How to choose the first programming language for your kids

Which programming language should I choose? Can my child really pick up programming when he is only 9 years old?

These are some of the common questions that we hear  from parents. Choosing the first programming language for kids can be a little confusing. However, if you are planning to send your children to kids coding classes, you may wonder which language your little ones should start with. Computer programming for kids should be a fun and enjoyable experience. You should choose a language that is easy to learn, lets your kids learn the basics quickly, and provides a strong online community to support its users. The options are many; hence the confusion. However, don’t worry! Here are some tips on how to choose the first programming language for your kids.

Important things to consider

First things first, identify your objective. What do your kids want to accomplish with coding? Once you have a set goal, choosing a language becomes easier. For instance, Python (the reigning global #1 language in popularity) is a great option for those planning to create games or seeking a lucrative career opportunity, going forward. Some other factors to consider include:

  • Whether it is easy to use for beginners – Ideally, your kids should start with a coding language that lets them understand the basics without having to learn the complex vocabulary and syntax first. If your kids speak English, you may want to choose a coding language that has a vocabulary similar to that of the English language. Also, check the level of difficulty one has to face when learning a language. You can join online forums and read reviews to get an idea of what would be the right choice for your kids. Another alternative to foster a child the interest in programming is to provide them with coding books so that they will be exposed to what programming world is all about.
  • Whether they have a strong community – If they have an active, responsive community, you can ask questions and get the answers quickly. This makes learning easier for your kids. Most of the popular languages have a large, responsive community. Let’s take a look at some good options.

Popular programming languages for kids

Scratch – Suitable for Ages 8 upwards, Scratch is one of the most popular language options to start your kids on programming. It is the introductory programming language in many acclaimed universities around the world, including the Harvard University. This graphic based coding language is easy to learn and is highly recommended as the first language to start on. We also like the fact that preschoolers as young as 5 can create their own programming stories with their Scratch Junior for tablets!

MIT App Inventor – Like Scratch, MIT lets your kids’ innovate and improve their creative thinking ability, using a simple drag and drop interface. It also gives them a chance to create video games on their mobile devices, making it easy for the whole family to beat each other’s high score over dinner.

Python – We would recommend that your child moves on to Python after he has gotten a sold grasp of programming concepts and computational thinking using Scratch or MIT App Inventor, both of which cut down the tedium of memorising syntax and let kids skip straight to the actual programming with immediate output that they can understand.

That being said, the best thing about Python is that it can be used for many purposes, starting from creating web apps and video games to extracting data from the web. If your kids are good at mathematics, they will love to see the practical application of their math lessons in Python. Also, starting from 2017, 19 schools in Singapore will include Python as a key component of the “O” Levels for the subject, Computing.

Final thoughts

Starting your child on programming, like any new skill, requires constant practice. Regardless of which language you choose, computational thinking is an integral part of life. Don’t underestimate how you can help them along by spending quality time with them; for example, asking them to solve debugging puzzles every night, or even debating logically based on facts over dinner over different topics. Let them design robot cars that carry the keys to you every morning, or maybe even a doorbell for the house. Hopefully, these little projects will continue to inspire them to not only pick up programming, but also adopt it as a lifelong hobby.