Teach Kids to Code. Start with Literacy.
Updated: Apr 29
As I sat on the floor with my brother, who will soon be someone's father, and niece, who is losing her baby look quicker than I'm mentally prepared to deal with, I can't believe we're doing this again. Four "kids", laying on the living-room floor with a million little pieces, a horribly written instruction book, and the grimace of determination. I watched as my brother, teach Fortnite addicted kids how to read through instructions and build, what would eventually be, a robot.
I remember watching my brother work on K'Nex projects for what would seem like days. Personally, I never had the patience for it. I use to play with Legos but I was more interested in crafts, books, and playing wedding. I share the story of how I, a broken hearted five-year old, healed from having my marriage proposal rejected in my post Married After 10 Years of Dating — Lessons Learned on the Journey to the Altar
When it came to Christmas presents, my parents were methodical. With multiple kids, they did their best to buy things that they knew we'd learn from and enjoy. My music loving brother got presents to nurture his love of music. I would get artsy gifts like books and bead sets, which I loved and turned into a brief elementary school hustle. It also attributed to a continued love of reading and literacy advocacy. My sister, the SIMS fan, would disappear into an imaginative digitized world of drama and chaos, and my brother, the more analytical inquisitive of the bunch, would get K'Nex.
As I'm growing and watching my siblings mature, alongside the young one's in our family, I'm starting to see the moments in our childhood that molded us into the adults we are today. As I watched my brother divide the laundry list of instruction steps between two little girls, I recognized the importance of creative toys. These toys help children to develop critical life skills (critical thinking, patience, reading comprehension, cooperation, compassion, and dedication).
These skills are needed for survival.
It's important to discover what children enjoy and nurture their desire to learn. Now, over 30, I can see the connection between my brothers childhood love for K'Nex and his responsible and determined nature. It's mind-blowing. I'm extremely proud of him.
Teach children to think critically. Make them read.
The iPad is the G.O.A.T. (Google it). To kids, it's near holiness. Life ends when the iPad is not functioning. I mean full on melt downs. Attitudes from sweet little kids that usually don't cause a little pain. *Don't judge. Be honest. Kids have the power to inflict an internal nagging pain in the soul. But we love them. Dearly.
After a brief break and with two little girls face deep into their mystical iPads, my brother somehow magically disengaged them from the devices to continue building the robot, without pre-teen attitudes. It was a sight to behold! I've refereed several iPad battles for our niece, so to watch her calmly ask to finish her match before building the robot, was miraculous. By doing this, my brother is teaching her the importance of commitment, the same way he learned it. When you begin a project, you must see in through to completion.
Technology is the future. Critical thinking is needed in Tech.
Kids are under more pressure to learn how to develop new technologies than any generations before. Every generation thinks they pioneered the best technology. Baby geniuses are sitting in classrooms and libraries today. As technology evolves, we are responsible for preparing younger generations for a future of immersive technology that we may never see.
Young minds are impressionable. Create teachable moments that leave an impression.
Many of my conversations about children's involvement in STEM begins with coding. The kid needs to learn how to code. Some schools have classified computer coding as a foreign language. I think this is a genius idea. I often wonder how my career in tech would have changed if I were encouraged to learn about computers. But before coding, children must develop skills in reading and reading comprehension.
As a middle school student, besides the sound of clicking buttons (every kid loves buttons), I had no interest in computers. Zero. Clicking haplessly in computer science class, I'd try desperately to type fast and correctly before the time inevitably ran out on the clock. I never made it.
After eventually giving up on the typing challenge, I discovered Microsoft Paint and decided that drawing digitally spray painted pictures was more useful than learning to type. There was a point where I was convinced I'd never learn. My poor typing skills and the impatience and disappointment from my teacher, led me to abandon any preconceived idea of ever working with computers. It also lead to me dropping the only computer science class in my undergraduate career; another impatient teacher.
I never imagined I'd work in tech.
What piqued my interest was the ability to use internet behavior and computer logs to solve crimes. It fascinates me.
At the root of protecting and securing our evolving future digital world is reading and reading comprehension.
To introduce children to technology, start with literacy.
Some of my greatest professional moments were in a room with a team of security nerds combing through lines of logs to find indicators of a compromise. For some, reading through endless lines of data is unbearably boring, but as someone who was encouraged to read from birth and loves reading, log analysis is like building a complicated story about a persons behaviors. It's rewarding and challenging.
How did I go from loathing the idea of typing to a career in computer science? Reading. Lots of reading. It's how computer security teams determine data breaches. It's how they discover tactics and techniques used by "the bad guys" and protect us in the digital world. If you want to introduce a child to the world of technology, they must understand human language before learning a computer language.
Read to children early. Teach them reading comprehension and encourage them to write creatively. Literacy, is a critical life skill.
As my brother and niece admire the completion of their robot, I felt an extra moment of pride. Who knew this nod to a fond childhood memory would surmount to critical life lessons for two little girls.
Through K'Nex projects my family is planting and nourishing the seed of technology and engineering into two brown girls. Maybe they will grow-up to become leading women in STEM.