According to new research* almost half of our children want a career in tech. Ellie Trotter, Senior Product Manager at Amazon Development Centre Scotland reveals how to inspire your children to pursue their dreams in a digital age…
Build a robot
A great starting point for demystifying tech for your children is by building a robot together. Go as simple as possible. There are lots of cool robot kits with built-in features like remote controls, sounds, lights and collision detection. These definitely have their place, but if you really want to demystify tech for your kids, strip it back to the most basic building blocks.
The super simple Micro:bot pack from Technology Will Save Us (£39.99) is for kids aged 11+ and up. You start with a cardboard box, add in a few wires, a couple of wheels and motors and your robot is complete. Connect the included BBC micro:bit to a computer to program it by dragging and dropping blocks of code, and then you have a programmable robot that can move around your floor!
Building something physical lets kids get their hands on something tactile in the real world, rather than programming a game which lives “inside the computer”. When I do this activity with primary school children, I love that they get to see there’s no magic involved. The children also get that sense of pride from having created something themselves.
Join a code club
A number of schools and community groups offer after-school or weekend Code Clubs for kids. Code Club UK has over 6,200 clubs running across the UK, where young people aged 9-13 can build and share their ideas, learning along the way. If there isn’t one near you codeclub.org.uk have a range of online projects, which are easy to follow, step-by-step guides which help young people learn Scratch, HTML & CSS, and Python by making games, animations, and websites. The projects gradually introduce coding concepts to allow young people to build their knowledge incrementally, which also means there’s no need for the adult running the session to be a computing expert.
Another wonderful way to get your kids coding is through Scratch or Scratch Junior (for younger kids aged 5-7). It’s a very simple interface where you drag and drop blocks of code to create your program or game and doesn’t require any typing – which can be a struggle for younger children. With Scratch, children can create their own interactive stories, then share and discuss their creations with one another.
Invest in the right toys
For younger children, take a look at what STEM toys are available. At home, we have a great mouse toy that you have to give commands to get to the cheese. It’s a form of programming, but ultimately they just see it as a fun toy – which of course keeps them interested and engaged. It’s even worth going down an age range to start off with. The mouse game is aimed at ages 5-9, so we bought it for our 5 year old. But in fact it’s our 8 year old who gets the most out of it.
Using apps to learn how programming works
For older kids particularly, learning how to make computer games or apps makes coding both exciting and relevant. Allowing them to focus on their interests and use their imaginations will help to bring it alive. This process will also get them thinking about being inventors rather than consumers. Kids’ editions of tablet devices offer greater robustness and are versatile and easy to use, and can be loaded with children’s apps such as Swift Playgrounds from Apple, which teaches kids to code. Other great programming apps for kids include the LEGO Mindstorms app (available on Apple and Android) and Bee Bot (for iPad), which are both free.
Get them thinking and get exploring
Make your children curious by asking them questions. ‘Why does jumping on the Stomp Rocket make the rocket fly?’ ‘Why does the moon change shape?’ ‘Why is it night time in Australia while we’re having our breakfast?’ Encourage them, from a young age, to question the world around them. Some of my favourite kids’ books that do this are the Usborne lift-the-flap Questions and Answers series.
If you work for a technology company, or someone you know does, see if you can get your kids in for a tour. It’s Bring Your Child To Work Day on April 26, a perfect opportunity to get them inspired about their future, and show them all the different career choices available to them. It’s always nice for your kids to see your place of work so they can imagine where you are all day. Even more so if you can explain what happens there and why it’s important.
I recently took a group of primary school children around our Amazon Development Centre in Edinburgh. Apart from all the cool tech that they got to play with, they were particularly impressed with the office itself – we have sci-fi movie themed meeting rooms, standing desks and every engineer has either a giant curved monitor, or two large screens. These items are standard for a tech company, but not necessarily in other industries.
However the thing they commented on most was how well Amazon appears to look after its employees – we have a lovely kitchen with table tennis and pool tables. Tech companies understand that sometimes you just need to step away from a problem for a few minutes and a solution will present itself. Hence the provided distractions – they’re actually part of the working day around here!
Keep it fun
More than anything else, keep it fun! You don’t want to bore kids or give them information overload, but rather awaken the problem-solving parts of their brains. Even gaming is good. My 8-year-old plays Mario Kart and although I don’t encourage too much of it, there’s a lot of problem solving, planning and timing involved – which isn’t a million miles away from programming. The same applies with games like Minecraft, which allows kids to plan, build and see the results.
Ellie’s on a mission to get more children interested in technology and passionately believes that, “We simply don’t have enough young people coming out of schools with the right skills. Getting children interested in tech and building skills at an early age, demystifies tech and inspires them to pursue careers in the industry – which offers incredible career prospects to the next generation.”
* Survey of 2,000 parents and 2,000 children aged 5-16 years carried out by One Poll in November 2017 on behalf of O2 and NSPCC.
Meet Marty, the robot who is hoping to introduce robotics and coding to a brand new generation.
Created by Robotical, an Edinburgh based start-up which aims to inspire, engage, and educate the next generation of engineers and scientists by letting them get hands on experience with their very own actual walking robot, Marty is their first product created by founder Dr Alexander Enoch who wanted a real robot to help his niece learn how to code. Marty can walk, turn, dance and even kick a ball and isn’t just a novelty, but a serious platform for learning. He can be upgraded, controlled over WiFi, programmed in languages such as Scratch and Python, and is Raspberry Pi compatible. Marty has won several awards since its creation, including: a Scottish EDGE Award 2016, Royal Academy of Engineering Enterprise Fellowship, 2nd Prize in the EU Robotics Forum entrepreneurship award, and the Converge Challenge Design and Creativity award. At present Marty is available to buy online direct from the Robotical website: https://robotical.io/shop/ for £150.