NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Wednesday, October 23rd. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: teaching kids to code.
When the school day ends, many children go play soccer, take dance lessons, or learn to play a musical instrument. But now there’s another option.
EICHER: WORLD Radio’s Sarah Schweinsberg went to a computer coding center for children in Sandy, Utah, to find out what’s behind this new trend.
SARAH SCHWEINSBERG, REPORTER: At Code Ninjas, the computer room is called the Dojo. This afternoon, six elementary-aged students—or ninjas—look intently at their computer screens.
DASHIELL: I think I’ve been here since last summer….
Eight-year-old Dashiell’s blonde-buzzed head bounces between his computer screen and a large tablet. The tablet displays sentences of code. It’s made up of words, numbers and symbols that tell Dashiell how to speak the computer’s language.
DASHIELL: I think that dollar signs just for the code too, like connect to each header.
Dashiell’s computer screen has a green, yellow, and orange star on it. With a small pointer finger, he types “spin parentheses yellow star comma negative 100 parentheses semicolon” into a line of code.
DASHIELL: I’m doing spin counter clockwise on these Java strips. And I added negative signs. SARAH: What does that mean? DASHIELL: It will spin counter clockwise.
Sure enough, the yellow star starts spinning.
Then, Dashiell types the same code for the green circle—expect this time negative 20. The green circle spins but much more slowly. He says it feels good to see the computer do what he tells it to do.
DASHIELL: My favorite thing about coding is like when it comes to like code, like it tells you to spin and you get to type in the number. But like the bigger the number, the faster it’ll spin. That’s a really fun.
Code Ninjas is one of a growing number of coding centers for children. Emily Clark owns this location, and in the last three months enrollment here has doubled. Clark says parents see computer skills—like coding—are missing from most school curriculums.
CLARK: From what parents and some of our ninjas have been telling me is that they only will do like introductory classes, maybe once a semester, but beyond that, there’s really nothing available to the kids.
Throughout the week, 100 students come here after school. It will take them four years to work through the program. Students start as white belts. Once the new ninjas have mastered the building blocks of coding, they start leveling up.
CLARK: So we start off easy with some scratch games which is drag and drop block coding. And once they get through Java Script, they’re going to move into programming roadblocks games in the language that roadblocks uses.
By the very end of the program, in order to earn a black belt, students have to create their own video games.
CLARK: And we help them code it into an app and then we teach them the business side, marketing and monetizing in the app store and the Google Play store and ways they can make money with the stuff that they create.
Clark says learning coding is like learning a second language. And like any foreign language, it’s much easier to learn as a child.
CLARK: A lot of advanced degrees like engineering and STEM degrees, they expect kids out of high school to know how to code and to program computers by the time they get to college. So kids that don’t know that already are already behind when they’re starting their freshman year in college.
Keith Larson just dropped off his son and daughter at the Dojo. His children’s schedules are full of sporting events and dance recitals. But he and his wife think coding is a valuable skill for their future careers.
LARSON: Just in terms of future technological employment. Just to give them a really good broad base, you know, understanding and a comfort level with technology. I really want to give these opportunities to my, not only my daughter, but my son.
In an era where many parents are concerned about excessive screen time, some like Larson shrug it off when it comes to coding.
That’s because Larson argues coding lets children become creators and not just consumers of entertainment.
LARSON: We’d much rather them actually be coding and learning how these things are done.
Eight-year-old Logan already understands that what he’s learning can be turned into money.
SARAH: Do you want to be a coder when you grow up?
LOGAN: Well, yeah, and I think it’s important to know it. That’s why I started.
From beneath long dark lashes Logan’s honey-brown eyes dart around his screen. He drags a knight around with his mouse. He’s trying to escape an army of skeletons.
LOGAN: Like say someone’s can pay you one $1,000 if you make a website for them. That’s why I think it’s important to know how to code. Wait, yes, I won the game.
But other children are not so sure about this coding thing. Opposite Logan’s computer, his school classmate Naomi is getting antsy.
NAOMI: I’ve played like so many levels. It feels like a 1,000 levels.
She pushes strands of brown hair behind her ears and pulls her knees up under her. She’s trying to get a ninja to jump around, but today, she’d rather be outside.
SARAH: Why do you like coding? NAOMI: I don’t. SARAH: You don’t like it? NAOMI: Well I do and don’t at the same time.
SARAH: What do you want to do when you grow up? NAOMI: Um, an art teacher.
Emily Clark believes even if some of these children will avoid tech careers…the skills coding teaches can still be valuable.
CLARK: What we are trying to focus on developing in the kids is logic, problem solving, critical thinking and math, which can crossover into pretty much anything that they’re going to want to do.
And for some children, discovering coding can mean finding something new they’re good at.
CAMERON: I don’t like sports. And I don’t take music lessons.
Six weeks ago, 10-year-old Cameron started coding. Now another thing he likes is computers and being here.
CAMERON: I just like how it can just the computer, what to do and it will do it.
For WORLD Radio, I’m Sarah Schweinsberg reporting from Sandy, Utah.