Do you hear the words ‘coding’ or ‘programming’ and feel lost? Many parents do! Sure you might know they have something to do with computers, but do you know what? How do you help your child get started with coding when you don’t even know what to do yourself? The good news is you don’t have to become a coding or programming whiz to learn what it is, how to do it, and where you can go to give your child the best coding education.

WHAT is coding, exactly?

Between the two, coding is simpler to learn and create. One way to understand coding is to think of it like a recipe for, say, a chocolate souffle. Like the souffle recipe, coding is basically a set of instructions that tell a computer what to do in order to function. But instead of a chocolatey dessert, the computer might send an email. That’s because a computer can only work by reading and following a pre-written set of instructions

What happens if your souffle recipe is written in a language you can’t understand? Just like you won’t be making your souffle unless it’s in a language you can read, computer instructions need to be written in a language that the computer can understand. Sources vary on how many computer coding languages are out in the world; some say there are 6500+ (more than there are spoken languages) and some say around 700 with more being created daily. Either way, there are a lot! Here are a few you might have heard of: 

  • Python
  • Java
  • C++
  • Javascript
  • And many more!

Using these coding languages, a computer can do everything from running this very website to enabling a smart fridge to identify the foods in it and determine the proper temperature. The more specialized the computer, the more specialized the instructions.

WHAT is programming?

Going back to the cooking analogy, think of coding to programming as what baking is to a pastry chef. There is planning, preparation, and problem-solving that goes into developing and building software (or a new recipe for that light, puffy chocolate souffle).

This is a bit of an oversimplification, but before any instructions can be written for a computer, a programmer needs to identify a problem or need, decide on a solution, map out how to achieve that solution, create or supervise the creation of the software, and work to debug any issues. As you can see, the programmer is often writing code as well, or they may hire a coder to write the computer’s instructions for them. It may be easier to think of a programmer as a construction contractor. They supervise the work being done on a building project. They may jump in and do a lot of the work, too, but the construction crew (the coders) will handle large amounts of the construction. 

After they write the code, the programmer and/or coder are responsible for testing and monitoring how it performs as well as fixing any errors. Likewise, a pastry chef has to plan the ingredients needed and the steps that are required for creating a new recipe before she begins actually baking.

WHAT is a real world example?

Now let’s assume the pastry chef has mastered her souffle and has decided to start a bakery specializing in souffles. She decides she needs a website to help potential customers find the bakery and the menu.

Let’s break down the bakery website’s programming process step-by-step:

  • Identify the Problem: The bakery needs a website.
  • Decide on a Solution: Build an attractive web page with an online menu and the ability to order food online.
  • Map out the steps to achieve that solution: This process involves making outlines of what the page will look like and how it will be laid out, as well as building flow charts for defining how the code will work.
  • Write the Code: Now the flow charts, layout drafts, and other notes can be used as the blueprint for actually building the website. To build the website, the coder will have to use a language that the computer understands (in this case, a mixture of HTML, CSS, Javascript, and a few other tools) to create the website pages and links. 
  • Maintain the Site: Once the website is live, it is necessary to keep it up-to-date and to watch for potential problems. 

HOW do I start my child’s coding education?

In many contexts, the terms “coding” and “programming” are used interchangeably. Many coding courses will include elements of programming, and every programming course will involve coding. The extent of the crossover will depend largely on the material being learned and the focus for the course objectives.

Even knowing what programming and coding are, it can be difficult as parents to understand how to get your child started. Here are two good introductory tools and additional terminology that can help you and your child develop a solid foundation in coding and programming:

Scratch

What kid doesn’t think of creating an amazing video game? Game development is often used for teaching programming to children because it’s a naturally interesting subject for them. Many coders get their start by diving into an educational game-making tool like Scratch. Don’t be fooled by its simplistic exterior—Scratch provides all the building blocks to construct your child’s foundation in programming. They will learn by using drag-and-drop code blocks to create a game. Scratch is extremely intuitive. A child can pick it up quickly and easily start making games. This simplicity encourages its users to experiment, plan, and build creative projects.

Roblox

One of the most popular game-building platforms in the world, Roblox  is an expansive gaming package and education system rolled into one. Not only can your child play countless creations built by other players, but they can dive into Roblox’s game studio software to create experiences of their own that they can share with friends. While building games in Roblox is a bit more complex than Scratch, it’s a great starting point for future programmers, especially if they are already playing on the platform!

WHAT are different computer languages?

Computers speak different languages just like humans speak different languages. In order to instruct a computer to follow commands, a coder must use a language the computer can understand, like: Python, Java, C#, and C++. Often, a coder knows how to write instructions in many different programming languages. 

Python

 Python is a great general-use programming language for all manner of projects (including game development). The language is easily learned and used by professional programmers all over the world.

Javascript, HTML, & CSS

These three languages are the tools used for web development. Virtually any modern website is built on a combination of these three languages. HTML and CSS are intuitive and comparatively easy to pick up on their own. Javascript, however, can be a little more difficult to learn. Still, it is often used as a first programming language for beginners because it works so well with HTML & CSS.

Java or C#

These two languages are paired together because they are incredibly similar. Both are quite popular as beginner programming languages for teenagers and adults and are widely used in the programming industry. Generally speaking, both of these are more difficult to learn than the previously listed toolsets, but they serve as a solid foundation for branching out into other languages. It’s best to tackle these as a first programming language if your child is already comfortable with algebra and other high school math. Java is used to make Minecraft mods and C# is used to make video games with a software called Unity.  

Java vs. Javascript

In case you were wondering, Java and Javascript are not the same. 

Click here for a brief explanation of the long and complicated history of how Javascript obtained its strangely similar name to Java. As for modern usage, in simple terms, Javascript is used mostly for the parts of a website that a user sees (though it can be and is used for so much more), while Java is often used for desktop applications and handling the complex logic in websites that the user doesn’t see.

C++

This language could perhaps be considered the granddaddy of modern programming.  Essentially, if you can code in C++, you can code in any of the above languages. However, out of everything listed, C++ is also one of the more difficult languages to learn for beginners. It is mostly for students who have already started experimenting with computer architecture including software and hardware.

WHERE can my child learn to code?

Now that you know some of the tools you might want your child to learn, it’s important to consider where and how they learn them. While they may be able to learn some bits and pieces about coding from online tutorials and web forums, when it comes to early coding foundations, an experienced instructor is irreplaceable.This is where BYJU’S FutureSchool comes in. We are an online STEAM school with 211,000+ students in 39 countries taking courses in Coding, Math, and Music, with even more expanded curriculums on the way. Regardless of your child’s experience in coding, there’s a course available to get them started or take them to the next level. The best news is that you and your child can try it for free! Click here to book a FREE trial with BYJU’S FutureSchool.

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