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How Young Students Can Learn Computational Thinking −− Without a Screen
Providing young children with the advantage of learning computational thinking skills at the earliest age-appropriate time helps their evolution into the real digital world.
In today’s digital world children are accustomed to alphanumeric devices and technology from the time they’re born. This jumpstart into the world of computers and computational thinking is seen by some as excess, while others view the advantages of early-age comprehension.
Learning the basics of computer science and computational thinking helps preschool and kindergarten students understand the concepts and behaviors used. It helps them form the skills necessary to interact and communicate in the more complex areas of the digital world ahead.
Young children can begin to understand algorithms, sequencing, events, conditionals, and repeat loops through hands-on manipulatives, songs, and games. Engaging in these activities can help develop computational thinking, and without the need for a computer screen.
Learning familiar activities such as feeding a pet, putting on shoes, making a bed, or brushing teeth are concepts learned by instruction, and not unlike a set of instructions used by an algorithm to complete a task.
When children are asked to create picture cards for an activity, they learn that when the sequence or order of that activity is changed, the completion of the activity is changed. Learning the sequence or order is like a ‘program’ and when the order is changed it changes the activity or the event. Playing a game such as Simon Says can teach the concept of events while still being fun and playful.
In computer language, repeat loops are simply commands or a sequence of commands that are repeated. For instance, each meal we have is a repeat loop of delivering a bite of food to the mouth, chewing, and swallowing. A child’s daily routines are repeat loops of waking, dressing, eating, going to school, returning home, playing, eating, undressing, bathing, and going to bed.
These routines can be used as “if, then, else” statements:
- “If the plate has food on it, then repeat the eat loop, or else put the fork down.”
- “If it is a summer day, then repeat the vacation loop, or else get up and go to school.”
Songs and dances are also fun ways for young students to learn the concept of repeat loops since song lyrics and dance movements include repetition.
Of course adding computer screen time to the classroom does not need to be avoided altogether, just monitored. The American Association of Pediatrics and Common Sense Media offer screen time guidelines and suggestions for various age groups. While the development of computational thinking is important to children, it is equally important to nurture communication, collaboration, cooperation, and empathy. This is accomplished when children work together with partners or in groups.
Waiting until children are in middle school to begin understanding coding, computers, and computational thinking is an opportunity missed. Starting early makes it easier and much more fun for young minds, not to mention gaining important social and emotional skills, too.
As our world moves forward building and programming machines to do the work of people, having solid skills to help make ethical decisions is important is deciding what machines can do, will do, how they will do it, and who will have access to them.
Yorktown Education is one of the early implementers of student-centered education. Having long been at the forefront of advanced practices and personalizing education for students from ages 5-18, we believe in the development of the whole child, encouraging them toward a path to ‘Do What You Love’.
Instead of traditional grade levels that hold your child back, Yorktown Education helps them develop personal relationships, academic, social, and physical skills that are nurtured with the focus on their individual ability to learn.