Topic outline

  • Introduction

    Children's book author and programmer Linda Liukas says:

    "This generation of children is growing up in a world where computers and coding take up a large part of everyday life. It is therefore important to encourage children to be curious about technology and to show them that they can invent, construct and create many things with a simple computer keyboard".

    Of course, working with young children at ECEC is not about teaching them how to programme using source codes and coding language. Rather, it is a matter of promoting certain skills in a playful way, which is not only decisive in coding, but also in daily life. A few important skills, apart from teaching media literacy, are the promotion of patience and concentration, the expansion of vocabulary, logical and planning thinking, structuring and orientation skills as well as the understanding of symbols.

    Active media work in the area of coding is well suited to satisfy children's basic need for play in a collaborative and thematic manner. However, many professionals are already deterred by the term coding. It seems as if special expertise is required here, but coding simply means recognising structures and sequences, something we do every day.

  • About this Module

    When studying this course you will…

    • Gain knowledge about different ways in which coding can be used in pedagogical everyday life
    • See that you do not need necessarily special programming knowledge to teach basics of coding
    • Be encouraged to learn from children, to make them become open, shine with their expert knowledge, and reflect their use of the medium more easily
    • Get basic information about working creatively with the programme Scratch Jr.

    In this module…

    • Basics terms in coding are explained and visualised
    • Practical advice on creative work with children in ECEC is given
    • Activities will support you to better understand the content and to prepare (yourself) for the assessment
    • Further links will guide you to more information
  • Coding in ECEC-Centres

    Coding means giving commands to a robot or computer by entering codes. Coding is used to create robots, webpages, and programmes or apps. Codes consist of symbols and characters that stand for certain commands. The nature of the codes can vary and codes can be entered in different ways ranging from simply typing keys to control a robot to using complex coding languages.

    To introduce children to the basics of coding, you don't have to work on a computer, tablet or robot. For example, you can start small with tricky logic games or room-based motion games. I recommend games that focus on creative and collaborative solutions to cognitive problems. By acting together, these games also promote social learning, problem-solving and communication skills.

    Children usually recognise computers only as devices for watching videos or playing digital games. These devices are primarily used for information retrieval or entertainment. The content is only consumed, not actively produced.

    Coding means becoming a creative and active designer of media products.

    Those who can programme can implement their own ideas and create something new. In everyday life, too, at least the basic knowledge of coding is becoming increasingly important. With basic knowledge of coding, the chances in the job market increase and it is also possible to move more self-determined through our (media) world and design it consciously.

    Moreover, learning the basic principles of coding promotes planning competence, logical thinking and stimulates children to discuss sequences and order of principles. With the help of playful coding, children can learn to solve problems creatively and successfully. This can be achieved in ECEC centres with the help of various exercises and games or simple apps such as ScratchJr. Gradually, children acquire knowledge about the functioning of a computer and develop IT skills. They learn, for example, that computers only execute commands that are given to them by means of codes and are thus controlled by humans.

    Comprehension Questions

    1. What do codes consist of?

    2. What do codes enable us to do?

  • Working with Coding

    Despite the general concept that coding is difficult, children can learn the basics of coding more easily than most people think. Even preschool children can understand basic coding concepts, even if they don't know what they mean in detail. 

    So how can coding be designed for preschoolers? We all regularly use coding concepts without realising it. It seems surprising that almost everything people do in everyday life can be used as an example to teach children the concept of computer coding: baking cakes, preparing breakfast, putting on clothes, brushing teeth, and much more. All these activities are practical algorithms that are carried out daily and that are very well suited to be used in ECEC centres as examples of coding. 

    The basic coding concepts are presented below using simple examples, which can be easily used in ECEC centres. Neither a computer nor any other digital medium is necessary to convey these basic principles. 

    Concept 1 – Algorithm

    When trying to introduce children to the subject of coding, it is a good idea to start with a lesson on algorithms. The word algorithm will not be familiar to a five-year-old, but it is a daily concept and easy to understand.

