To code or not to code? Is it even a question?

Photo: helloruby.com
Foreword: Before going any further, I should mention that I am a non-techy, computers are usually not my friends and I rely on other people to fix my technology-related problems. I love pencils, paper and – as you know by now – washi tape…

Having spoken recently to parents who work in the tech industry, I realised that all of them are teaching their kids how to code (or signing them up to programming camps/classes). Coding wasn’t really on my radar in terms of after-school activities but now I am starting to wonder… if schools aren’t doing it (I will come back to this point in a minute), should we? If we want our kids to have options in their future professional lives (be that in the creative industry or as entrepreneurs… technology is everywhere!), is it a language they should at least understand – if not master?

I don’t pretend to have answer to any of these questions, and like for any other educational questions, it is a personal choice, but I thought I would share with you what I discovered, having done a bit of research on the subject.

So, let’s start with the assumption that we are either relying on schools to teach our children the fundamental topics that will allow them to be part of, and contribute to, society or we complement the school’s curriculum by adding extra-curricular activities that we think are important to the development of our children’s personalities – traditionally in the area of arts and sports.

Let’s look at government-funded schools first then. Here in Quebec: no programming classes in the primary school curriculum. Same in France (though they are supposed to be offered on an optional basis since this Fall). The U.K. (another country we have lived in with the kids) seems to be one of the pioneers: since this school year, England has a new compulsory computing curriculum for primary schools which now includes programming for children as young as 5. You can read this article if you want to know more about the rationale for change and what each age group will be learning (they also provide great tips about apps and online courses, which I will summarize and add to at the end of this article). What about Scandinavia, usually at the forefront of educational methods and outcomes? Finland for instance will also require all primary school students to learn programming starting Fall 2016.

OK, so unless you live in England or soon in Finland, if you want your kids to learn the basics of programming, it will be on you.

Here are a few tips and options, if like for me, programming is a new language.

Around 5 years old

The more serious stuff seems to start around 8 years old (I guess once kids know how to read and write properly). However, you can initiate them to the concepts of programming (like loops, conditional statements, etc.) starting 5. They will work with “blocks” (aka the “scratch” language), behind which are real lines of code, but they won’t write the syntax of the code themselves at that stage of course.
-   Recommended apps you will hear about: ScratchJr (free), Hopscotch (free) and this new one Code Blast (US$ 0.99) for instance
-   There are also online courses targeted at the younger children provided by Tynker (US$50 per course)
-   Oh, and this one I love as it strikes my core artistic and feminist values! Meet Linda Liukas, a Finnish programmer, child book illustrator, entrepreneur… She is a-ma-zing! I love her enthusiasm, creativity and mission, which is to demystify technology – starting with kids – and bring more women to the tech world. Watch this video to learn more about her various projects (nice shoes too!):
  • Her book about a 6-year-old girl called Ruby who is discovering the world of computers and programming will be out Fall 2015. Enter your email address here and you will get notified when it is released (alongside a website and other apps)
  • The current Hello Ruby website has cool and beautifully drawn activities to do with the kids, like building your first computer with paper and scissors!
  • And she has a not-for-profit organization called Rail Girls. “Our aim is to give tools and a community for women to understand technology and to build their ideas” (the last workshop to date was organised in Ottawa late Jan… Montreal – get your act together!) 
(FYI – Even the BBC is getting coding into its CBeebies and CBBC TV programs!)

From 8 years old

-   Of course, all the above applies to 8-year old novices but if they are already Minecraft fans, why not get them started with the new Minecraft LearnToMod add-on
-   You could do an Hour of Code with them at home (using Scratch so super easy, I have done it!), and be part of a global movement (like Obama, Shakira, Ashton Kutcher and many others… watch this video)

-   For in-person options, you can check iD Tech (currently in the U.S.A. only). They do however have an online program called TechRocket  ($30 per month)
-   And if they like to build physical stuff:
  • Build and code your own computer with Kano.me (US$ 150)
  • Program your own robot with the robots Dash and Dot (US$180 for one robot)

For older kids and teenagers

-   This is where online courses become really interesting in my opinion and there is an array of options:
  • Free online providers like the specialised Codecademy and the more classic Khan Academy, EdX or Coursera. They all have programming courses, where you can learn the different languages (Java, Python, PHP, etc.)
  • Subscription-based online providers like Lynda.com, Video2brain (which offers courses in French, German and Spanish) and Udemy

-     In addition, if you like a good old-fashioned textbook that outlines the main concepts of programming, turn to this BBC website aimed at supporting students through their school curriculum
-     App-wise, I am sure there are many. I have read about Hakitzu, which got a bit of a buzz when it launched, where you basically learn Java while programming robots. If we want to get more girls into coding, I am not sure this is the right type of game… please Linda Liukas, once you are done with 6 year olds, can you tackle teenage girls?

