Cracking Coding for Kids


About a year ago, I noticed Rahni becoming more advanced in Minecraft, ie., being able to play in survival mode without dying. She was able to do this because she has researched strategies and tips. Through the help of You Tube, the Minecraft Essentials books, a week long summer camp devoted to Minecraft,  and other websites, she was finally able to grasp the concept and make the game more enjoyable. While I was hugely impressed by her ability to figure things out and research online different strategies, I was growing more and more concerned with the amount of time she was spending playing games.

Then it hit me.

Me: Rahni, do you want to learn about computer coding?
Rahni: What’s that?

Me: It’s teaching you language to tell the computer what to do in order to do things like make games and websites.

Rahni: Like Minecraft?

Me: Yes.

Rahni: Yes!

That was easy.

The hardest part is finding where to start and most importantly, affordable options.

From my research I have found so much useful information and I’d like to pass this information off to you. 

Since there is a projected increase of STEM jobs in our country between now and 2020 of 14%, there is a push in the school system to have more programs and material in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics so that our children are prepared to take those jobs. I think that this is awesome because our children will benefit greatly from having a strong foundation in all of these areas. However, the truth is that many of our children, especially those that are African American and/or poor, will not get the support and instruction that is needed in order for them to be successful. As we all know, there is a huge disparity in income and access to resources causing it to be extremely difficult for children of lower income homes to be able to take advantage of the STEM programs that are available. Many of these programs start in the low hundreds.

Research shows that children in lower income homes actually handle technological devices more frequently than their wealthier counterparts. What does this mean? This means that all is not loss, and that we just need to use our technology in more productive ways. If I’m reading it correctly, it also means that a lot of children have access to smart phones, tablets, iPods, laptops, and desktops but they are not being taught how to use them as educational tools; they’re mostly only using them for entertainment. While this is disappointing, it also creates a huge opportunity.

*Soapbox* I’ve always said that if you have a smart phone that is capable of browsing the Internet and downloading  games, then there’s no reason why your child shouldn’t be reading books and learning on it.

To combat the education/technology gap, in some parts of the country there are free and income based STEM programs geared toward marginalized groups such as girls, children from lower income homes, and African Americans. For those of us that don’t have access to any programs like these, and who cannot afford the ones offered in our area, there is the interwebs.

The Internet is chock full of blogs, videos, articles, websites, apps, etc. that have of information on STEM and STEM related resources that can help you and your child. The key is that you have go out there and look for it.

I’ve been researching STEM for elementary school aged children for a couple years now and we have been able to benefit tremendously from the information I have found. From simple tutorials like using Word to more specific subject matter like building robots, there are so many resources to help you teach your child.

Since my daughter’s primary interest is gaming and gaming related subject matter, I will provide you with some of the references that I have found extremely helpful. Some of the websites are free or offer free activities. Some of the websites may also offer fee based courses/programs.

Coding For Kids For Dummies by Camille McCue

Helping Your Kids With Computer Coding by DK Publishing
DK Workbooks: Computer Coding by DK Publishing

Learn to Program with Scratch: A Visual Introduction to Programming with Games, Art, Science, and Math by Majad Marji

Lauren Ipsum: A Story About Computer Science and Other Improbable Things by Carlos Bueno

Hello World!: Computer Programming for Kids and Other Beginners by Warren and Carter Sande

JavaScript for Kids: A Playful Introduction to Programming by Nick Morgan

Python for Kids: A Playful Introduction to Programming by Jason R. Briggs

Teach Your Kids to Code: A Parent-Friendly Guide to Python Programming by Bryson Payne

Super Scratch Programming Adventure! (Covers Version 2): Learn to Program by Making Cool Games by The LEAD Project

Scratch Programming in Easy Steps: Covers versions 1.4 and 2.0 by Sean McManus

Java Programming for Kids: Learn Java Step By Step and Build Your Own Interactive Calculator for Fun! (Java for Beginners) by R. Chandler Thompson

I hope you find more than a few things helpful for you and your child. Please continue to share the knowledge and pass this post along to any and all who can benefit from it.

Also, please, leave comments and suggestions of other resources to add!


The ABCs of Improved Reading

Summer 2014 Reading Programs

Excerpt from National Summer Learning Association

Access to books. It’s critical that kids have access to a wide variety of books over the summer months, but we know that access alone doesn’t make a strong impact.

Books that match readers’ ability levels and interests. For young people’s reading skills to improve, they need to read books that align with their own reading levels. Reading books that are too easy or too hard won’t help!

Comprehension, as monitored and guided by an adult, teacher or parent. The most important piece to making summer reading effective is the help of an adult who can ask questions and guide kids to better understand what they are reading.

From Mom: I must be a bad parent. Oh well!