    An algorithm is an instruction to perform a particular task and to achieve the desired result. It describes the sequence or arrangement of commands or work steps.

    A computer programmer therefore writes an algorithm to tell the computer HOW to perform a particular task in order to achieve the desired result. It uses certain elementary instructions, such as sequence, loop, or branch.

    Achievement Always Requires a Sequence of Steps

    Watch this short video to see algorithms are part of our everyday life (an automatic subtitle can be set in the YouTube video under Settings).

    Think with the children about the order in which they should get dressed. You wouldn't put on your socks over your trainers or your T-Shirt over your sweater. When getting dressed, certain steps are followed so that you are properly dressed at the end. Let the children develop an algorithm for getting dressed in which they paint the individual steps in the appropriate order on paper.

    Children know the principle of instructions and their order in their daily lives: getting up, brushing their teeth, going to ECEC centres, returning home, taking off their clothes, putting on slippers, etc. Based on these examples, you can explain algorithms to the children with words that they understand well.

    Draw the children's attention to how often they encounter orders/algorithms in their everyday lives. In addition to the routines already described, such as brushing their teeth or getting dressed, activities such as building blocks, handicrafts or cooking are also algorithms. Let the children tell you the individual work steps.

    Handling algorithms can be supported very well with the help of photos by capturing the individual steps, e.g. during baking, in pictures. These can then be hung or laid out in the appropriate order.

    Template “Find the Algorithm”

    Concept 2 - Instruction and sequence

    Instructions and sequences belong to the elementary building blocks of an algorithm. Explaining this concept to children is very easy.

    Basically, it means that a task is done in a certain order. The sequence of the task is sorted very precisely with the help of several instructions. A single task given to a child or a single order is called an instruction. A single instruction is e.g. "get up" or "go 10 steps". If you receive several instructions in a row, it is a sequence, e.g. "go 10 steps", "turn left", "go 5 steps".

    The completion of certain tasks in the appropriate order is one of the core competences that children learn in many areas, which makes the introduction to coding possible across disciplines. It is therefore not necessary to create extra time for teaching coding in the existing daily routine.

    You can include an exercise on the subject of instructions and sequences in your pedagogical everyday life while you read a book to the children or look at a book together. Try to break the story down into episodes (instructions) together (the order of the episodes is a sequence). You can ask the children, for example, to bring the fairy tale of Little Red Riding Hood into the correct sequence of steps by using various pictures of the fairy tale. This way the children will learn to understand the sequence of a story.

    Concept 3 – Loop

    When talking with children about the term "loop", they certainly already have an idea of it in their head. It is something that always rotates in a circle, i.e. repeats itself.

    If sequences, i.e. several instructions in succession are to be repeated several times, again and again or until a certain condition is fulfilled, then we have a loop.

    Here, too, it is helpful to resort to everyday life in order to explain the concept of loop to children. There are things that children do every day, i.e. repeat every day: brushing their teeth, having dinner, going to ECEC centre and much more. These activities are carried out in a certain order/algorithm.

    With the help of loops, the computer algorithm, but also our daily life becomes simpler and more efficient. For example, children are only told to get dressed before they go to play in the garden, as they do every day. The ECEC professional no longer explains to the children the individual steps in which order they should put on which piece of clothing.

    See the difference between sequence, selection an loop explained in this video (an automatic subtitle can be set in the YouTube video under Settings).

    Concept 4 – Decomposition

    Computer programmers break down complex steps and arrange them in order. This process is called decomposition and is one of the cornerstones of coding.

    Decomposition means that problems are broken down into manageable and smaller units. For a computer, this means that it is given tasks to perform in pieces that are so small that it can understand them.