At first, I was a bit overwhelmed by this area but at least now I feel a tiny bit more equipped if we decide to introduce our kids to the world of coding. I hope you will find this helpful too!


Allez, je vous traduis l’introduction ! Pour les recommandations par classe d’âge, cliquez sur les liens dans la section anglaise. Malheureusement, la plupart des articles et vidéos sont en anglais (on est un peu à la traîne, j’ai l’impression nous les francophones dans ce domaine… si vous avez de bons conseils, laissez un commentaire sur le blog et je serai heureuse d’actualiser l’article avec vos idées). C’est parti….

Avant d’aller plus loin, je voulais mentionner qu’en général, la technologie et moi ne sommes pas amies et que je fais confiance à d’autres personnes bien plus qualifiées que moi pour résoudre mes problèmes d’ordinateur, i-pad et autres objets tactiles non identifiés. J’aime les crayons, le papier et – comme vous le savez maintenant – le washi tape…

Au cours de conversations récentes avec des amis travaillant dans le secteur de la technologie, j’ai réalisé que presque tous enseignent ou font enseigner à leurs enfants la programmation. Je dois avouer que je n’avais jamais considéré la programmation comme une option dans mes choix d’activités extra-scolaires pour les enfants mais ces conversations ont suscité ma curiosité… si les écoles ne l’enseignent pas, est-ce que l’on devrait nous l’apprendre à nos enfants ? Si on ne veut pas fermer de portes dans les choix professionnels futurs de notre progéniture (que ce soit dans un emploi créatif ou pour devenir entrepreneur, la technologie est partout !), est-ce un langage qu’ils devraient au moins comprendre si ce n’est maîtriser ?

Je ne prétends pas avoir les réponses à toutes ces questions, et de toute façon, comme tout sujet relatif à l’éducation des enfants, c’est un choix personnel. Cependant, je voulais partager avec vous quelques pistes glanées au cours de ma modeste recherche.

Prenons l’hypothèse que soit nous donnons la responsabilité à l’école d’enseigner à nos enfants les sujets fondamentaux qui leur permettront de faire partie de – et de contribuer à – la société, soit nous décidons de compléter cette formation en y ajoutant des activités que nous pensons importantes dans le développement de nos enfants – communément dans le domaine des sports ou des arts.

Commençons par regarder les écoles publiques. Ici au Québec : pas de cours de programmation au primaire. Même chose en France (bien que, depuis cet automne, il paraîtrait que cela puisse être offert de manière optionnelle). Le Royaume-Uni (autre pays dans lequel nous avons vécu avec les enfants) semble être un des pionniers dans ce domaine : en effet, depuis cette année scolaire, l’Angleterre a inscrit dans le programme officiel obligatoire un enseignement de la programmation, et ceci dès 5 ans. Reportez vous à cet article si vous voulez plus de détails sur les raisons de ce changement et ce qui est au programme par classe d’âge (vous y trouverez aussi de bonnes recommandations d’applications et de cours en ligne, que je reprendrai et complèterai à la fin de l’article). Et la Scandinavie dans tout ça, elle qui est d’habitude à la pointe des méthodes et résultats en matière d’éducation ? La Finlande, par exemple, inclura dans son programme primaire obligatoire des cours de programmation à l’automne 2016.

OK, donc à moins que vous n’habitiez en Angleterre ou bientôt en Finlande, si vous voulez que vos enfants apprennent les fondamentaux de la programmation, la responsabilité retombe sur vous !

En vous reportant à la section anglaise, je vous propose quelques pistes et options, si pour vous comme pour moi, la programmation est une nouvelle langue.


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