A friend of mine (http://carlknerr.com/) posted a link today to this Wired magazine article — http://www.wired.com/opinion/2013/09/ap_code/ — about teaching computer programming to young children, and asked for thoughts. I had a few. It started looking like a blog post, so I thought I’d post it here, too, trying not to edit too much so as not to feel too inhibited about blogging!
My first reaction was that the headline was overstated, which they always have to be to drive up clicks, right? “Forget Foreign Languages and Music. Teach Our Kids to Code.” Yeah. But the body of the article wasn’t as dismissive of foreign languages and music as the title implies, and was in fact using what we know about the advantages of learning those at an early age to support also learning to code young.
As described in the article, I was one of those kids in the mid-1980s who used Logo! My 4th grade teacher was getting her PhD in computers in elementary education, and did a computer programming unit with us (Apple IIc‘s and Apple IIe‘s, baby! it was 1984). I was 8 or 9, and I have to say this was one of the best things I did in all my K-12 schooling. My first experience with computers was as a programmer — I was in control, the master of the machine, not the other way around. From then on I had a sense of what was going on behind the curtains of all those pretty Mac programs I used in my teen years, and then the WWW and so forth. I knew computers programs were only as good and smart as the human-coded instructions that built them, so I could be a critical consumer and a power user.
Now, as a Waldorf parent, I’m 100% behind delaying technology use so that my children get a wholistic education that engages all their senses and their bodies in a healthy way… but when they do start using computers I want them to feel this mastery, too, and I feel like this age of 8 or 9 is about where it should come. I am actually at quite a milestone today in this journey – my son is 8, turning 9 in December, and today I got his Snap Circuits kit hooked in to my iPhone with an oscilloscope app, so that for the first time he’s using a computer/mobile device for something other than entertainment (which we kept really limited before now). he’s been building snap circuits and following the circuit diagrams since before he could read, so he already has that hacker attitude 😉 He taught himself how to construct all the logic circuits and can build them on demand without reference to instructions. so he’s totally primed for computer programming — I just still hesitate to plonk him in front of a computer when he could be out digging in the dirt!! In fact today he was just oriented to the farm chores he’ll be doing at school for years to come now.
I think music and languages are critically important to brain development, and what is more, can and should be taught with more human interaction than computer programming affords. But unless you’re planning to isolate a kid forever, they are going to grow up in a world that’s increasingly managed by computer programs, and giving them this mastery at the dawn of their computing years is very empowering whether or not they will become computer programmers. Of course in my ideal world children aren’t weaned onto iPads from infancy, but instead come to computers once they are ready to have mastery over them instead of being passive consumers.