    Encourage children to break down everyday activities into small steps. Let the children explain to you, for example, how to brush your teeth. It is easy to say that you take your toothbrush and brush your teeth. Get the kids to think of smaller steps: first you take water, then you take the toothbrush, then you put toothpaste on the toothbrush, then you add some water, then you lead the toothbrush to the teeth and scrub the brush on the teeth back and forth, and so on. Of course, this action must be repeated as often as necessary until it is completed. There are many steps in brushing teeth.

    Template “Role play to practice algorithms”

    Concept 5 – branch

    Structures in which instructions are executed when certain conditions are fulfilled and other instructions when these conditions are not fulfilled are called branches. So, a decision is made about what happens and what doesn't.

    In order to explain the concept of branching to children, you can use their daily routine. Every day the children get up, have breakfast, brush their teeth, go to the ECEC centre, come home from the ECEC centre, play, have dinner, brush their teeth, get a book read to them and go to sleep. However, this daily routine can be different on Thursday from other days of the week, because the child goes to music school in the afternoon, for example.

    Let the children explain their normal daily routine to you. Then ask them: "But what happens if you have dance lessons on Tuesday after ECEC centre?" or "On Friday you go to play with a friend and have dinner there. What does that mean? This way the children will understand the term "branch".

    Concept 6 – Debugging

    Debugging is basically the process of resolving a problem that is encountered while instructions are given to reach a particular goal.

    Background Information – Bug:

    Bugs are programme or software errors that cause computer programmes to behave unintentionally or unexpectedly. The term bug is associated with the scientist Grace Murray Hopper (1906-1992), who discovered a dead moth as a cause of error in a partially electromechanical computer (Mark II).

    Share your knowledge about the creation of bug with children. They will certainly find it funny.

    When you talk to children about the concept of debugging, they need to understand that it is the resolution of a potential problem. The teaching of this concept is suitable for ECEC because it teaches skills that go far beyond basic coding skills. These include skills that are essential for the children's future, such as problem solving and resilience.

    A good example of explaining the concept of debugging to children is to give them a task to do in a certain order and deliberately include an error. So, write a "sequence" and set a step wrong. The children will notice that they will not reach their goal and will have to find out for themselves where the error lies and correct it.

    Debugging, however, is not the easiest concept to understand. Some children can get impatient if they don't get the answer immediately. But in computer coding this concept plays a big role and learning it can also be very helpful in daily life.

    Example of Algorithm – Brushing Teeth (Simplified)

    All the concepts of coding presented are important for children, not only for coding, but also for learning everyday skills that can be useful to them throughout their lives. Therefore, it is advisable to start teaching younger children about coding.

    For children, beautiful books for reading with great exercises, which are also very suitable for ECEC centres, are the books around the protagonist Ruby. So far, the young author Linda Liukas has published four "Hello Ruby" books translated into over 22 languages, all of which are imaginative and child-friendly about the world of computers and coding.

    Click on the picture to get to the “Hello Ruby” homepage:

    “Hello Ruby” Books offer Opportunities to Practise Coding Skills

    Comprehension Questions

    1. How can you explain sequence, loop, and branch to young children?

    2. What is an algorithm referring to simple everyday tasks?

    3. How can decomposition facilitate young children?

  • What do Children Learn from the Basics of Coding?

    Development of problem-solving competence and resilience

    The ability to solve problems is a competence useful in everyday life. It is desirable that children become excellent problem solvers. In addition to solving problems, children can develop the ability to recover quickly after failures. They learn that failure is not necessarily a bad thing. And indeed, it can be something positive because learning progress is also achieved because of mistakes. Coding gives children the opportunity to try something again until they have achieved the desired result. At the same time, their patience and ability to concentrate are exercised at an early stage. Learning coding gives children the opportunity to acquire problem-solving skills and resilience while they are still young. These are important qualities that can help children through life.

    Development of mathematical skills as well as orientation and structuring competence

    Coding is not only about learning how to write lines of code. To be able to programme effectively later, you have to be able to think logically. The basics for this can already be laid in ECEC. Children must be able to recognise a problem and then divide it into small parts. Only this way can it be solved effectively. This is also called "decomposition" and is one of the most important mathematical abilities.

