6 min read
When I was a kid, my favorite book was volume 11 of World Book’s Childcraft encyclopedia series, titled Make and Do. Inside were all kinds of crafts and activities that my siblings and I spent weekends creating. I still use creative skills in my job today as SVP of Product at Codeverse as I come up with new product ideas and bring them to life.
Parents and educators are increasingly worried about kids becoming more passive consumers of information who do not develop the creative skills that are critical to the jobs like mine. And it’s true that kids from 8 to 18 spend on average 7.5 hours consuming entertainment media from YouTube to traditional TV to Netflix. Researchers have found that while kids’ IQs have increased, their creative ability has been declining in the last few decades. That decline is most severe for Kindergarten and 3rd graders.
Educators also struggle to get kids to think creatively. “Kids are used to seeing the path and doing it. They get a blank sheet of paper, and sometimes it’s abject panic,” says Anastasia Hahn, Director of Digital Learning at Moving Everest Charter School. “The creativity piece is something we are losing. It doesn’t get a whole of attention in school, with so many other demands on our time.”
I believe kids can create amazing things when given the right tools. While I loved learning from the encyclopedia, we need to do more to give kids the modern tools for creativity that match their interests and what they want to build. Kids love video games and interactive apps. Rather than turning away from technology altogether, we can channel kids’ interest in technology to unleash amazing creative energy.
With platforms today, kid creators can reach millions with a new game or video in a way that previous generations could not imagine. Robert Nay, a 14 year old, built an app, Bubble Ball, that’s been downloaded 16 million times. Samiara Mehta, a 10 year old, invented the popular board games, CoderBunnyz and Codermindz, that teach kids the concepts of coding and Artificial Intelligence.
As a parent or educator, it can be hard to know where to start in teaching kids coding as a creative tool. Here are 3 ways to encourage creativity for kids learning to code:
Put kids in control of the real world
All coding doesn’t have to happen just on a screen. Kids get engaged and excited when they see the connection of coding to what they can touch and feel. Now after kids build something with physical blocks, they can actually write code to make what they built move. There are tons of robots, physical games, and kits that help young kids connect coding to play in the real world. Our Ultimate STEM Holiday Gift Guide has a lot of great suggestions for what to pick up this year.
Researchers studying math and science education have long understood that experiencing something physically helps retain knowledge and learning. It’s thrilling for kids when they can control what’s around them, and they never forget those moments. Kids (and parents) are amazed when they see that the code they are writing can change control the lights, sounds and TVs in Codeverse’ interactive coding studios.
Hahn says “Kids love real effects on the environment. It’s really dynamic for them to see they write code and something moves or happens in their space.”
Give kids flexible tools to build things
For many kids their first introduction to code is playing drag and drop games to see how code snippets fit together to move characters on a screen. These are great for getting kids excited about learning to code and teaching basic concepts like sequencing and conditional logic.
In addition to playing these types of coding games though, it is important to give kids the tools to actually be able to create their own games. This is what flips kids from being just video game and app consumers to creators.
Hahn from Moving Everest was excited to introduce Kidscript into her curriculum for 4th grade students this year. She says “When you are typing code out to create something it feels more like writing a piece of a fiction, than solving a puzzle. Even though it takes time and energy, it feels sort of magical. Rather than just clicking and it happens for you.”
Meg Albera, Sr. Technology Support Specialist at Intrinsic Schools, agrees that putting kids in control is key. “Kids love it when they get to create their own games. They come up with goofy stuff like making a platypus chase a dog."
Kids have created amazing mobile games soon after learning to code. Once kids get the tools and skills they need to create, it’s fascinating to see what they do with it.
One of the biggest challenges for educators teaching coding is the frustration kids feel when their code isn’t working or they don’t know how to do something. Their go-to solution? Empowering kids to help each other.
Albera said her high flyer coders quickly become mentors to their peers so she leaned on them for support. “One 7th grade girl I taught picked up on things so quickly that soon I was asking her, “How did you do that?” She learned fast because she wanted to know how to add things to her game. Then, the other students would ask her how do I make this disappear, explode, or rotate?”
Hahn agrees that getting kids to lean on each other is key. She says she encourages buddy coding when a kid can’t figure out how to make something work. “I like to create a plan where the kid who is struggling is still typing, but the other kid is pointing things out and explaining. That builds collaboration and teaches them that when they are stuck to turn their screen to the next kid and say what do you think? That’s what adult programmers do too.”
While it may seem like kids have lost their creative spirit, we can combat the trends by giving kids tools, collaboration, and control to become the inventors of tomorrow.