After attending a seminar at school about computer coding, I decided I needed to find out more about the wonderful world of code. What is it that is so important about coding, why is it becoming such a major part of the curriculum, and why are the kids completely hooked? We tracked down Heather Lyons, founder of blue{shift}coding and got some answers… Sit tight, and make notes, parents! 

For the parents out there that are still in the dark, tell us what coding is all about. 

It’s creating instructions for a computer to follow. In the past the emphasis has been on teaching children how to ‘use’ computers, but with coding, we’ve switched things around to empower children to program computers and look under the hood so that they can innovate with them.

How early can they start?

There are lots of programming toys suitable for younger children such as Bee Bots and Sphero. They need to be able to follow instructions. I would say 5 is a great age to get started. The younger they start, the more intuitive the concepts (‘computational thinking’) becomes.

Where do you start, is there one piece of coding that is taught first? 

See above. Robot toys such as Primo or Sphero. then onto a visual-based programming language like Scratch.

Is it easy for a parent to teach, or is this a specialist skill?

I think a lot of parents are afraid of computers and they shouldn’t be. There is a growing body of literature out there for children, but not so much for parents. I am writing a book called ‘How to Raise a Coder’ which will address this gap. We are also starting to run workshops for parents since we find there’s a growing demand for it.

Why is coding a good skill for a child to learn? 

It’s indispensable if they’re to understand how the world around them works (computers are in everything!!) and necessary in order for them to innovate in the future. There is not a single career that will not be touched by computing in some way ”” from farming to medicine!

Is it fun? Do children enjoy coding? 

They love it. They get to make their own computer games and control their own robots!! What could be better? It does get more challenging as they get older and move onto text-based languages, so it’s important to keep them engaged and motivated.

Is digital literacy as important as reading and writing? 

It’s a form of literacy. It’s critical to understanding how the world around us works.

Is it something boys excel at more than girls? 

No way!! There has been lots written about how girls often make better programmers than boys. I have found when I teach girls and boys that the two sexes often approach problems differently ”” girls might be more interested in narrative and boys might just want to get things built. I really hate generalisations (as a woman who has trained in the sciences) but I think that this difference in approach is a strength that should be encouraged.

Is coding now part of the curriculum or will it soon be?

It has been part of the curriculum since sept 2014 and schools are getting increasingly up to speed.

Is coding a good way for children to be creative?

It teaches fantastic problem solving skills – it’s really all about making.

Elizabeth Tweedale (left) and Heather Lyons(right).

Elizabeth Tweedale (left) and Heather Lyons(right).