    Encouraging linguistic and communicative competence

    When children learn the basics of coding in ECEC, they not only expand their vocabulary, but they also learn how communication works. Children learn that

    • you have to express yourself very concretely,
    • how to deal with misunderstandings and
    • that someone else may understand something differently from what you meant.

    When coding, very clear instructions must be given about what to do, otherwise the computer does not understand you or it does something else. This ability to think carefully about how to express oneself and describe something precisely with one's words is a skill that is very helpful in all areas of life.

    Promotion of creativity

    While coding, children learn to experiment and this gives them the confidence to be creative. They have the opportunity to create something of their own. Just like learning a musical instrument or a new language, children need motivation. They love to get feedback on something they like to do. Since coding is easy to learn, children become confident in creating something new in a playful and creative way.

    Support of social competence

    Because children do not yet sit in front of the computer alone and write codes, they usually learn the basics of coding without a computer in their group. This can help promote social skills such as the ability to collaborate in a team, and the ability to accept constructive criticism.

    Skills Acquired Through Learning Coding

    Comprehension Questions

    1. What benefits do young children gain from Coding?

    2. How can their social skills be enhanced by using coding in ECEC?

    3. Explain how problem-solving skills can be acquired by using Coding.

  • Basics of the App ScratchJr

    ScratchJr is an app and another tool that children from four years of age can use to learn the basics of coding, in addition to the options mentioned above. They can work creatively with ScratchJr, do research together, solve problems independently and learn in a playful way without the need for reading and writing skills. Children can set their own challenging tasks, such as developing a little game or telling a story, and try to find their own way to master them. They learn how to carry out tasks in a playful way, to plan, to rethink and to adapt them if necessary. A special feature of the app is that it focuses on working in a group and solving problems together. Since the results of actions to be carried out are immediately visible and noticeable, children can also learn directly from their mistakes. The app has been carefully designed to correspond to the personal, social, cognitive, and emotional development of preschool-aged children.

    With the help of the app children have the possibility to move figures or objects, make them dance, jump, sing or react to each other. They can choose from different backgrounds and build worlds or stages for their figures. They can record and play their own voice or noises. Self-made photos can also be inserted. So, at the end whole projects, like stories or games with several scenes, can be developed independently.

    The app is available for free download for Android Tablets and iPads in the respective app stores. 

    In this module, only the interface and the most important elements of the app are presented, since there are numerous tutorials on ScratchJr in different languages, which combine detailed programme explanations and concrete tasks for children's groups. The app itself also contains a helpful tutorial for adults and an introductory video for children. The best way to learn how to use the app is to carry out concrete actions and achieve goals. Since these actions can be very different, they naturally depend on the respective child or "programmer" who is currently using the app.

    We recommend the following Internet page with tutorials for the app:

    • The most important answers to questions, tutorials, and application examples can be found on the official page of ScratchJr:

    Developer: A consortium of developers from Tufts University in collaboration with the MIT Media Lab and grants from the National Science Foundation.
    Systems: For Android Tablets (from 7-inch and Android version 4.2 or later) and iPads (on any iPad 2 or later, including any iPad minis that have iOS 7.0 or later installed).
    Costs: Free of charge.
    Target Groups: Children from 4 years (up to 8 years), pedagogical staff, parents.
    Topics: Practical media work, mathematical work, problem solving, orientation and structuring, creative design.
    Advertising: No advertising
    Usability: Fully functional offline.
    Navigation: Very simple and clear; no reading and writing skills necessary.
    Design: Simple, understandable language; clear and high-contrast colours; reader-friendly; clearly laid out.

    How does ScratchJr work?

    Start right now and try out your knowledge in practice. Our practical examples may give you some initial ideas.

    Comprehension Questions

    1. Is ScratchJr app suitable for very young children? Explain.

    2. What can ScratchJr app help young children to do?

    3. What tasks can children carry out by using ScratchJr app?