Updated: Oct 26, 2020
Activities such as sewing, running, and cooking don't seem as satisfying as being on my device where I can reply immediately to e-mails and text messages, and read news and be connected to my friends at all hours of the day. To what end am I scrolling? What are we getting from all our time in front of screens? Studies show the answer may be stress, anxiety and fear-of-missing-out. Even if we are gaming and having fun online with others, the lack of physical activity and personal interaction is harmful to our health. That's why screen time should have stretch goals. Stretch goals are goals that are difficult or temporarily challenging. Time on screens can be productive.
Balance the fun of being online with a natural desire to learn and build things, and you have coding. But it's all about picking fun projects, and the reward comes during the process of making something complicated that works. This is why I'm calling coding a stretch goal, because learning a new language is hard. Yet the higher the frustration level, the more rewarding your student will find coding. If we only get students to the point of being able to follow directions and type in exactly what we say, that does not serve them well in the long term. Coding is an activity where it helps to talk out logic and to think through problems with others, so it's not supposed to be a lonely, isolated activity.
At the risk of repeating what I think is widely known at least in my world, here is a list of six reasons why your child (and you) should learn to code. The practice of learning to code does the following:
teaches problem-solving skills, helping think logically and sequentially
teaches collaboration and teamwork
encourages creativity when creating code
applies rules of language (like grammar) to the language of computers
inspires curiosity about how electronics and software work
paves a path for future career opportunities
Coding is rewarding not only because students build something out of nothing and learn to break problems down into smaller pieces, but also because they are learning a valuable skill for future job opportunities by learning to program computers using various computer languages such as Python and Java. We encourage you to stretch your students' screen time with coding.
Practically speaking, it will be hard to stop that YouTube video or Minecraft world to start coding a project in Python, so you should set aside a regular hour for coding and have kids stop what they are doing 30 minutes before coding time. It is likely that 30 minutes will turn into 15 or 10 minutes, but make sure they stop to take a break, close distracting windows, and refocus. The reason I know this will be difficult is the reason I have a hard time stopping my screen time to exercise with a video. It is hard to find the motivation to do something hard and easier to continue routine habits like scrolling through social media feeds, reading news stories on the health crisis, or playing Candy Crush. The best a parent can do is set a timer and establish a routine and possibly a reward system. It would be a fun project to create an app that tracks how many minutes a person codes each day like an activity tracker. In any case, structure and expectations are key.
Keep in mind that we all want to be better, to make the most of our time and to accomplish things. Try to appeal to the desire to improve. Websites like code.org or scratch.mit.edu have tutorials that are fun to complete, but if you need support please reach out. Even though My Coding Place can run classes virtually, we have always preferred to be in our studio physically present with kids and teachers interacting face-to-face which is the most effective way to learn. However, we prioritize safety above all else so we continue virtually. There is a lot to be said for structure and expectations. If you need help setting aside time for your child to code or finding resources and material, let us know and we would be happy to help! After all, there are six good reasons to stretch their screen time!