Do Your Kids Need to Learn to Code? YES! But Not for the Reasons You Think

Grant Hosford

Coding is having its 15 minutes of fame. Journalists regularly quote facts about the shortage of computer programmers in the US, entrepreneurs fund coding camps for low opportunity kids and even the President has given learning to code a thumbs up.

For many parents and teachers this new focus on learning to code feels like an overhyped fad that will be replaced any day now by “learning particle physics” or “learning solar energy storage.” And does anyone really believe that turning a whole generation of kids into programmers would be a good outcome for society? What about artists, doctors, musicians and mechanics? What about chefs, writers, electricians and plumbers? Why exactly do kids need to learn to code?

Why is coding so darn important!?

The answer starts with the fact that, love it or hate it, we live in an increasingly digital world. Education is no longer about learning facts. Facts are at our fingertips at all times. Learning is now about quickly sourcing reliable information, creative problem solving, logical thinking, self-management and mental flexibility. The jobs of tomorrow demand this and I’m obsessed with preparing my three kids, ages 6, 8 and 13, for “real life.”

So, when my daughter Naomi begged to take a LEGO robotics class at her elementary school two years ago I said yes because it sounded like a door to the future. She loved it and asked me to come check it out. I was surprised to find that in a class of 25 kids she was the only girl and the youngest student by two years. That week I researched options for teaching young kids about computer science and was even more surprised to find there were very few resources for young kids and no real concept of an “ABCs” of computer science.

For more than 40 years computer science has been taught in roughly the same way. It’s been reserved primarily for gifted older kids and was introduced in a very dry way. Only a handful would stick with it and discover that making things on computers is fun, rewarding and easier than you might think. I became a little obsessed with the topic and researched two things: how young is too young to teach computer science? And, what are the benefits of studying it?

Fortunately, there is great research from MIT and Tufts showing how kids as young as 4 years old can learn very sophisticated computer science concepts if you get the mouse, keyboard and syntax (meaning “how code is written”) out of the way (for example). In addition, related research shows that young kids who study computer science improve transferrable skills like sequencing, which has a direct positive correlation with improved reading comprehension.

The more research I did, the more computer science looked like the perfect gateway to 21st century skills. The logical problem solving and algorithmic thinking at the core of computer science force kids to think about thinking – a process referred to as meta-cognition that has proven benefits related to self-monitoring and independent learning.

But aren’t there many other ways to teach concepts like creative problem solving beyond computer science and programming? Yes, absolutely. However, as I’ve come to appreciate deeply, the study of computer science elegantly teaches ALL of the concepts I’ve outlined above and has the huge added benefit of transforming children from consumers of technology to creators of technology. This means that no matter what a child’s core skills are, an understanding of computer science allows them to leverage those skills beyond what they could achieve on their own.

Imagine a ballerina who creates an app that “watches” her form with a smartphone camera and can provide feedback on a routine. Or the doctor who creates software to analyze patient data and finds a new correlation between regular exercise and immune system function. Or the stay at home parent who creates an app that helps organize neighborhood car pools for sporting events and after school activities.

So, do I want my kids to learn about computer science and programming? Absolutely. We spend a few hours a week on different programs, including the game my company makes called The Foos. However, it’s much more important to me that they learn how to think and how to be lifelong learners. Ultimately these skills will give them a real advantage in a hyper competitive world… and they just might make something really cool along the way.

This blog is part of our Smart Parents series in partnership with the Nellie Mae Education Foundation. For more information about the project, see Parents, Tell Your Story: How You Empower Student Learning as well as other blogs:

Grant Hosford is CEO at codeSpark. Follow him on Twitter, @codesparkceo.

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Dennis Ashendorf

Reluctant math students in a continuation high school will often work well in graphical computer science activities. Courses 2, 3 & 4 on have the highest success rate, which leads into Google/Scratch's CS-First or Autodesk's Project Ignite nicely.

This type of work leads to algorithmic and systems thinking, with reasonable engagement. This may not be perfectly academic, but it's far better than trying to force students to use pencils.

Drew Garcia

I agree - it's important that kids are introduced in a way that links programming to some other benefit (even if that benefit is an entertaining game with friends). Few kids out there will be excited about programming just to learn programming. But they will get excited if they can combine programming with their other interests and hobbies.

I'm the father of 3 young girls - in the same way I want them to learn a foreign language at an early age, I'd love for them to get exposed to coding. The structured, logical thinking will help them throughout their lives.

Too bad these apps weren't around when I was a kid!

Barbara Osborne-Monaghan

Thank you for the great article, Grant. I am a registered ECE with the local school boards, currently supply teaching. Where can I find access to coding games or other teaching web sites for kindergarten and primary grades please? I'd love to check it out further.

Grant Hosford

codeSpark has a FREE curriculum and solutions guide for teachers here -
Our curriculum will be expanded from the current 4 lessons to 10+ by the end of the summer.

Another good option is our partner While resources for K-3 are limited to codeSpark and 1-2 others, they have links to lots of great resources for 4th grade and up.
I hope that helps,

Gwen Thompson

@Barbara Osborne-Monaghan I found this article on Edutopia and subscribed it. I found the comments to be as informative as the actual article because some of the links are more current. You will also find me (in the comments) talking up CodeSpark's game the Foos. I promise I have no affiliation with them, I just have had a wonderful experience with them and love their approach to educational gaming. I feel like the more we advocate for them the more wonderful things they will be able to do!


Completely agreed with what you said, it is important to introduce coding to kids at a early stage in this hyper competitive world. Teaching coding to kids has great benefits to their overall growth. It helps to improve their critical thinking as well as problem solving abilities. But the most difficult part is to generate among towards coding. So it is necessary to teach kids with the help of games or apps which makes understanding of basic coding concepts little easier. We at TechyKids Canada make sure that all students are given extensive coding knowledge which makes learning fun & interactive. Thanks for sharing this!

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