A lot of parents begin to teach their children programming using MIT’s Scratch. As an easy to understand language with basic functions, it’s an excellent introduction to basic programming concepts. Eventually, though, you’ll want to go further. This article will describe why we think you should teach your kids Python.
Python is a scripted computer language. Kids type in it, rather than drag and drop blocks to make their programs, which enables them to begin learning more complex coding constructs. It’s more of a ‘real world’ programming language than Scratch.
At the same time, it’s relatively easy to learn. If you’ve been teaching your kids Scratch successfully and they’re getting to their tween years (10-12) then they’ll probably be ready for some experiments in Python.
Here’s why you should consider Python as your child’s first ‘grown up’ programming language.
One of the most important elements of a programming language for young learners is its human readability. Scratch excels at this, which is partly why it’s such a great programming tool for younger kids. Python extends this tradition for older children.
There’s no doubt that Python is more complex than Scratch. Children still have to type in Python, rather than drag and drop commands and assembling their code like Lego, and that leads to more typos (although some coding tools will help your children to spot these). This is due to the power of the language. Nevertheless, Python computing code is about as human-readable as it gets.
You still have to understand some basic programming concepts to program with Python, but the readability of the language helps you to pick it up.
The technology industry uses it
If you’re teaching your kids their first real-world programming language, it makes sense to teach them one that’s popular. It’s easier to find programming examples and answers to problems online when you’re using a well-established coding language online, and it also makes it more valuable in the long run.
Should your child ever decide to go into a computing career, then they’d be well-versed in the fifth most popular programming language in the world as of March 2016 (according to the Tiobe Index, which ranks programming language mentions on popular search engines). The top five are far more complex languages, making Python the best bet for budding young coders.
Python powers some of the most popular web sites on the planet, including YouTube, Dropbox, Instagram, and large parts of the Google website. Python programmers – even little ones – are in good company.
It runs on everything
Python was developed in 1989, and its community has been growing ever since. This means that it can run on pretty much everything, including Windows, Mac, Linux, and even Android and Apple’s iOS. That’s handy, should kids want to switch between different computing platforms at home and at school, for example.
The Raspberry Pi and the Microbit support it
Well, we did say it would run on anything. Raspberry Pi, a microcomputer that is fast becoming the de facto standard for teaching kids computing projects, uses Python as its recommended learning environment.
Lots of other programming languages have been ported to the Pi, but Python is its pet language, making Python + Pi a slam dunk for kids’ computing projects. In the UK, the BBC’s Microbit also supports Python using its MicroPython port.
You can do practically anything with it
As kids venture further in their programming adventures, they’re going to run across different ways to write programs. There are a variety of different programming styles, ranging from procedural through to object-oriented. It might not be that relevant as they get started, but the ability to explore different programming styles in a single language will be beneficial as they evolve and get more interested in coding.
Python also has some amazing libraries and frameworks built for it, that can be plugged into it much as you’d add features to a car. The libraries are free, and a fully-loaded Python can do everything from analyzing natural language through to designing computer games. There’s even a framework called Django that will enable more ambitious kids to build their own web apps.
Want to teach your kids Python but don’t know where to begin? Here’s an inexpensive course that will help you on your way.