Computer Languages for all ages

A mother wrote to me: “We have three children aged 4, 6, and 8. We want them to learn a computer language but do not know which one is the best for children? My friends said that it is too early for young children to learn a computer language. It is better for them to learn music or foreign languages such as English or Chinese. Please advise.”

Answer: “Today Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic are NOT enough. Children need to learn a computer language because they will need this skill in school and future jobs. There are languages that fit children at certain ages (i.e., Animation, games, drawing etc.) and there are languages designed to do more complex things as they are growing up. It is important for parents to treat learning computer languages as a “Fun” and continuous activities, not something to be forced on them. If your children are interested in learning how to code, just let them started.

In my opinion, for a young child at age 4 to 6, you may start with Scratch or other visual programming languages. This is probably the easiest programming language to learn because it teaches basic concepts, like problem-solving and alternative thinking. A child can drag and drop code blocks to animate characters, create games, and build apps. Scratch does not teach the syntax like other languages but it provides a solid foundation of programming principles. Scratch is simple, easy to learn, can get young children to get excited about learning how to code. Children can play with Scratch for a long time as they create stories, games and draw animations which they can share with friends.

For older children, age 8 to 12 JavaScript may be a good fundamental programming language to learn. If they already know Scratch, it is very easy to learn JavaScript. Since it is an object-oriented language, children will learn more about syntax and design rules to create front-end web applications. This is where creativity begins to come in as children can design a beautiful website with pictures and animation within a few days. This language is very popular among young people all over the world and it could help open more job opportunities in the future.

By the time young children go to high school, they should learn Java. This is one of the most widely used programming languages in the world. Most jobs in the technology industry are using Java so it is important for students to learn and master this language by the time they go to college. Java gives students more rules on programming concepts to follow. For example, they must specify a variable type so their code is stable, scalable and maintainable.

If students have strong skills in Java Programming language, they can learn Python easily because there are several similarities between these two languages. Companies like Google, Facebook, Microsoft use Python mostly in their scientific applications. Python has many applications and sophisticated enough to be used in the creation of complex video games, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and scientific and numeric computing projects.

I believe every college student, regardless of which field of study they choose, must know both Java and Python by the time they graduate. Today these two languages are being used in almost every fields, every job and they will be requirements for many future jobs.

There is nothing wrong to learn a computer programming language at an early age. However, parents should let their children choose what they are interested in. If they like music, let them learn music. If they like a foreign language, let them learn English or French and if they like computer programming, let them learn Scratch or JavaScript. It is important for parents to encourage, support and let their children find their own interest. By forcing them to learn something they do not like will create a fear of that subject and it will cause more harm than good.


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University

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