Do the Building Blocks of Computer Programming Begin in Preschool?

These are exciting times in the field of early childhood education. Creative teachers are discovering effective ways to offer children a healthy blend of sensory-rich tactile investigations, artistic creativity, meaningful collaborations, and high-tech tools geared toward problem solving and documenting a child’s work/play.

The advent of touch-screen interactions allows screen time to be both engaging and investigatory; and, happily, the current “Maker Movement” helps us advocate for classroom activities that include real-world construction, building, and innovation. The older debate of “tech vs. no tech” in teaching seems to be losing to a discussion of how to best provide developmentally appropriate learning experiences that lead to lifelong learning and growth. Fantastic!

However, even those of us who embrace technology may pause in our enthusiasm when we see high school and middle school computer coding making its way toward the world of early childhood. As touch-screen games began making the basics of computer coding accessible to those in elementary school, I wondered if this subject of coding would become another “top-down” initiative that we early childhood educators would need to field from above.

How could the abstract thinking needed for computer coding possibly be developmentally appropriate for preschool, kindergarten, and first-grade children?

How could the abstract thinking needed for computer coding, programming, and engineering possibly be developmentally appropriate for preschool, kindergarten, and first-grade children? Does coding have any intrinsic relationship with those tried and true practices in our sensory-rich early childhood classrooms?

These questions and concerns evolved into an Erikson Institute webinar entitled “Seeing Into the Future: Introducing Coding to Young Children.” It is designed as a forum for others who may be wondering about these same questions. I invite all to join the discussion . . . no matter which side of the fence you may be on.

As I looked into these questions I found many classic children’s books, songs, playthings, and activities that are natural partners to concepts of digital programming such as sequencing, loops, tenacity in testing for function, if/then logic with conditionals, and the nature of code itself.

Tufts University’s DevTech Research Group is creating interlocking wooden blocks for children that can be scanned by a small wooden robot, which then follows the child’s coded commands. This form of block play is a developmentally appropriate means to perform coding tasks in a real-world setting.

The MIT Media Lab is creating cutting-edge technology that clearly has links to classroom sets of pegboards, geoboards, and wooden rods.  Engineers in the Tangible Media Group have created a form of living clay that changes shape in three dimensions, allowing users to interact with digital content in tactile ways.

Project-based schools with innovative early childhood programs, such as Bennett Day School in Chicago, are building programs around “tinkering” and are providing physical spaces called TinkerLabs designed to encourage experimentation and expression with items such as sand, cardboard tubes, art materials, computers, and other electronic devices. The Children’s Innovation Project in Pittsburgh is helping kindergarteners explore the idea of technology as raw material by letting them examine simple circuits or take apart toys.

All of these examples include an intertwining of thinking skills, collaboration, and real-world investigations that can be so important to a mindset of growth and lifelong learning.

Join us for a webinar on introducing coding to young children on Monday, May 12. You can sign up at the Erikson Institute

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