So you’re thinking of introducing your child to the wild and wonderful world of computer science? Amazing!
But if you’re not sure where to start, don’t worry—This is the first and last stop on your quest for computer science knowledge.
If you or your child have been wanting to learn more about coding, game development, web design, and more, this ultimate guide to computer science for kids is designed to point you in the right direction.
Defining Computer Science
The term computer science actually refers to a whole family of subjects but can be loosely defined as the study of computers and everything that goes on inside them.
A good deal of computer science is based on math, and it often requires a lot of problem-solving, making it a field that combines both logic and creativity.
With technology advancing at the speed of light, computer science is all around us, and it’s becoming more and more present in our everyday lives.
Whether it’s the computer or phone you’re reading this article on, the software that makes your fancy coffee machine run, or the website you check each morning to get your news, chances are at least a little bit of computer science knowledge was required to make it happen.
Some of the many different disciplines that fall under the umbrella of computer science include:
Artificial intelligence – Also called A.I., artificial intelligence is the simulation of human intelligence in electronics. We’ve managed to program computers to solve complex problems and even learn from their mistakes! Robots, voice-controlled personal assistants, and self-driving cars are all examples of technology that rely on artificial intelligence.
Software engineering – Software engineers are the people that create the programs and applications we use. Your computer’s operating system? Check. Your favorite video game? Check. The app you use to order food when neither you nor your partner wants to cook for the family? Double check! This branch of computer science is all about what goes on behind the scenes to make a computer program work.
- Visual computing – All things visual, including special effects in movies, video game graphics, virtual reality, and more, fall into this category. What we normally see as an awe-inspiring effect on TV is usually the outcome of digital information being interpreted by a program to look a certain way. There are tons of applications for visual computing, including in the medical field, making it one of the most exciting disciplines in computer science.
As you can imagine, there’s plenty of crossover between different branches of computer science and a lot of collaborative effort that goes into making the products we interact with daily.
The examples listed above are just a few of the many sides of computer science, and as the field continues to expand, the list is likely to grow. And while a lot of the concepts involved can be quite complex, there are still ways for interested kids to jump into the code-learning process.
How To Start Learning
If you think your child might want to know more about computer science, there are several methods to introduce them to the idea. Below are 4 different ways to help your kid start learning about computer science.
#1 Instill a Sense of Wonder
Maybe your child is already a little curious about computers and how they work. If that’s the case, encouraging that curiosity is the right move. Try to answer every question they have about the technology they interact with, even if it’s a simple explanation, using terms and concepts they already know. This also means looking up any answers you don’t know and learning along with your kids!
If they’ve yet to express a real interest in the secrets that make technology tick, but it’s something you think they would enjoy, try asking them some questions.
For example, if they’re playing games on a tablet, you could ask, “How do you think this game works?” By inspiring them to wonder what goes on inside the devices they use, they may end up taking an interest in computer science later on.
No matter your child’s age or experience with technology, finding ways to encourage excitement about computer science is an ideal first step to helping them want to learn more about it.
#2 Work on Math Skills
There’s a lot of arithmetic that goes into many branches of computer science. While the idea of math can make some of us run the other way, it’s good to start practicing math with your children as early as possible if you want them to excel at computing later on.
Finding age-appropriate activities that involve a bit of math is the perfect way to prepare your child for all the equations that are required in the computer sciences. Ensuring that they enjoy it is vital, too—the last thing you want is to leave them with the same dislike of math that many of us have!
#3 Practice Problem-Solving
Practicing problem-solving will set your child up for success in the competitive field of computer science. Since a lot of the work in the field requires creative solutions to problems that arise, having your child use logic to resolve simple issues can be a fantastic way to practice those skills.
There are dozens of ways to practice logical problem solving, including:
- Riddles and brain teasers
- Scavenger hunts
While coming up with made-up scenarios for your child to puzzle over can be beneficial, having your child tackle real-world problems they run into can be equally rewarding. When your child comes to you with a problem of their own, instead of helping them right away with an answer, see what they come up with as a solution. That way, kids can apply their newly learned skills to real life.
#4 Start With the Basics
Even though software engineering and game development make use of complicated processes, computer scientists still need to know the fundamentals, many of which can be approached at a young age. You can explain simple coding concepts to your children in ways they’ll understand, such as:
Algorithms – These are the commands that a computer carries out, one by one. It’s a lot like when a parent asks a child to do the dishes or tidy their room.
Sequencing – This refers to the specific order in which computers interpret their instructions (code) in order to function properly. For example, you wouldn’t put a dish in the drying rack before scrubbing it with soap and water—some things need to happen first.
- Looping – When a sequence is performed more than once, either continually or for a set amount of times, this is called a loop. For example, if it’s your child’s job to do the dishes every Tuesday and Thursday, that would be considered a loop!
Having a basic comprehension of terms like these put into contexts they can understand will give kids a head start to basic coding for kids, especially when they get their hands on an actual computer.
Things to Keep in Mind
Before starting your child’s journey towards computer science, there are a couple of considerations to take. If you keep these things in mind while guiding your kid down the path to a future in computing, you’re in for a smooth ride!
First and foremost, make learning about computer science an enjoyable experience. The best way to introduce new concepts to young children is to do so in a fun, exciting way that resonates with them. Try turning learning into friendly competitions or encourage coding activities for kids to heighten your child’s enthusiasm.
The skills involved in computer science basics—arithmetic, problem-solving, and critical thinking—aren’t necessarily what you think of right away when you think of fun. But by getting creative yourself and making these activities approachable to your kids, you’re ensuring that they’ll at least enjoy themselves, even if they ultimately decide they’re not interested in computer science.
Don’t Force It
If you feel like you’ve tried everything and the excitement for computer science isn’t sticking with your kid, don’t push too hard. Maybe now isn’t the right time, and they’ll be more invested in the process in a few years. Or maybe their interest or skill lies elsewhere, and the world of computer science isn’t where they want to spend their time.
Either way, that’s fine! Computer science is definitely not for everyone, though anyone can do it if they set their mind to it. The trick is to listen to your child’s needs and adjust the activities you have them doing accordingly. If you continue to make changes and your kids are still not responding well, taking a little break can be just as necessary as pushing through the rough patches.
Has this guide piqued your interest? Does coding or programming concepts sound like something your child would enjoy? Then maybe it’s time to jump into the world of computer science with something that combines the practice of computer science skills with the fun of an RPG (role-playing game) experience.
Disney Codeillusion is an online program that explores the magic of computer programming, starting with the very basics and working all the way up to practical skills in web design, media art, and more. With animated Disney friends joining you along the way, the course is designed for people with no prior experience in computer science, and is perfect when introducing kids to coding. A free trial is available now, making Disney Codeillusion an excellent way to get your kid started in the field of computer science.
- U.S.News. What Can You Do With a Computer Science Degree? https://www.usnews.com/education/best-graduate-schools/articles/2019-05-02/what-can-you-do-with-a-computer-science-degree
- DePauw University. Why Study Computer Science? https://www.depauw.edu/academics/departments-programs/computer-science/why-study-computer-science/
- Britannica. Computer science. https://www.britannica.com/science/computer-science