How can you teach your three year old to program?

Education technology has made it easier to engage kids and introduce them to complex ideas. 

If I were to bet on the one essential skill that our children will need in the future, to give them an advantage across many facets of life – it’d be have to be a solid understanding of programming.

There are plenty of reasons why, like how we’re relying more on complex automation, or having the ability to bring together a bunch of different systems to solve problems, or even just be able to navigate and manage the swathes of personal data that’s been collated over our lifetime.

Programming utilises a number of higher order thinking skills, from analysis, through to logical and creative problem solving – and learning these can be a lot of fun.

These days there are a lot of education-technology products to really engage kids in learning these skills. I’m an early adopter when it comes to ed-tech, so here are a few things I’ve used to good effect with my kids.

Osmo – Coding Awbie

Coding Awbie by Osmo is a combination of an iPad game/app, and some physical tiles. Effectively you arranges instructional tiles (move forward, left, right, etc) in front of the iPad to control a character on screen, the experience is gamified (attain goals, and complete tasks). Over time the difficulty increases, as you’re introduced to more complex ideas such as looping and calling functions.

The game aspect of it makes it good fun it is high quality with a great app and solid tiles, but is a little on the pricey side – and only works if you have an iPad or iPhone.

Primo Toys – Cubetto

The beauty of Cubetto is that it introduces a lot of these logical skills without using a screen. It uses a crafted wooden control panel with interactive tiles to program a little robot around a playmat map. If you ever used a LOGO turtle at school, this is a simplified version your three old can start playing with.

As with many of these devices, it’s definitely not cheap – but it is a very fun and engaging way for kids to learn these skills through play. They could be pirates navigating the high seas, or on a space adventure visiting different planets.

I’ve used my son’s favourite toy figurines, and placed them round the map – he’s then had to go on a quest to collect them all. There are lots of games and ideas online you can play to keep it fun and interesting, along with additional more complex functions as your child advances.

Recipes

This costs nothing and the kids learn some great life skills. Preparing a meal or baking is just like running a program, it requires you to get things done in order (prepare, combine then bake), meet certain conditions (mix until smooth) and repeat certain tasks (fill 12 cases).

Kids of all ages can do this, and there are many ways to make this work from simply writing out the instructions and following them in order, through to identifying how you could write the recipe in pseudo-code for a human computer.

Keep it fun

The one thing I found with all of these methods is that the kids enjoyed them and wanted to return to do more. At a young age, they don’t have the psychological baggage of it being “work” or “learning” they just want to enjoy it. If it remains so, they’ll keep on wanting to come back for more on their own – and once you’ve cracked that, you’ve won the toughest battle. Motivation.

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