Tech Programs For Kids Are More Than Just Fun

It's almost time to get my kids back into some sort of routine that involves getting dressed before noon. I always seem to forget about extra-curricular activities until the week my kids are back in school. By then, it’s a scramble to figure out what they want to do, and then to get them signed up before programs start.

As summer vacation winds down, thoughts are turning to the school year ahead. It’s almost time to get my kids back into some sort of routine that involves getting dressed before noon.

Trying to find an extra-curricular activity that my son likes is no easy task. He is not gifted athletically and does not enjoy team sports. He’s tried a few things that didn’t excite him enough to want to go back.

Related: Extra-Curricular Activities For Kids: Yea or Nay?

Enter the local tech school flyer, advertising after-school and weekend classes for kids, like Minecraft Modding (er, I don’t know) and Coding. My son – and daughter – lit up and immediately asked if they could “please, please” sign up.

I’d always had this idea that kids’ extra activities should either be about exercise or about learning a life skill. My initial thought was that I would not spend money for them to go play video games when it was something I spend so much time discouraging at home. Then I checked out the program, and realized the courses were about coding and writing in “computer talk.” Suddenly I wanted them to go, to learn, and to teach me.

As a solo entrepreneur, I often wish I had the knowledge to do more techy stuff on my own — building and updating my website, running webinars, and creating online courses and downloadable material. However, as someone who typed in binary code in order to play Donkey Kong into my family’s Commodore 64 computer, I don’t have a solid foundation.

Learning how to code is an important life and job skill these days, and not just for those who want a job in tech.

Related: STEM’s Most Popular Coding Robot is Getting Even Better

Margaret Galvin says that, for the sake of employment success, it’s important for kids to learn the language of computers. Galvin is the Head of Talent Acquisition at Accenture Canada, a business management and consulting firm.

“The jobs we are seeing now, and future needs, are heavy with technology,” she says. “There’s a noticeable gap in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) for women so it’s important to get kids interested early, to promote STEM at early ages. The jobs we are seeing now, and future needs, are heavy with technology.”

The theory is that it’s not just about computer skills; it’s about foundational knowledge that spans many industries, not just those that are technology-based.

“It’s not just the technology knowledge itself employers are looking for,” Galvin says. “It’s the tech plus the experience, so ‘design thinking.’ This is going to be huge for kids.”

‘Design thinking’ is about the process, and learning how to merge creative thinking with technology to problem solve and figure out what’s possible.

“Coding isn’t just sitting in front of a computer and writing programs. It’s a way of thinking, “ says Steve Engels, an Associate Professor, Teaching Stream with the Department of Computer Science at the University of Toronto. “If you can give somebody directions to your house or write down a recipe for someone to follow, that’s coding. Nobody is too young to learn that kind of thinking. Computers just provide a vehicle for people to make that happen in a digital context.”

“The question isn’t what fields students can go into with a computing degree, but rather what fields wouldn’t benefit from the application of computing,” says Engels. “One path that has seen more growth among new graduates is creating or joining a startup. Instead of joining an established company, students see a need that can be satisfied with technology, and set out on their own to fill that need. That’s one of the liberating things about working in computer sciences.”

So, essentially, my kids are playing video games while simultaneously preparing for the future job market?  Sign me (them) up!

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