Patreon: Teaching Computer Skills to Children

GeekMom Claire Jennings is making it her mission to bring computer science to the youngest children, so they’re prepared for this world full of computers.

Jennings, a software design engineer, believes that “the changes in how we communicate, have fun, and do our jobs is radically different from when we were young.” But, as yet, education is still taught based on a world before computers. Her solution?

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Introduce computer science in a way “similar to how we introduce the English language–through monthly computer science lessons and computer science picture books.”

She’s already giving her five-year-old daughter, Samantha, these lessons, and is working on two books so other parents can teach their children. In the meantime, she has a Patreon where she’ll be posting monthly computer science lessons for young learners, Emerald Snake Media.

I interviewed Claire about her upcoming books, her Patreon, why she thinks learning computer science is so important, and what parents can do right now to help their kids in this area even if they’re not experts.

GeekMom: Does a parent have to be an expert in computers to teach any of this to their kids?

Claire Jennings: Parents don’t have to be an expert in computers to teach this to their kids. One of the things about making computer science accessible to preschoolers is it makes it more accessible to anyone. While there are some of these lessons that will come easier to your preschooler than they will come to you, I work with other parents and teachers to ensure that the lessons and books are approachable to both preschoolers and their parents.

Three Little Pigs Lesson, with coding. Image via Claire Jennings
Since the Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Wolf was Samantha’s favorite store, Claire decided to retell it as if talking to a computer, using adapted UML, and pseudo C. Image via Claire Jennings

GM: You want to bring lessons in computers and how they work to preschoolers. Why is this so important?

CJ: In my lifetime, I have seen the world go from a largely computer-free world to a connected world with computers in everyone’s pockets. The changes in how we communicate, have fun, and do our jobs is radically different from when we were young. My five-year-old daughter thinks it is normal that cars drive themselves. Yet, in a world where she can easily consume computers and connected virtual realities, we still teach skills targeting the world before computers at the youngest ages.

GM: How capable are kids this age of grasping essential concepts of computing and tech?

CJ: Computer Science is a combination of language skills, math skills, logic skills, and science skills. All four of these things can be introduced to children at a young age. In fact, age zero to five is the best time to introduce language skills. If you do nothing but expose your child to these four subjects, you will be getting them off to a good start. If you know how to combine these in a playful manner, your child can be programming by age five just like Samantha is.

GM: What have you found works with Samantha? What are her favorite ways to learn?

CJ: Samantha loves her Montessori school and the hands-on “work” based exploration she gets there. While she is now coding on the computer, she still loves it when the magic of computers can be explained to her in a way she can play with it with her hands helps. Additionally, any time she can figure things out for herself instead of being told is a time she is more likely to really get something.

You can support Claire’s Patreon at Emerald Snake Media.

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Writer, Mom, Geek and Superhero. though usually not all four on the same day. Author of the award-winning Phoenix Institute Superhero series and the steampunk novel, The Curse of the Brimstone Contract.