Is your child fascinated by the idea of building video games, new apps, or websites? Are you wondering how in the world to help them? You’re not alone! People, especially children, are fascinated with exploring the world of coding. And why wouldn’t they be? In the U.S. alone, careers requiring software developers and coding are expected to grow 22% in the next 10 years. The number of global software developers is projected to grow by 3.2 million by 2024.
The ever-growing market of jobs and fun hobbies in this field, like writing video game scripts, involves at least a rudimentary coding knowledge. As a parent, it’s a good idea to at least learn the basics so you will be able to communicate with your child on the subject and guide them to the proper resources to help them in their journey in becoming a coder.
What is Code/Coding?
Let’s start at the very beginning: computer coding is the act of writing instructions for a computer to perform. This is different from medical coding and should not be confused. While coding began as an incredibly esoteric and difficult subject to pick up, the language and process have evolved in recent years so that even children can do it (sometimes a lot better and more easily than adults).
What You Need to Start Coding
You don’t need a particularly fancy computer to start writing code — you could even do it on your smartphone (though we don’t recommend it). If you have a computer that can run a web browser, you have all you need to get started.
How is Coding Different From Programming?
There can be some confusion between coding and programming because the roles overlap, but for this article, we are strictly talking about coding. Coding is the written instructions given to a computer to perform. Some coding programs start with the simple task of teaching a computer to say “hello” to the user. Next, a student might learn how to write the code for a simple video game.
Selecting a Coding Language
One of the first steps in starting to code is in selecting a language. In order to give instructions to a computer (in essence, coding), you have to give it instructions using a language that the computer will understand. There are many choices out there, and while it’s hard to say one language is better than another, there are certainly some that are easier for beginners to learn.
With that said, perhaps the most important factor in choosing your and your child’s first coding language is thinking about the kind of things you want to create. Do you want to make video games? A website? Or maybe you’re thinking of building your own little robots? Some languages are better suited for some tasks than others.
Let’s take a look at some popular languages for beginner coders as well as what they are best used for:
As far as programming languages for beginners, Python is one of the most commonly recommended and with good reason. It’s one of the easiest languages to learn right now; it’s used by professionals all over the world.
It’s worth noting that Python runs quite a bit slower than other programming languages, but that honestly won’t matter for many projects, especially when you’re just starting.
If you’re a Mac user, you might be best off choosing Swift as your first programming language. The language works natively across all Apple devices and is about as easy to learn as Python. If you’re interested in creating apps for iPhone, Apple watches, or any Mac device, this is the language for you. If you are working on a Windows computer, don’t worry, as Swift is available for Windows, too.
If you’re thinking about learning to make video games, then this is probably the best language to start with. Not only does the ultra-popular Unity game engine run C#, but the language is similar enough to C++ and (especially) Java, so that it would be easier to transition to them later down the road for Unreal Engine (a real-time 3-D video game creation tool) or Minecraft modding (making modifications to the Minecraft game).
Using a Code Editor or IDE
Once you’ve decided on a language to code in, it’s time to start writing. So, how exactly does someone “write” code? Technically, you can write code in any text editor program, from notepad to Office Word, but there is a specifically made text editing software, called Code Editors, designed to write code that acts as a code spelling and grammar checker. When you first start learning to code, you must pay special attention to capitalization, punctuation, and spelling. Semi-colons, parentheses, brackets, commas, and periods are also vital to your code running correctly, and misplacing them and misusing them will cause issues that are very hard to detect.
Fortunately, many coding languages have code editors that you can download to your computer. Early on, you won’t even need to download a code editor; you can just write, compile, and run your code in your browser. As you and your child advance, you will need to level up your software. That is where these popular code editors come in:
- Visual Studio: The official IDE by Microsoft, Visual Studio is the recommended editor for writing in C++ and C#. It comes with a ton of modular packages, depending on the kind of project you’re trying to make. It even has a package to work with Unity. Just be aware that Visual Studio can take up a pretty hefty amount of storage space, depending on the packages you choose to install.
- XCode: If you’re working on a Mac, XCode is probably your IDE of choice. It’s free to download from the Apple App Store, and it is designed to complement Apple’s language of choice— Swift. It also works with C++, Java, Python, and other languages.
- Replit.com: If you don’t want to go through the hassle of downloading your own code editor or IDE, using a web-based code editor like Replit, allows you to write all the same code that you would on your desktop. However, in the long-term, it’s strongly recommended that you eventually start coding on your desktop, not just in a browser.
Things to Watch for When You Code:
Once you’ve picked a language, got your code editor open, and now you’re starting from an empty page. But there are some common pitfalls to watch for when you start coding. It can be easy to get discouraged if you aren’t careful, so be mindful of these as you get started.
Start Small, Then Slowly Build-Up!
Perhaps the most common mistake when starting any hobby, not just coding, is going too big, too soon. You don’t begin a career in carpentry by building a house. In the same manner, you and your child probably won’t start coding by building complex video games or enterprise-level websites. Start with programming your computer to say something like, “Hello World”, then move to basic coding exercises centered around different lessons you learn.
With each small project under your belt, you and your child will be better equipped to move to slightly larger projects while having fun in the process.
Watch Your Syntax!
When you’re writing an English paper, a spelling mistake or two won’t ruin the whole thing. The same cannot be said for coding. Syntax is the coding word for “spelling and grammar.” It’s important that you pay special attention to capitalization and punctuation as they are all vital to having your code run correctly, and forgetting them or placing them incorrectly can cause issues.
Remember: Computers Aren’t Actually That Smart
This is the most challenging coding concept to wrap your head around when you’re first starting. As humans, we can pick up inferred meaning by reading between the lines and understanding context clues.
Computers have no such ability. They are completely and entirely literal. This means they will only ever do exactly what you tell them to do. If there are any mistakes in your logic, your computer won’t give you the results you expect—even if all of your syntaxes are correct.
The best way to fix errors in logic is to step away from the computer, pull out a pen and paper, and write it all out. It might seem counterintuitive since you’re trying to build computer software, but by writing things out on a notepad, you can catch potential mistakes in your logic that you would have missed otherwise.
Where to Get Started
If you’ve been reading this article with your child in mind, there’s no better starting point for their coding education than BYJU’S FutureSchool. We offer courses in coding, math, and music, with more on the way. Your child will have a live one-on-one session with a highly trained instructor when learning to code. They will work their way up from instructing their computer to say “hello” to creating original video games, apps, and websites. Check out the website to look over our catalog and sign up to get a FREE trial.