Depending on your education background and work experience, you may not have a depth of familiarity with coding/programming & engineering modeling/design. In fact, you may struggle with even completing simple technology tasks. Or, the rapid pace of technology change may have you feeling as though you are on the outside looking in……what exactly is Snapchat? On the other hand, you may be the lead engineer/developer at a technology company creating hardware/software products that serves millions of users. Whatever group you fall into, it is important to support and encourage your kids’ technology education and development given the rapidly evolving landscape. Even though the current generation has grown up as Digital Natives, they will still look to their parents/caregivers for encouragement on their development journey. Below are 7 simple ideas that you can utilize to support your kids:
- Ask open-ended questions – Even if there is a lack of professional experience or prior study, you can still ask your child open-ended questions about projects they have enjoyed working on or technologies they are most interested in. From specific programming languages to beacons to virtual reality, one of the best ways to support your child’s curiosity and encourage their development is to let them teach you about their interests through open-ended question and answer. One of the best methods to solidify learning is to teach someone what you have already learned.
- Find technology mentors – From college professors to working professionals, there are many technologists who would love the opportunity to encourage the next generation to pursue careers within computer science and engineering. Utilize your personal & professional network to reach out to those who may have experience your child would respect and then ask if they might be willing to have your child shadow them at work or to share more about their background and how they gained experience & knowledge within the technology domain.
- Attend technology-themed conference, events, exhibitions & competitions – Given the large and growing interest in this sector, there are many conferences, events, exhibitions and competitions that are dedicated entirely to technology. At the Museum of Science & Industry in Chicago, they hosted a Robotics exhibit and nationally FIRST Robotics hosts an annual competition showcasing student-built robots completing a series of challenges at numerous regional locations; many of these events are free or low cost and provide a great opportunity to learn about a lot of different technologies.
- Purchase education-based technologies for home exploration – While many kids have video game systems, there are not yet enough that have education-based technologies to tinker with and explore at home. As the market grows, the price for 3D Printers, microcomputers and robots are continuing to decrease. This provides a great opportunity to purchase these items so that your child may explore & experiment at home. While there will be challenges as they try to model structures using computer-aided-design software or program their robots to complete tasks, this is an important part of the learning process and enables them to grow their problem-solving skills & confidence in a safe environment.
- Explore free software – One of the most useful education technology programs is Scratch. Scratch is a block-based, visual programming language developed at MIT. This simple, yet powerful language incorporates foundational computing functions – loops, variables & conditional statements and is available in both web browser and downloadable desktop versions. Scratch is such a well-constructed platform that Harvard University uses this program in its Introduction to Computer Science course. In addition, Scratch has a large community that shares completed projects to give a behind the scenes look at how an animation or video game was constructed so that the project can either be replicated or remixed to create an entirely new version. While not all free software will be on the same quality level as Scratch, there should still be enough utility to satisfy your child’s curiosity and encourage additional exploration.
- Manage expectations – Although the user interfaces are well-designed and kid-friendly, learning to code requires an investment of time and effort to really understand the logic and algorithm design. While some kids may pick up the basics rather quickly, other may struggle with the foundational concepts. Regardless of where your child falls on the spectrum when they get started, eventually they will be challenged in their journey to proficiency. Often, this happens when they are pushing the limits of their baseline knowledge to imagine what they can create. While there will be frustration, it is important that they understand that this is part of the learning process. And, once they are able to overcome the challenge, they will have grown their capabilities.
- Be patient during debugging – One of the key challenges when learning a new topic is how to get unstuck. If you have been working with your child to build a project and they have programmed their game character to keep score using the wrong variable, resist the temptation to jump right in and solve it. While the answer may be intuitive or obvious to you, your child needs to learn to wrestle with finding where they went wrong. In fact, debugging is one of the most valuable skills they can learn. Instead of immediately providing the answer, you can guide them along the path by asking questions like, “what were you trying to accomplish?” or “what is not working as expected?”. By leading them down the path of self-discovery, they will be able to hone in on the specific lines/blocks of code where there is an issue and oftentimes will be able to solve the problem on their own.
- Encourage big dreams (Bonus) – There are many different challenges kids will face in the world. Some will conceptualize, design and launch solutions for a wide variety of problems that will be breathtaking in their simplicity and awe-inspiring with their impact. One of the best ways to facilitate this big picture thinking is to provide exposure to large scale challenges (clean water) and then ask how they might consider solving the issue. Depending on their response, you may also have them think through how technology can either form the foundation or help facilitate their solution through integration. You may be surprised at what your child comes up with.
From new medical technology inventions to refinements of existing business models that increase access to solutions, the potential for what the next generation will create is beyond what we can even imagine. Parent/caregiver encouragement during the crucial development years will ensure that kids have the supportive foundation they need to explore the future possibilities.
-Developing future inventors & innovators!
Digital Adventures offers computer coding classes, camps, birthday parties, and makers workshops for kids in 1st-8th grade on a variety of digital technology topics including 3D Printing, Visual Programming, Video Game Design, Robotics & Minecraft Modding. Our programs are project-based and generate either a digital or physical artifact at the conclusion of each session. Check out our Facebook (5 Stars) & Yelp (5 Stars) reviews to see what other parents think about our programs. For more information, visit our website at or give us a call: 844-KID-CODE (543-2633).