As a busy parent, you have no interest in learning how to code. After a long day, the last thing you want to do is to spend many hours learning computer programming you won’t use. But your young son or daughter loves coding and you want to be able to support their interest. What should you do?
I have talked with hundreds of non-coder parents who are looking to encourage their student’s interest in programming. How can these parents give the support their kids need without knowing the what they are learning? Is it possible?
The good news is that you can be a valuable supplement to their coding education. Unfortunately, it will mean you will have to be comfortable with a different dynamic and it might be uncomfortable. You will no longer be the adult with all the answers, instead I encourage you to have a child-like curiosity.
What is the goal?
Keep in mind that developing programming skills is a long process. They won’t be a software engineer overnight, it takes thousands of lines of code and soft skills to develop the programmer mentality. The goal isn’t to have a programming career right now. It is to make sure your child stays interested long enough to realize the wide variety of benefits later in life.
Curiosity over knowledge
Children are curious about how things work. Have you ever been asked an endless string of “whys”? Why are we stopping for gas? Why are we almost out? Why do cars use it? Why? Why? Why?
You are used to having the answers. Unfortunately with coding, you don’t have the knowledge. While you could learn it ahead of your child and help them, it would take a huge time investment. Instead, I encourage you to simply be curious. Become comfortable not knowing everything and let your son or daughter provide the answers to your questions this time!
You can be curious about how programming works without personally investing the time to sit down at a computer to code. Let’s take a look at one high level concept and see how a curious parent can engage their kid coder.
Loops in the real world
Loops are a fundamental programming concept. They are a way to repeat something over and over again. Can you think of things that are repeated in the real world?
Keeping with the car example, someone on a road-trip might ask “Are we there yet” many times. If this were a computer program, it would be a loop. The driver looks at the road, rear-view mirror, side mirrors, and speedometer repetitively while driving. A computer would be able to repeat all those actions in order.
Are you curious to explore other applications of this concept in the real-world? They are all around us – brushing teeth is 30 back and forths on each part of your mouth – chopping vegetables in the kitchen – even breathing! Can you hold conversations like this with your child?
Tying it back to code
A parent curious about coding concepts is going to be able to connect with their young student. Discussing concepts off of the computer will naturally lead to looking at code together. You can easily ask, “can you show me an example of a loop in one of your projects?”
Don’t worry, you don’t have to write any code, or even understand it. Just giving your son or daughter the opportunity to explain the code is a great way to engage on the subject they are interested in. It will provide an opportunity to provide positive reinforcement with “wow that’s cool”, “great job”, and “keep it up”!
What are some ways you have been able to engage and encourage your child’s programming?