on the radar?

Coding, the process of communicating with computers through programming, is becoming a more popular pastime and allows kids, often as young as age 5, to learn how technology plays a part in daily life.

“You can learn coding in high school or college,” says Andrea Drew, center manager of Code Ninjas, a coding center for kids, in Hilliard. “But the way those older students learn coding is very different from what a child thinks is fun. We focus on teaching them how to code through their own video games. It’s a super engaging, fun and motivational way for them to learn how to code.”

Drew says they use Scratch, an online site supported by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to teach coding to beginners. “Kids can make simple changes and take autonomy of the code,” she says. “Parents and kids can do it together, play the game and talk about what they changed and did differently. Just like if they make a goal in soccer, parents can cheer them on here, too.”

Educators Say Coding Imparts Valuable Skills

Patrick Tee, who owns a franchise of theCoderSchool off Polaris Parkway near Westerville, opened the location in 2019 after searching unsuccessfully for a coding school for his son. “I’m from Malaysia and moved here in the 1990s,” says Tee. “I knew with my friends in Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan, their kids started learning coding when they were in third grade. It was a required subject. I felt like my kids were behind compared to the kids in Asia. I wanted to bring the awareness here in Columbus to get kids familiar with coding.”

TheCoderSchool’s programs do not have a fixed curriculum. Instead, they are geared toward a child’s interest, like gaming or animation. Tee likens learning coding now to learning the Microsoft Office suite when it was first released. “Data mining and data analytics is such a growing sector,” he says. “Right now, technology is moving so fast that a lot of companies are getting their employees exposed to coding to help them streamline their work.”

Exposing a child to coding at a young age also teaches lessons in action and reaction, says Jeff Schneider, teaching and learning innovator at The PAST Foundation, a Columbus-based nonprofit focused on STEM education. The organization offers after-school and summer programming with real-world applications.

“When you show a coding game to your child, talk to them about the importance of not just winning and succeeding, but figuring it out,” Schneider says. “Sometimes we fail before we succeed, and we have to learn how to process what we’ve done. I believe that computers will do most of the coding in the future, but we will all need to understand how coding works so we can get the computer to do what we need.”

In-School Coding Programs

Coding is also showing up in local schools. HER Academy is a nonprofit focused on computer science for girls in grades K-12. It works with several Central Ohio schools, including Mansion Day School and Columbus School for Girls, offering programs for students and teachers. Students from 15 local school districts also take after-school and summer classes through HER Academy.

“Computer science builds upon spatial awareness and computational thinking skills,” says Lena Furci, founder and executive director of HER Academy. “As educators, we have to think of ways kids can best express themselves. We’ve worked with teachers to help students do a final project through coding. What we find is the students excel and they build confidence. It allows them another opportunity.”

There’s even a new Columbus-area elementary school with coding as its main focus. Della School of Coding & Design opened on Winchester Pike in August. Students in grades K-5 learn traditional subjects while keeping coding at the forefront and applying those skills to daily life.

Cristol Rippe, a Columbus mom of two, says her children learn coding at The Wellington School. Son Barrett Doerflein, 12, and daughter Genevieve Doerflein, 9, also recently signed up for additional courses at Code Ninjas. “I’ve long believed coding is going to become a huge thing moving forward,” Rippe says. “It’s been a topic of family conversation for several years now. The first time Barrett took a class, it was in-depth enough that he got to build something and see the results. He could see what was possible, and it got him hooked.”

If your child shows an interest in coding, Furci says it’s important to help kids identify their strengths and what they’re capable of doing.

“Confidence is built through experiences and not compliments,” Furci says. “Ask great questions like ‘How did you persevere?’ or ‘How did you feel with disappointments along the way?’ The big piece is letting the child be the expert of their world.”

This story is from the Winter 2021 issue of Columbus Parent.