Learning Resources hosted Amy Torf of Noggin Builders on our Instagram Live last week. Amy is a robotics engineer, teacher, entrepreneur, and mom of three.  She founded Noggin Builders in 2013 to help kids build their creative problem-solving skills through STEM.

Why coding?

Amy spoke about different ways to work on coding with your child at home. As adults, it’s easy to think of coding as a profession that requires sitting for hours at a computer typing instructions. Amy debunked this common misconception and shared that coding is a way to build life skills like resiliency, flexibility, communication and creative problem solving. These skills are applicable throughout life, not just in a future career.

Debugging is one of Amy’s favorite parts of coding. Coding itself is hard. But Amy says the more kids learn and practice problem solving skills, they are learning to identify problems be resilient. Coding works to instill in children that a mistake is not a problem, but rather a learning opportunity. Amy uses the example of tying our shoes. Each time we tie our shoes and don’t get it right, we learn a new way to tie our shoes.

Who can code?

Kids can start learning about coding as early as preschool. Activities like sequencing and patterns, cause and effect are basic concepts of coding. There are many different levels to coding besides the coding language itself, so the skills children pick up through activities like sequencing and pattern are helpful at any age. Learning to preserve through challenges and problem solve are both skills directly related to coding.

How can I teach coding at home?

One activity Amy suggests for learning about coding at home is finding ways to incorporate coding lessons in day-to-day activities. Coding requires a computer to understand instructions, so playing Simon Says or other games that require children to follow instructions help build a basic understanding. Amy encourages adding on steps to the original instructions to see how long kids can string together a set of actions.

As kids get older, try reversing the roles and having kids give instructions to you. See if they can take a larger task and break it up into the simple steps. In the world of coding, this is called decomposing. Amy used the example of making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The sandwich doesn’t magically appear when a child wants one, but requires taking out the bread, a knife, the peanut butter and the jelly before assembly even begins. Asking kids what steps are needed to make the sandwich can be a fun activity to see how the sandwich turns out.

Another fun twist is giving one another instructions without seeing each other. Amy says that as humans, we rely heavily on what we see but when writing code, you don’t necessarily see the action that you are writing at the time. There are many different games to play for this, like sitting back to back with a piece of paper and giving instructions of what to draw. Compare the two drawings without the other person seeing the original to see how close they are. You could try this game with building bricks or blocks of any kind too. Another fun way is through storytelling. Pull out some figurines or counting pieces and give instructions of the set-up. The person sitting with their back to you must try to follow your instructions without the guidance of pointing.

Can I teach coding outside?

It’s almost summer, but Amy insists that learning about coding can be taken outside too. Try creating a maze using chalk or obstacles around the yard using balls or cones and encouraging your child to navigate it using step-by-step instructions. This sort of activity is similar to what a coding toy does, but a life-size maze allows kids to learn about following instructions themselves.

Another fun outdoor activity is a treasure hunt. Amy says that in coding, algorithms give a specific set of instructions in a specific order to achieve a goal. A treasure hunt is similar in that the seeker is working to achieve a goal. Encourage your child to write a treasure hunt with step-by-step instructions for you to find the treasure, and this is an early step to learning about creating algorithms.

It’s key to remember that while learning at home is important, it’s also crucial to keep learning fun. We are so grateful that Amy could join us last week and share these helpful tips for learning about coding at home!