Coding for kids: Give your child a head start in computational thinking 7 years ago

Coding for kids: Give your child a head start in computational thinking

Hand a kid a smartphone and within minutes they’ll be sharing the latest viral gifs, Snap-Chatting and probably programming the central heating – all in a fraction of the time you’d normally spend struggling with manuals and remote controls.

And if that wasn’t enough, they’ll also leave you stumped by questions about how apps work and what goes on behind the screen. If any of this sounds familiar, Coder Dojo is the answer to your prayers. This network of free, volunteer-led programming clubs introduces kids to the tools they’ll need to be creators and producers, not just passive consumers of technology.

Mary Moloney is Global CEO of Coder Dojo. She spoke to Fiona McGarry about the benefits of coding for kids and what parents can do to boost ‘computational thinking’:

Coding introduces a child to a whole other level of learning and thinking. It’s simple stuff like logic and understanding problems and being able to solve them. It’s about developing that kind of computational thinking, which is harder to develop if you’re not doing something like coding.

Coding is incredibly empowering for children. They’re no longer just passive consumers of technology, sitting in front of games without questioning and asking how it all works. When you show kids the magic behind the scenes, behind all of that technology that we use everyday, it opens up a whole other world for them. It makes them much more confident and much more perceptive about how technology is used and what it can be used for.”

Kids that participate at Coder Dojo are between seven and 17. The reason we recommend seven as a starting point is that kids have got the basic literacy and numeracy skills that they need to navigate around a keyboard and to be able to search for things and type in words. That said, different children develop at different ages and we know of kids as young as four who’ve come to Dojos and very happily gotten involved. They might have to kneel on the chair to reach the keyboard, but they’re able to get going.

The role models for girls are less visible in the tech sector. There aren’t as many people for girls to look up to. Where we’ve been successful is where we’ve profiled and highlighted some of the great things that girls are doing in the Coder Dojo community. If the cool girls are doing something, other girls want to participate. There’s an expectation that boys, by default, are incredibly interested in technology and naturally want to play computer games and Minecraft. Often, it’s unconscious, but parents might not be suggesting those same activities for girls. They might give a girl a pink toy laptop, whereas they’ll give a boy an actual laptop. It’s about making a conscious decision to include girls in that initial introduction to technology in a meaningful way. Don’t immediately assume that gaming and laptops are more for boys than for girls.

Scratch is a great tool that we use a lot for introducing kids to coding. If a child has basic addition and subtraction and understands their numbers, then they can excel very quickly with Scratch. There are plenty of tools for younger kids to play around with too and learn about maths and technology in a meaningful way. There’s a very basic introductory tool for the iPad, a Scratch Junior tool. Younger kids can play with that and they don’t need advanced literacy or numeracy skills.


Don’t just leave them to their own devices. With younger kids especially, it’s best to talk to them, encourage them, get them to explore numbers and letters and use the basic tools. All of these Scratch tools are free-of-charge. They’ve been developed by MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and every child around the world can use them. There are also sites like, which have mini-tools to get children started and, from there, they’re introduced to app-builders and tools for building websites and games.

Make sure you’re not just leaving your child with the technology, unsupervised. Encourage them, ask them about what they’re doing and how they’re doing it. Get them to chat to you about coding. Even if you know nothing – and many parents will know less than the child – just asking them and being curious about coding really encourages them. Children are always really keen to show what they learned, what they created and what they built.

We’ve just had our fourth birthday and we’ve seen kids within the CoderDojo community doing really well at the BT Young Scientist Awards and at the Eircom Junior Spiders Awards – they’re popping up everywhere. They’ve really built their confidence by being involved in CoderDojo and they’re looking for opportunities to show off their skills and the products they’ve developed. As an outcome, we want every child to at least understand the technology that is available, in a meaningful way. We want every child to know to what degree they want to pursue these subjects. Some children will stick with the tech field through college. Others will decide they like technology and they understand it, but will be ready to rely on someone else to build the tools for them as a user or as a business person.

We have around 150 active Dojos in Ireland with about 30 to 35 kids in each one. Globally, we have 760 Dojos in 59 countries. The movement is now very much global and one of the dimensions that’s very important is that children who participate in Ireland are part of that global community.”

CoderDojo have produced a handy Coder Dojo parent’s guide and there are full details on their website on finding a Dojo or starting your own one.

Mary Moloney Headshot