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The Art of Programming and Coding

In this article, Sarita Rao offers her expert insight into the coding and programming arena for children, an undoubtedly important part of the spectrum of modern education. If you have any further question on how to help your child learn programming and code, please call one of our consultants today or use our online enquiry form further down this page.

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To code or to programme?

With the introduction of coding lessons into the National Curriculum, parents may feel that their children will be ready for anything an uncertain future can throw at them. However, there are new calls to shift the focus of learning to programming. This is more like asking children to learn to use a language rather than learn the grammar, spelling and punctuation that constitute the language. We suggest a middle route – if your child shows an interest in learning code, then you can foster it with some of the programming apps mentioned in the article below.

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You might also want to look at this inspiring TED talk about a 12 year old Thomas Suarez who explain how his school App Club works. As Thomas points out, children can go to a soccer coach if they want to learn to play soccer. Frustratingly, today students often know more than the teachers about technology, so where do they go to learn how to make an app? 12 year old Thomas Suarez explains how he taught himself to create them in this video.

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Can children learn from apps?

As technology evolves fast, it’s sometimes difficult for parents to keep up and understand the benefits and the pitfalls of screen time on tablets and smartphones.

Yet today there are hundreds of tablets on the market designed solely for children, with extra parental security, many retailing at less than £100. Last year, Amazon reduced the cost of the Kindle Fire to make it cheaper than buying ten paperback books.

Most parents are wise enough to set technology time limits, but how often do they consider what is being used on the screen?

There are now a plethora of apps targeting education, from early years’ phonics and flashcards, to simple maths and spelling, to language and science apps for teenagers.

Could apps be used to supplement your child’s school education?

The question really revolves around what sort of learning your child is experiencing. Apps for learning to read, spell and do maths are often fun and interactive, combining learning with monsters or mummies and rewarding children with animations or praise when they get things right.

Sometimes an app can be just what’s needed to get your child interested in something new like a language. The Australian government recently launched a language app to tackle a sharp decline in rates of children taking up languages. It has already shown some early success, with numbers of children learning Indonesian on the rise.

Apps provide small, bite-size forms of learning and practise. Spending 15 minutes a day brushing up on a new language or practising times tables won’t hurt a primary aged child. In fact apps may be a way to ensure your child practises maths every day.

Likewise, an eager reader may benefit from consuming books on a Kindle, which also provides a dictionary to help with any words a child doesn’t know. It’s environmentally friendly and usually cheaper to buy books for e-readers.

However, there is no substitute for time focused on an individual child’s learning, from a teacher a parent or a tutor. Apps target broad audiences, so if your child is finding something difficult, or lacks confidence, there is no one at the end of the app to explain it to your child.

Take for example a child struggling with subtraction or division. If he or she gets the sum wrong on the app, they can go back to the start and just keep pressing until they get it right. Will they have learned the underlying method for arriving at the right answer? Probably not. In addition, if they keep getting the answer wrong it might reinforce the idea that they are ‘bad’ or ‘useless’ at maths, thus deflating self esteem even further.

Parents and tutors can work on areas of strength and weakness in an individual child, and most importantly, explain the method behind the maths, or explain in detail what a word means, and how we might use it in language.

Often confidence is a key issue in a child’s learning development, and teachers and tutors will verify that most children don’t learn in a linear way, but in spurts, sometimes forgetting what they’ve learned or losing confidence. It takes time and a great deal of patience, as well as a good understanding of a particular child’s way of learning.

Studies have also shown that in early years, online learning can restrict the senses too – with children not using smell or texture to learn about their environment.

Of course there is no doubt that technology is here to stay and is a benefit. Using apps to combine learning with fun, in short sharp doses, or to encourage a child to read, is a good way to reinforce or supplement classroom or home learning.

However, if you think your child is struggling with the basics in reading, writing and maths, there is no substitute for one to one help. After all, we are not the creation of technology, and as humans, we learn best from other people around us.

Top 10 parent tips for using apps for learning

  1. Decide how you want to use apps to improve your child’s learning.
  2. Check out which apps get the best rating from other parents.
  3. Review all apps before your child uses them. Is there too much music and animation that will distract from any learning?
  4. Set a time limit for learning using apps for each day. Learning online in short bite-size pieces is best.
  5. Don’t forget screen time should include ‘play’ and ‘fun’ not just learning, otherwise your child might be see technology as just another form of homework.
  6. Spend time talking to your child about what they’ve learned.
  7. If they’re using apps to learn maths, check they understand the methodology for getting the right answer.
  8. If they’re using apps for language, make sure they know how to sound out, say or pronounce a word.
  9. Work with teachers and tutors to choose apps that reinforce the curriculum – this could include science, biology and art too.
  10. Most educational apps are ‘ad free’ but use parental control settings to depress advertising and set time limits.