On Coding for Kids

How to make your child a great coder - a basic primer. It doesn't involve WhiteHatJr, unfortunately.

I’m the parent of a 7 year old and thus I have been served the WhiteHatJr ads relentlessly since March 2020.

The message of these ads is largely the same - “teach your kids to code early because Mark Z and Bill G started early.” Some of the ad copies are more aggressive - “earn 1Cr by age 12,” some are less so - “coding lessons will be useful for a future in engineering.”

These ads prey on parents who (presumably) want the best for their kids. Which parent would want to deny their kid a coding lesson when told that it could potentially make their kid a billionaire? Parenting is about enabling a little human to grow into a successful adult. And it looks like we, as a society, correlate success with money (bank balance se rangeet din raat hai). It’s surely a captivating idea that there exists a magic pill (called coding) that will make a child a brainiac, a genius, a magnet for money. But it’s a false promise - in the same league as Fair & Lovely - which magically gives dark skinned girls a job, a husband, and self-worth. Ugh.

I really feel awful for the parents who are falling for these ads. Firstly, the world needs each child to be the best at what they are - and it could be dancing or singing or writing or medicine or law or archeology or whatever. What we need is happy adults, not coders.

But OK, if it has been decided that a child is to be geared up for a life full of coding, then WhiteHatJr is not the way to go. I present a 4-point formula to help your child become a coding guru.

How to Make Your Child a Great Coder - A Basic Primer

  1. Mark Z and Bill G might have started coding early. But they were also great at math. So start with math. More specifically, start early with arithmetic, geometry, and logic. Does your child really understand the decimal system (and maybe binary and hexa too), the long division algorithm, fractions, properties of triangles, etc. Can your child use logic to win a game of Battleship or Cluedo? If not, they will be a cut-copy-paste coder, not Mark Z or Bill G.

    Hot tip: If your child doesn’t have access to a great math teacher, or even if s/he does, you could try the award winning Dragonbox educational games on the iPad. Very good for arithmetic, geometry, and algebra.

  2. Teach (human) languages early. Language learning involves pattern recognition and logic - both are very useful for coders. A child’s ability to pick up new languages starts dipping by the age of 7 and it’s gone by the age of 15 (Pinker). If your child can pick up 3 languages by the age of 10, then s/he’s a winner. The ones high on the leaderboard can do 5 languages by the age of 10.

    Bill G learnt Latin and Greek. Mark Z can speak Mandarin.

    Hot tip: Bill G is also a voracious reader. If you really want your child to be like Bill G, then the thing you need to focus on is reading (not coding). Tomorrow’s Bill G and Mark Z would have independently read and understood a 250 page book (e.g.: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone) by age 8, maybe 10.

  3. To be a fabulous coder, other than math and language, your child needs an arsenal full of soft skills - s/he needs to be an independent thinker, a curious person, and a creative soul. Plus your child needs to be brave, persistent, and rigorous. No class can teach your child to be these things.

    Of all the soft skills, the most important (for Bill G and Mark Z kid of entrepreneurship) is to enable your child to be an independent thinker. Start early by letting him/her choose. Let them choose badly and fail, and choose wisely and succeed. Let them choose to waste time. Let them watch you choose. Fill their world with great options and let them learn how to choose. Maybe guide them on how to do a pro-con analysis. Or tell them about cognitive biases. Let them say ‘no’.

    Look - there are thousands of chat apps there. If WhiteHatJr is enabling your child to make 1 more - that doesn’t mean anything other than that your child is great at following instructions. That’s not Bill G or Mark Z. That’s Sriram, the middle age middle income, middle management, EMI-paying IT professional (no offence to all the Srirams out there) (no offence to IT professionals either).

  4. Coding is a multi-player game. Can your child work well in a team. Can s/he hold her/his own in a team of superstars. What about leadership skills? Without these, your child is simply not going to be Mark Z or Bill G. Send your child to a dance class, a music class, push him to go play a team sport, learn to operate in teams.

    The 1-man coding guru is a myth. Mark Z or Bill G weren’t 1-man armies. They coded with others, in a team.

To summarize: Blindly believing in WhiteHatJr ads will make your child a cut-copy-paste coder. If you really want your child to be like Mark Z and Bill G, then take the long road. Or at the very least, start with a low investment simple app like Tynker and check if your child is excited by coding in the first place.

Hot tip: The pure Montessori system is built to make kids independent. If you have the smarts, and the courage, then put your child in a pure Montessori school (e.g. PEPv2) from ages 2 to 12. And if you need a big name to sell it for you, here are a few: Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Google founders Larry Page and Sergei Brin were Montessori kids, and famously part of the Montessori Mafia.