Technology is changing our world, and today kids as young as five years of age are learning to program computers. Learning to code is not only helpful in promoting qualities that are important to nurture in kids — perseverance, creativity and confidence — but it is also helpful in gaining invaluable critical thinking and STEM skills that support learning across all academic areas.
Creativity, for example, is a skill that can be developed and learned at home and in school through the cultivation of an experimenter’s mindset, whole brain thinking and an innate desire to be a creator (and not just a consumer). Kids embrace imaginative play, ask questions, paint colorful pictures and build elaborate things with blocks, but somewhere along the way the capacity for creative thinking diminishes. It’s not due to the lack of a “creative gene”, but rather that we haven’t reinforced creativity — and as researcher George Land concludes from his longitudinal study on creativity and divergent thinking, we have unlearned it.
Programming Teaches Kids to Experiment and Persevere
Creative thinking begins with a questioning mindset. It can be taught by encouraging kids to experiment, explore their ideas, question their assumptions, make mistakes and learn from them. Thomas Edison was a master of this type of thinking. He tested thousands of materials and processes before creating the first working light bulb. “I have successfully discovered 1,000 ways to NOT make a light bulb,” he famously said. With programming, kids are exposed to this process of experimentation. They start by learning a handful of commands to do simple tasks, and with each successful result, they slowly gain the confidence try new and more ambitious things, things that force them to question each decision and ask “What if I tried X?” Testing their assumptions in a live environment frequently results in errors and bugs, giving kids the opportunity to find a workable solution. With practice, kids gain a proficiency in their technical and hypothesizing skills, allowing them to move onto solving increasingly complex problems, and, eventually, to building programs completely on their own.
Programming Strengthens Whole Brain Thinking
Each side of the brain is said to control different parts of thinking and information processing. The left hemisphere is typically associated with logical, technical, and analytical thinking, whereas the right hemisphere is associated with imagination, artistic, intuitive thinking. We tend to think of creativity as a right-brain function, but the most creative thinkers and problem solvers can effectively engage both hemispheres. This idea of marrying “art with science” is what Steve Jobs built Apple on, and it’s this kind of “whole brain” thinking that teachers have been embracing in the classroom by promoting active, project based learning, using everything from 3D printers to sewing machines to encourage kids to create, design and build things.
Programming Gives Kids the Confidence to Create
Like learning a sport or a musical instrument, the cultivation of creativity requires hard work and practice. For kids, if the work is confusing, monotonous or the end goal unappealing, the desire to practice weakens. Kids must be motivated. They need to be in an environment that builds confidence and instills in them a genuine desire to create. Kids pick up on technology with shocking ease, so giving them a basic knowledge of programming on a coding platform that is fun and easy to use is one of the best ways they can spend time in practice and actually enjoy the process. Learning programming on the right platform, one that is structured, engaging and well paced, puts kids on the path to fluency in the language and logic of programming, and ultimately gives them a springboard to create – to not just play the games that they love, but to create the games they love to play. What an amazing gift.
Learning to code is very much like learning a new language – it gives kids a fluency not just in technology, but also in the language of creativity. Maria Klawe, mathematician, computer scientist and president of Harvey Mudd College believes that “coding is today’s language of creativity. All our children deserve a chance to become creators instead of consumers of computer science.” It doesn’t mean they’ll all grow up to be computer programmers. Programming is part of the development of a valuable technical and creative skill set that will grow with them into adulthood, enabling them to thrive in our ever growing digital world. It’s creativity that lays the foundation for innovation, ingenuity and leadership because it represents the ability to connect existing ideas with new solutions, approaches and concepts. And we owe it to our curious and imaginative kids to give them the tools to be the creative thinkers and problem solvers of the next generation.
Jennifer Apy is an involved parent, a public education supporter and champion for innovative educational products for children. She is currently VP of Marketing for Tynker.