Spark4Kids: The Seed Of An Idea

Welcome to our blog.

It seems appropriate that we should, in our first post, start at the very beginning – how we came to the idea of setting up a training company whose sole purpose was to teach kids how to code.

In our individual roles, we have been software developers, mentors and trainers, and prior to setting up Spark4Kids, we’d discussed the possibility of introducing our kids to coding “when they were old enough”.

So when our oldest daughter (aged 7 at the time) was invited to attend a CoderDojo session where she would be introduced to programming, we jumped at the chance.

The session lasted an hour, and during that time, she was introduced to the basic features of Scratch, a visual programming language for teaching kids to code. The CoderDojo presenter did a wonderful job of keeping the kids entertained, whilst presenting. Our daughter thoroughly enjoyed the visit, and at the end of the session, took away a couple of Scratch code listings to try out at home – both were basic games. We left the session concluding that it had been worthwhile visiting, but also wondering just how much our daughter had “taken on board” in the hour.

Fast forward a day or so later, and our daughter asked if she could ‘borrow’ the laptop.

Usually, this meant a few games for a half hour (she has a time-restricted account on the computer). That day was different. She asked for extra time on the computer a couple of times, promising us that she wasn’t just playing games.

Boy obscured by tablet
Visual Programming on a Tablet

A little while later, we peeked over her shoulder to find her playing a game in which the central character (a photo of herself!) had to stay out of the way of monsters that were chasing her around the screen. She’d been coding up a game the whole time.

It was when we asked her to explain what she had been doing that we got the real surprise. In describing the game she’d built, it soon became clear she’d made extensive changes to the original Scratch code listing off her own back!

She’d switched colours round, she’d substituted the provided sprite for a character with her own photo, created her own game background, and changed a few of the parameters to make the monsters larger, and hence the game harder!

It seemed that in addition to understanding the code listing she’d been given, she also wanted to explore different directions where she could take the code. She had taken the software listing she’d been given and made it her own.

This was a real eye-opener for us.

It was clear to us that we had made false assumptions about what our child was capable of aged 7, and that we were going to have to work on the basis that actually, she (and very likely her age peers) were old enough to learn computer code.

We decided:

  • to encourage her to experiment with coding as much as is possible
  • to create an environment where she ‘owned’ what she was doing, and could take it in whatever direction she felt
  • that allowing her to learn through exploring, experimenting and making mistakes was just as important as getting things right
  • to keep challenging her so that her ‘technical horizon’ was constantly being expanded
Scratch 4 Kids
Scratch, a visual programming language

It also became obvious we were going to have to put some structure around the ideas we were exploring in terms of what problems to give her to code, in such a way as to make it fun, easy, and ‘consumable’, at her own speed, and in her own time.

In a future post we’ll go into how exploring the options for getting our daughter into coding in a meaningful way, ended up with us creating the project. We’ll also cover what our thinking is around an effective learning model, and how we are planning to ensure the longevity and scalability of the project.

Phyllis and Patrick

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