Learning To Code Develops Creativity in Kids
Casey stares at his computer screen, carefully calculating his next move. As part of a school science project to create a simulation of the Earth’s tides, he has spent the better part of the hour trying to animate a moon orbiting the earth, a series of commands that is proving more complex than he had anticipated. But with every iteration and tweak, the determined sixth grader finds himself inching closer to his vision. Finally, he inputs -10 degrees on the X coordinate, 21 on the Y, and hits enter. He grins in giddy satisfaction as he watches his moon makes a perfect circle around the earth.
Casey’s story is one of many that illustrates how the process of learning to code is encouraging something that many believe to be the most important skill we can teach our kids: creativity. We’re all born with it. As kids, we embrace imaginative play, we ask questions, paint colorful pictures, and build elaborate things with our blocks, but somewhere along the way our capacity for creative thinking diminishes. It’s not because we lack the “creative gene”, we just haven’t reinforced it or, as researcher George Land concludes from his longitudinal study on creativity and divergent thinking, we have unlearned it. Today, research is showing that creativity is a skill that can be developed and learned at home and in our schools through the cultivation of three qualities:
An experimenter’s mindset
Whole brain thinking
An innate desire to be a creator (and not just a consumer)
1. Programming Teaches Kids to Experiment
Creative thinking begins with a questioning mindset. It can be taught by encouraging kids to experiment, explore their ideas, question their assumptions, make mistakes and learn from them. Thomas Edison was a master of this type of thinking. He tested thousands of materials and processes before creating the first working light bulb. “I have successfully discovered 1,000 ways to NOT make a light bulb,” he famously said. With programming, kids are exposed to this process of experimentation. They start by learning a handful of commands to do simple tasks, and with each successful result, they slowly gain the confidence try new and more ambitious things, things that force them to question each decision and ask “What if I tried X?” Testing their assumptions in a live environment frequently results in errors and bugs, giving kids the opportunity to find a workable solution. With practice, kids gain a proficiency in their technical and hypothesizing skills, allowing them to move onto solving increasingly complex problems, and eventually building programs completely on their own.
2. Programming Strengthens Whole Brain Thinking
Each side of the brain is said to control different parts of thinking and information processing. The left hemisphere is typically associated with logical, technical, and analytical thinking, whereas the right hemisphere is associated with imagination, artistic, intuitive thinking. We tend to think of creativity as a right-brain function, but the most creative thinkers and problem solvers can effectively engage both hemispheres. This idea of marrying “art with science” is what Steve Jobs built Apple on, and it’s this kind of “whole brain” thinking that teachers have been embracing in the classroom by promoting active, project based learning, using everything from 3D printers to sewing machines to encourage kids to create, design and build things. Learning programming with a platform like Tynker is particularly powerful because it requires kids to use their technical skills (to build the program) in combination with their artistic and storytelling skills (to design a program that is visually compelling and fun).
3. Programming Gives Kids the Confidence to Create
Like learning a sport or a musical instrument, the cultivation of creativity requires hard work and practice. For kids, if the work is confusing, monotonous or the end goal unappealing, the desire to practice weakens. Kids must be motivated. They need to be in an environment that builds confidence and instills in them a genuine desire to create. Kids pick up on technology with shocking ease, so giving them a basic knowledge of programming on a coding platform that is fun and easy to use is one of the best ways they can spend time in practice and actually enjoy the process. Learning programming on the right platform, one that is structured, engaging and well paced, puts kids on the path to fluency in the language and logic of programming, and ultimately gives them a springboard to create – to not just play the games that they love, but to create the games they love to play. What an amazing gift.
Learning to code is very much like learning a new language – it gives kids a fluency not just in technology, but also in the language of creativity. Maria Klawe, mathematician, computer scientist and president of Harvey Mudd believes that “coding is today’s language of creativity. All our children deserve a chance to become creators instead of consumers of computer science.” It doesn’t mean they’ll all grow up to be computer programmers. Programming is part of the development of a valuable technical and creative skill set that will grow with them into adulthood, enabling them to thrive in our ever growing digital world. It’s creativity that lays the foundation for innovation, ingenuity and leadership because it represents the ability to connect existing ideas with new solutions, approaches and concepts. And we owe it to our curious and imaginative kids to give them the tools to be the creative thinkers and problem solvers of the next generation.
If your child hasn’t started yet, now is the best time to give them an opportunity to explore coding.