Coding should be like Acting or Dancing
When a child, especially girls, are young, they are typically enrolled in dance, acting, instrumental, or sports classes. The reason parents typically do this is to see where their sons or daughters’ interests lie. This is a smart move since getting introduced to several different activities can help build character.
My parents did this as well. By the time I was six I had been in dance, soccer, cheerleading, gymnastics, piano, painting, karate, acting, and singing classes. I had even auditioned for a commercial or two at one point.
And this method of introducing activities through clubs at a young age typically works. Many of my closest friends have been dancing since they were two and are still passionate about it. I know so many amazing soccer players who fell in love with the sport when they were just four years old. They went to these classes and something just clicked and they knew they wanted to keep doing this for as long as they can. After doing so many of these, nothing clicked for me. There was never an aha moment or a “this is what I want to do for the rest of my life” lightbulb in my mind.
So, why did it not work for me? During those classes, I felt like I had walked into the wrong room, like everyone around me knew exactly what they were doing and enjoyed it while I was just going through the motions. It is no one’s fault and I loved my teachers and the friends I made throughout them, but it just was not me.
Who knew I would have stumbled upon my future outside of these classes?
Throughout kindergarten, first grade, the singing, acting, and cheerleading, I was teaching myself to code. Something my parents knew very little about until I showed them my first website at six years old. To me, programming was a hobby and something I did for fun, I never had an aha moment because to me it was like a video game and I did it when I had time after school.
In 2007, there were no coding classes for children in first grade or Girls Who Code clubs. All I had were Youtube videos, blogs, and an old box computer that would probably be in a museum today. For a six year old who was still learning to read, it was challenging, but something about solving problems and bringing something to life with a few buttons was just incredible and made me feel like I could do anything.
That was when it clicked.
After nine years of programming, why did it click during my first proper class? I did not realize it then but the reason it did was because of the unknown power classes and clubs have. They show students that this is an activity where they can be supported and nurtured and can become something big in their futures.
Self-teaching myself to code was challenging, fun, and introduced me to a hobby that I loved, but taking a course surrounded by peers and teachers who share my interests showed me that computer science is my future.
I had finally had the aha moment that my friends had in my singing and cheerleading classes- the one that told me that I want to keep doing this for as long as I can because this is what I want to do. My little hobby that I did after school when I was six had become my passion.
I always wonder what would happen if there were computer science classes for kids like me when I was younger. Would something had clicked back then?
This made me realize something. How many future computer scientists could there have been if they discovered it the same way that dancers discover their love for the sport? If it is such a lacking industry, why are so many children unfamiliar about the field? Could having young children learn basic programming skills increase the amount of people in the field? How many inventions or ideas could have been brought to light if these potential programmers discovered their talent? How many people could have had their aha moment if they were just taught one programming language.
This is why I believe that coding clubs or computer science classes in schools for younger students should be developed. Sure, they do exist in some areas, but finding those in a nearby proximity is like finding a needle in a hay stack.
This is why I have so much love, appreciation, and respect for groups like National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT), Code.org, Kids Ruby, Scratch, and Girls Who Code. Their missions are to introduce programming to children at a young age. I have no idea where I would be without them. Kids Ruby, Code.org, and Scratch showed me that children are more than capable to learn to code. They were my inspiration to help teach kids to code in a less intimidating and challenging manner than what I had used to teach myself. Girls Who Code and NCWIT introduced me to the women in technology community that I had been missing for my whole childhood and showed me how strong and empowering girls are. Through these organizations I have found friends who share my interests and connections that I will have for the rest of my life.
Since taking that first class in high school, my life has changed so much. I learned eight more coding languages, been recognized by several organizations, and even started a not-for-profit. Programming Pals was an idea that had been going through my mind since I was fourteen. The thought of creating an online computer science tutoring service for students with disabilities was exciting and could show a huge minority in the tech industry that they belong as much as the rest of us. I constantly wonder if I would have brought Programming Pals to life if I had not taken my first coding class during my freshman year. It truly shows how impactful and important clubs and classes are in helping students discover themselves and coming up with big ideas.
Coding should be like acting or dancing. It should be introduced at a young age so children may discover if they have a passion for programming like I did. Who knows how many lives will be changed for the better if one more school or club begins to teach computer science.