Educating young children

A mother wrote to me: “I have two sons, six and eleven years old but I am worried about their future. I pay a lot of money to send them to a tutorial school so they can learn to code because the public schools do not teach this essential skills. I hope that my children will develop skills in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) so when they grow up, they could have better future. The problem is my children do not like programming; they only use the computer to play video games, I do not know what to do. How do I encourage them to learn Java and Swift? Please advise.”

Answer: I understand your concern, but I think your children are too young to learn to program. At the age of six and eleven, they have potential to explore and discover other things, but forcing them to learn to code is not the right choice. At that age, a child’s mind is full of curiosity, and a desire to learn more about the world surrounding them. This is the best time to let them read books rather learn computer programming. My advice is you should read books with them and answer their questions to fulfill their desire to learn more.

There are studies on children’s brain during development age that point out the fact that between the age of five and twelve, most children are “creative geniuses” as they can think of endless opportunities to do things. But forcing them into a conventional process of learning, and memorizing will diminish their creative thinking about 5% by the age of six and 15% by the age of ten. Based on these studies, scientists advocate that the best way to educate young children is to encourage them to read books, give them creative toys like Lego bricks and Meccano erectors or let them play in the garden so they can develop their own creative thinking and learn about nature that suits their brain development.

Although science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education is necessary to develop the skills needed to function in today and future job market, but to young children between the age of four and twelve, it would be much better for parents to spend time with them, play with them, encourage them to read, let them play with toys, let them discover what they like, and let them explore and to learn from observing their surrounding environment. By allowing them to grow up with a creative mind, they can develop the necessary skills later such as problem-solving, creativity, collaboration and critical thinking naturally.

Forcing them to code in Java or Swift at that young age is not a good way to encourage them learning technology, but it may let them “fear” technology. Technology changes fast, I am sure by the time your children grow up there will be many newer programming languages, and Java or Swift may be obsolete.

I believe that you are over-worried about your children’s future. At these young ages, our children are learning from you, and what you do at home, how you behave, and how you act will have a significant influence on their development. Although, the school will provide the necessary skills and give them a foundation for further learning, how your children behave, how they act, how they think, and how they learn is mostly based on what they observe during childhood. It is not necessary to send children to coding school at that young age. There is no evidence that they will grow up and be better in technology.

As parents, we need to resist the temptation to force our children to learn something we think is important. But we need to spend time with them at home and enjoy the moment of joyful, and meaningful relationship that will last for the rest of our life.


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University