This post may contain affiliate links.
Coding has been taught in so many different ways. With a quick Google search, you can find video games, apps, robots, and courses all geared toward teaching coding.
Unfortunately many involve your child sitting for hours in front of a screen.
With the World Economic Forum projecting that 9 out of 10 jobs will require tech skills by 2031, teaching our kids how to code is more important than ever. However, along with the growing demand for computer skills comes growing unrest over screen time. According to My Vision, 78% of kids are on the computer for a minimum of three hours per day. Three hours!
Screens aren’t bad, but everything in moderation amiright?
Hold up, before I try to convince you why screen-free coding is great, let’s address the elephant in the room.
What even is screen-free coding???
It sounds a bit silly right? But think about it!
Programming languages are just that, languages. These languages are used to describe a series of steps for solving a problem. Kids can learn the logic of problem-solving, and even learn languages that let them write down their solutions in a programmatic way. There are some programming languages that were specifically developed as kids coding languages.
Untethered from the screen, kids are free to write “programs” that create origami, bake cheesecake, or clean bedrooms. They can execute code instructing them to color, dance, or tell stories. By stepping away from the computer, they are free to spend more time problem-solving in fun, engaging, and real-world ways.
All the computer does with a program, after all, is run it.
That said, here are 5 reasons you should start off with teaching your child to code without a screen.
1. Screen-free coding is… screen-free!
So I’m starting with the obvious here. The benefits of this fact alone are fairly apparent. Less time on the computer equals more time running, playing, and generally being kids. It also means not worrying about the growing dangers of the internet. Need I say more? Not really, but I’m going to anyway.
- 59% of parents are worried about their child’s screen time (My Vision)
- 78% of kids are on the screen for at least 3 hours per day (My Vision)
- Kids between the ages of 8 and 18 in the U.S are on the screen for 7.5 hrs each day (Kaiser Family Foundation)
I haven’t even mentioned the very real issues of internet safety and the media bombardment of a culture that may not match your values.
Don’t get me wrong, the internet can be a wonderful thing. No parent, however, should be forced to deal with the potential issues related to screen time as the only way for their child to learn to code. They should have a choice.
2. Your child can be the coder and the computer
Screen-free coding isn’t just a contingency plan for the screen adverse. It is actually better for learning than computer-based coding.
With traditional coding (can we say traditional for something that’s only a few decades old?), your child writes a little program in Scratch or Python or whatever, then presses go. From that point on, the computer takes over. The computer steps through the program, executing each instruction with unbiased precision. Your child, however, doesn’t get the benefit of any of this important work. What are they doing in the meantime?
Screen-free coding gives this amazing learning opportunity back to your child! They will have the opportunity to be both the coder and the computer as they walk through their own code, seeing exactly what it does.
3. Stepping away from the computer helps you slow down
My young kids and I are learning Scratch programming (see? I told you I wasn’t totally against screens!) along with a screen-free curriculum that I’ve written.
What I so often see from their time with the computer-based approach is that they aren’t really trying to learn; rather, they are just seeking the dopamine rush that comes from pushing the big green go button. They love entering random blocks of code and random numbers then sitting back and watching what crazy things their little character does. I get it, it can be pretty funny! But it’s not coding. The same thing happens with robot-based learning toys.
With no “push-go-and-watch-the-world-burn” button, screen-free coding helps encourage your child to slow down and think through what they’re doing and why. I see the same joy in my kids as they’re running down the hall playing the boolean bolt, a game that comes in our screen-free curriculum.
The big difference? They’re actually learning.
4. Kids can step away from the trees and see the forest
In order to interact with screen-based coding education, your kid needs to learn how to code the basics. Captain obvious strikes again.
Think about it though. When we’re faced with a problem—say, making dinner—do we first chop carrots or measure milk? No! We think about what we’re going to make! We make a plan, break it down into small steps, and only then do we get to work cooking.
Getting off the screen allows you to focus on big-picture problem-solving skills alongside practical code. It is the big-picture skills, after all, that differentiate great engineers from people who simply know a programming language.
5. Problems should be approached from many angles
Screen-based solutions are limited by what the technology behind the screen can do. With the video game versions, you are generally navigating a character around trying to achieve an objective. With coding robot toys, you’re trying to get the robot to perform a specific action. These are great! However, they’re limited by nature.
With screen-free solutions, your world opens up. Your kid can program their friend to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. They can perform search and sort algorithms on a deck of cards. They can clean their room in the most efficient manner.
This has three main benefits.
1) Actual engineering problems are so often broad and open-ended, and they work hand-in-hand with other disciplines such as architectural design or even food preparation. They aren’t “make the monkey get the banana in 100 different ways.”
2) If kids learn how to solve engineering problems from only one context, their approach to problem-solving will be narrow and constrained. Screen-free approaches allow you to teach programming skills through art, kinesthetic activities, cooking, reading stories, or even making a board game. This is a much more well-rounded and broad approach that helps your child learn the actual skill, not just one narrow implementation of that skill.
3) They will have more of an opportunity to solve actual problems. Children need to be given real, tangible problems to solve… not sand-boxed artificial problems that we create for them. The best place to prepare them to work in the real world is in the real world.
Whether you’re just trying to dip your toes in the waters of programming, or you have a seasoned mini-engineer living in your house, screen-free coding offers a number of benefits above and beyond what traditional screen-based educational tools can offer. Your child will ultimately have a better grasp of how to think out of the box and approach real-world, nitty-gritty problem-solving from several different angles.
To get your kid started, I’ve created a color-by-numbers-style printable available on this site that will help your child understand how computers think while they’re coloring some silly robots rocking out to rad tunes.
If you want to explore a full, screen-free curriculum that embraces the five values mentioned above, check out Salt and Lightspeed’s Programming Unplugged curriculum.
Ways to get started with screen free coding
Here are some screen free coding ideas:
Color By Code Printable
Looking for a great way to teach kids coding screen free? We’ve teamed up with Salt and Lightspeed to treat this Color By Code Sequencing Printable. This printable teaches basic coding principles using Color By Code style instructions with a twist.
Students will follow coding instructions in sequence while learning a variety of coding commands and ‘computer speak’.
Color By Code Printable Preview
Lauren Schroeder was a Boeing Engineer who left the workplace to move overseas and become a homeschool mom and university educator. Excited to share her passion for coding with her kids, she was quickly discouraged by the lack of a comprehensive, real-world curriculum. Pulling together her experience coding, teaching, and momming, she wrote her own curriculum which can be found on her website.