This week I watched a video about strength finding. In this video, Marcus Buckingham, the co author of Now, Discover Your Strengths, goes on to discuss how people focus so much on trying to
correct their weaknesses that they very seldom build their strengths. Marcus does a lot of seminars for people who are looking to be more successful in their careers. His message is, to me, geared more towards managers, companies, and individuals in corporations or business, and even college.
In this video, one example he used was when a child gets all A’s on their report card but gets one F in a subject parents tend to focus solely on the F. They start investing all of their time and resources on basically something that the child just doesn’t get. This apparently is not the correct thing to do and the overall message that the class got was, “everyone will not be strong in everything so why waste your time trying to improve something if it’s not one of your strengths?”
…wait, what?
I was sitting there, jaw dropped in total shock and awe. In the video, Marcus talked about how he wasn’t a good at speaking and how his employer had him take classss and do excercises and in the the end he went from completely sucking at public speaking to being really bad at it. I got it. The overall message he was giving in that example was that speaking, at the time, was not his strength. Ok. Makes sense. But the other example still had me miffed.
…Then came the class discussion. Everyone in the class was like, “yeah, my parents made me study math, blah, blah, blah and I STILL didn’t get it! Such a waste of time!” I also heard, “why would you make someone who isn’t good at painting take painting classes?”
…wait, what?
Immediately this starts playing over and over in my mind.
At this point, I am totally confused. Is this really happening? What world am I in? All I could keep thinking was that these examples he’s giving DO NOT APPLY FOR SCHOOL AGED CHILDREN!!! Of course if you, as AN EMPLOYEE somewhere are not the best at analyzing data, or public speaking, etc. you simply do not apply for jobs in these areas. You build a CAREER on your strength, but most of us only are able to get said career AFTER we have completed some kind of education.
When you are in a school that has a pass/fail grading system, whether you feel like a subject is your strength or not, you still must pass the subject in order to be promoted to the next grade level. We may all feel like algebra is a waste of time, and hate to convert fractions into whole numbers, but guess what? We HAVE to learn how to do it in order to graduate. Period point blank. Unless you have unlimited financial resources, you can’t just pick what you feel like your children should be graded on and taught in school. In public school, you very seldom have that luxury.
I’m the parent that focuses on the bad grade. I’m the parent that invests time and resources into subject matter that my daughter is not the best in. I’m the parent that does drills and worksheets for us to do after school to supplement what she is/isn’t taught . Not only do I do these things because she MUST learn them in order to be successful in our school system, but because I know that the way she is being taught these subjects in school, may not be the way that she can learn them effectively. I do it because everyone learns differently and at different paces. I do it because I don’t want her using a crutch like, “math isn’t my thing” to skate through school and be mediocre. I do it because I don’t want her to be afraid to learn new things just because at first they may seem difficult. I do it because I know she can learn it.
Now, don’t get me wrong, there are many people that have learning disabilities. The brain is a very complex thing. I know that everyone will not grasp everything no matter how much we try to teach and explain it no matter what methods we use. There are also people who don’t get things AT FIRST. They need repetition, examples, charts, reading material, etc. in order to completely understand and apply what they have learned. My daughter happens to be one of those. Many people happen to be like that. I went my entire career in secondary school thinking that I “wasn’t good at math.” That I “just didn’t get it.” It took me to start baking and applying different math concepts for the light bulb to FINALLY go off. 10 years out of high school, and I felt like I had finally gotten it.
Then there are also things in life that you either “have it” or you don’t, like painting, drawing, dancing, singing, etc. But for the most part those are natural abilities that just come to you and they usually cannot be taught. You don’t have to be able to draw to become a doctor. You don’t have to sing a perfect scale to go to college or get a job at a Fortune 500 company. But you do have to know basic math and English.
My daughter gets high scores in reading. She’s is well above her grade level and she thoroughly enjoys reading. She has well over 100 books currently in her library and numerous E-books on her Kindle. Once I realized in kindergarten that she was gifted in reading, I IMMEDIATELY started cultivating that. We ALWAYS read, we frequent our public libraries, we make journals, we discuss books and literature. I started THIS very blog because I wanted to share our journey and resources. I don’t only focus and invest in her so called weakness in math, I also build upon her strengths and motivate her to do better and to more while still making it fun and intriguing for her.
There has to be a balance. I think that we MUST invest our time and resources into our children’s strengths as well as the weaknesses, especially when those weaknesses are the difference between a scholarship or an educational opportunity.
When it comes to our children, especially in their early education, I don’t think it’s a good idea to just basically say “f$&k it, reading isn’t his strength anyway” and only focus on their strengths. If I did that now, with my 7 year old, I could only imagine all of the problems she would have later on down the road.
While I absolutely LOVE the idea of strength finding in the workplace or personal life, I do not think that the concept can be placed in all life scenarios.

Reading mystery books can help children pay attention to details

Why didn’t I think of this?

I was on Pinterest this morning and came across this pin from Scholastic. It’s a blog post about reading strategies to get kids to pay more attention to detail while reading. The strategy is to try early chapter books that are mysteries like Cam Jensen, which Rahni and I love,  and Boxcar Children, a book that Rahni just finished reading for class.
Definitely a good post full of great tips! Here‘s the link if you’re interested.