Last Updated: September 20, 2020

Teaching kids to code is definitely a BIG deal and MAYBE the right thing to do in the 21st Century! Coding exposes them to the backbone of software infrastructure and the ubiquitous Internet of Things (IoT) devices. Ultimately, children become masters and not slaves to the backend and frontend of technology.

You have also probably heard how coding is becoming the new literacy, topping the list of conventional literacies such as computer literacy, media literacy, and just literacy. In essence, not teaching kids to code is equivalent to not teaching them to read and write!

In pursuit of this line of thought, Millennials and older parents are seeking all possible channels and strategies to teach coding to generation Alpha kids.

The challenge…

Should you, however, send your 5-year-old to some coding boot camp and/or purchase those enticing Osmo bots and the iRobot Root coding toys? Even better, should you download the countless coding apps and coding games as touted by the so-called experts? Or should you wait until they are 10?

Well, the answer is yes and no!

Here is my take though, why you should or not be teaching your kid to code, very early on!

teaching kids to code denies kids time to explore the outdoors
Extensive use of the computer denies children the benefits of exploring the outdoors. (Photo by cottonbro from Pexels)

1. Coding should be age relevant

Teaching kids to code should follow a known time-frame and knowledge path to allow them to develop relevant soft skills required for maturity in coding.

To start with, coding is a monumental task, and children are entitled to learn their personality and human nature before getting swallowed up. This takes time and probably makes sense at 10 years and above. When they are self-aware, they take better care of their health and have a better understanding of the people around them.

By learning to co-exist with others they prepare themselves to become better communicators, team workers, and humble. These are crucial soft skills that can make or break a programmer that has to deal with so many different programmers. Most of these can be a pain!

Secondly, you may want to consider teaching kids to code after they have mastered literacy skills such as reading and writing. While it is true early childhood coding is visually appealing and may enhance communication, the ultimate coding experience kicks in with reading and writing literacy.

Third, coding is effective when approached from a problem-solving strategy that matures with curiosity, endurance, and persistence. The very young kids lack the endurance and persistence that mature programmers have to go through to complete tasks.

We all know kids who have played with toys and computer games to great heights and it is only then that they realize they would want to code a game of their own. That is fine.

Effective coding also stretches for hours and days at a time, and go against parenting etiquettes such as screen time abuse! At an early age, especially between 0 and 8, children should be allowed to simply grow up.

In any case, the very young ones are incapable of staying attentive to demanding tasks for so long. Assuming your child is not suffering from ADHD, the typical attention span for children is as follows:

  • 7 minutes for a 2-year-old
  • 9 minutes for a 3-year-old
  • 12 minutes for a 4-year-old
  • 14 minutes for a 5-year-old

It only gets better at 10 when kids stay attentive for more than 20 minutes.

2. Coding is a productivity skill

Taking your child to some kind of coding boot camp may sound like the 21st-century thing to do but again think about it…

For starters, coding is a skill many of us learn for productivity and not necessarily a life skill. Unlike the traditional ‘life skills’ which prepare children for eventualities in life (of course, code can prepare us for eventualities in the tech world – but that is for another day), coding develops through aptitude and drive.

For example, we teach kids to do laundry or even cook (life skills), while allowing them to learn additional skills such as teaching, carpentry, and manufacturing (productivity skills) which are needed in the workplace.

The truth is, kids should approach coding like any other skill, and only indulge in its depth when they develop the unquenchable aptitude and push to learn and do it.

This is reminiscent of adults who tinkered with cars and machinery at an early age and became bona fide mechanics later in life. Going back to those early years, children were neither forced nor designed to master the intricates of machinery. They did it out of curiosity and aptitude and became masters of the game when they grew up.

The same should be allowed to happen with the 21st-century kids. Let them explore technology as they wish and only indulge in coding or anything else when their guts give them the push. Only then should parents or anyone else come in and give the helping hand.

3. A case against illiterate coding parents  

If coding is the new literacy, then here comes the problem of implementing it at home. While traditional literacy requires that parents are literate in reading and writing (we all are) and therefore help children master the said skills, coding literacy is a prerequisite for parents that are teaching kids to code.

If truth be told only a handful of Millennial parents are literate enough in the coding sense, and a vast majority of Boomers and Xes have no clue whatsoever how coding works.

Even if the modern-day parent is literate enough to teach coding, the intricacies involved are more than enough to make the experience messy. Coding is mentally intensive and must be done accurately and neatly. A family loses out a lot when parents are busy all the time teaching kids to code!

This is not what kids should be going through at a very young age. This and the inability by parents to teach code correctly will make them distaste the world of programming even as they grow up.

4. Coding is not for everyone

You heard it right. Coding is not for everyone, just like dissecting a frog is not for every student in the classroom!

Your child will not become an overnight computer ninja just because you chose to drill it in him very early on. The experience may turn into a nightmare when your un-interested child has to go along with your coding theatrics.

Thrusting your child into the world of Python, Javascript, and Ruby, before they are 10, casts them into a complex world beyond their scope. Kids should stick to no more than Lego Mindstorm and the very basics in Scratch – if at all they are interested.

While the syntax may not be the hardest part to master, implementing it correctly is time-consuming and annoying, and only makes sense to those that are curious, patient, and love SYNTAX.

This calls for intricate creativity, design, and logic know-how, in order to make meaning out of complex conditionals, loops, and logic. stuff that can be tricky for the very young ones, and those interested in other skills such as politicking and cutting through frogs.

5. Coding is time-consuming

Besides being mentally intensive, coding requires plenty of time.

Yes. Days and hours are needed to complete only a small design project, yet, this precious time should be reserved for family, play-time, and social development. Close association with computers for programming also requires that computers are at hand for kids.

This may involve placing a laptop and other devices in the bedroom. This is bad and interferes with the parenting requirement of a tech-free sleeping environment. Too much screen is known to interfere with the circadian rhythm and body clock.

Furthermore, extended coding condemns children indoors which is detrimental to the achievement of childhood development milestones and proper growth. For as much as it is possible, children should be allowed to explore the beautiful world and natural life outdoors.

Then there is the ability, or lack of it by children to stay focused for extended hours on a single project. Because they are born with the belief they can get the job done straight away, anything that takes days and months to complete is pretty annoying.

Their curiosity to do a task is limited and their cognitive attachment easily shifts to another task soon after.  

Still interested in teaching your child code?

Of course, coding is cool and rewarding and should be suggested as early as possible, but only when your child has the aptitude and interest. 10 years and above is good enough. Linus Torvalds for example, started messing with the computer at 11.

But first, your child has the important and enviable task JUST to be a child. She is tasked to know and love her family, master communication skills, socialize, embrace nature, use technology like everyone else, and SIMPLY grow up! She is not an experimental toy.

Also by interacting with the world and people around her, she will discover her talent, creativity, and learn empathy, all of which are critical in body and mental growth. Probably then, she will discover her true career path. It is uniquely important she is exposed to different opportunities and skills-sets and allowed to make informed choices.

When finally she chooses a career she desires, she will be ready to hassle with life and work challenges and probably code out relevant solutions – if she chooses to code!