There’s no doubt children are exposed to more technology than ever before. Even babies seem to instinctively know how to swipe a smartphone before they can crawl.
“The kids of today, they tap, swipe, and pinch their way through the world,” says Finnish programmer and children’s book author Linda Liukas. “But unless we give them tools to build with computers, we are raising only consumers instead of creators.”
The kids of today, they tap, swipe, and pinch their way through the world. But unless we give them tools to build with computers, we are raising only consumers instead of creators.
There’s a pretty large “code literacy” movement going on that aims to make technology education more accessible. The people and organizations behind the movement are collectively saying yes to the same thing: to teach kids the skills and support they need to contribute to their technology-driven world, not just interact with it.
Harvard University’s Radhika Nagpal, who created a robot to teach kids coding, believes it’s important to start early and to provide equal opportunity for all young people.
“At Harvard, I teach really smart kids who’ve already made it through lots to get here,” Nagpal told The Atlantic. “But I look at the public schools around me, and there are many kids who aren’t even getting a chance to find out they love this stuff. They won’t find out till college, and that’s almost too late.”
A good place to start is to take a step back and look at the world through children’s eyes—which is what Liukas did before she wrote her children’s book, “Hello Ruby: Adventures in Coding.”
Using storytelling, Liukas introduces children to the concepts that lie at the heart of programming. The story follows 6-year-old Ruby as she interacts with a “whimsical” world, learning how to break down problems, create step-by-step plans, look for patterns, and think outside the box.
“In Ruby’s world, you learn technology through play,” Liukas says.
Mitch Resnick, who directs the Lifelong Kindergarten group at MIT Media Lab, says that while young people are often called “digital natives,” perhaps that’s not the most accurate assessment.
“Young people are very comfortable and familiar browsing and chatting and texting and gaming,” he says. “But that doesn’t really make you fluent. … It’s almost as if they can read but not write with new technologies.”
He believes that through coding, kids can start using technology to express themselves and to interact with the world around them. It’s why he created Scratch, a free platform where kids can create and share their own stories, games, and animations. Scratch uses colorful blocks that snap together to control characters’ behaviors.
“As kids are creating [games and stories in Scratch], they’re learning to code, but even more importantly, they’re coding to learn,” he says. “Because as they learn to code, it enables them to learn many other things, opens up many new opportunities for learning.”
As kids are creating [games and stories in Scratch], they’re learning to code, but even more importantly, they’re coding to learn. Because as they learn to code, it enables them to learn many other things, opens up many new opportunities for learning.
Beyond just saying yes to equipping kids to be the technology builders of tomorrow, code literacy advocates are also helping kids realize other important skills, like critical thinking and problem solving, that will help them shape the future of how we live, work, and play.