Teaching programming to young children part 2

My friend is concerned about Chinese children are learning to program but his four-year-old son is not interested in coding. Last week, he asked me: “My son goes to kindergarten and all he does is playing. I am worrying that when he grows up, he may not be able to compete with others in science or technology. I do not know what to do so I ask you, as a professor in Computer Science, for advice.”

I told him: “Playing is what children need and that is how they learn. If you want your son to learn to program, the focus should be a fun activity rather than coding. If you force your son to learn, it may have a negative effect and he may grow up with a fear of learning. I do NOT recommend teaching young children to code at that early age as they do not have the time to be children anymore. By being forced to do coding exercises, Programming is becoming an obligation rather than a positive learning activity. Forcing young children to go to tutorial school in coding will affect the family relationship where the interaction between parents and children will be mostly on whether the child has complete coding homework or not. There will be arguments, yelling, scolding and it is very bad for children at that young age. Eventually, some children will grow up and start to hate school, or afraid of learning and homework.”

His wife is concerned: “What will happen if other children are better in school? I explained: “Do not worry, what your son needs now is to spend time with you where he can learn many things from you. By sending him to tutorial schools will rob him that opportunity. Of course, every parent wants the best for their children but have you asked him about what he likes to do? Have you talked to him and find out what he is interested in? Do you know what kind of talents that he has? What happens if he has a talent in music but not programming? He could be a Mozart or Beethoven but what happens if you fail to recognize it and only wants him to be a software developer? He is only four years old, he has a lot of time to learn anything that he wants. What he needs now is to spend the time with his parents where he can learn to be self-confidence, and be responsible for himself etc. As parents, you can read books with him, telling stories with him and find out more about him rather than following the trends that all children must learn to code to do well in the future.”

My friend did not convince: “But coding is the important skill of the future.” I laughed: “Of course, it is and as professors, in Computer Science I believe all students must know how to code but NOT at that early age. I know some Chinese schools are teaching Java and Python for young children. I also read from the China Daily News that many children at six or ten years old are sent by their parents to the “Artificial Intelligence” summer class to learn machine learning too. There is a rush to ensure the next generation will be successful but it is a wrong thing, probably promote by tutorial schools to make money.”

His wife wondered: “But what can we do? I still think he needs to learn to code before elementary school.” I knew that I could not convince overconcerned parents so I switched to another tactic: “If you still think he needs to learn to program, there are several special languages designed for children such as Scratch, Alice, Blocky where your son can learn them as a fun activity but he will not learn it by himself. As parents, you must do that with him. Every programming language learning is a team learning and to teach your son a computer language, the parents must learn it first then teach their children. It only takes a few hours to be familiar with Scratch as it is a good programming language to learn as a family activity. What every child need is to feel secure with their parents so you need to talk to your son and listen to his concern. Of course, your child needs guidance and he will follow whatever you ask when he understands why you want him to do something. Clear, simple, explanations are the most effective in learning computer instructions. And remember, one of the reasons your son will enjoy learning Scratch because he knows that he can spend the time with someone that he loves.”


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University

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