Computer programming skills are becoming more and more important in today's job market, and First Presbyterian Day School is giving students an early chance to develop those abilities.
The north Macon private school offers coding exercises both in the classroom and during an after-school program, said Laurie Colter, FPD's lower school technology teacher.
"There's a national trend for kids to learn computer programming because we have lots of computer science jobs that are available, but we don't have enough graduates to fill those jobs," she said.
FPD's students -- beginning as early as kindergarten -- use the website www.code.org to learn the basics of coding through puzzles, mazes and games. Code is a term for the backside operation of websites and other computer applications, which directs the actions that correlate with keyboard and on-screen functions.
The site is free and offers tiered instruction that allows students to progress through difficulty levels and earn certificates at the completion of specific programs.
"It's very important for kids to learn at a young age because they get excited when it's fun and easy, and then as it gets a little more challenging, they've got that foundation that they need to solve problems and kind of think outside the box," Colter said.
That persistence when tasks get more difficult is key to both programming and other areas of learning. Colter said the younger students pick up on that aspect of the coding programs even before they realize what computer programming can actually be used for.
"They know that they are solving a problem, which they are," she said. "But it's OK to fail and try again, and that's a very good lesson for them to learn." Beth Burnsed, the school's communications director, has a 7-year-old son, Jacob, in the second grade at FPD. She said that since he's started learning about coding in class, his interest in Legos and games has turned to computer programming.
Burnsed said Jacob will even come home and want to get some coding practice outside of class.
"My son's always enjoyed puzzles and mazes," she said. "That's something that's really opened his eyes."
While FPD's elementary school students are still a bit young to be seriously directed toward careers, computer programming and application development wouldn't be a bad choice. Department of Labor projections suggest that such careers will continue to be among the fastest-growing fields over the next decade or so.
Marla Windham has an 8-year-old son, Beck, at FPD, and she mentioned that job possibility to him. He had previously thought of coding as just games, but he was excited to know he could do it for a living one day, she said.
"He was like, 'Really? That would be so much fun,' '' she said.
Windham said she was surprised at how quickly Beck and his classmates seem to learn the coding that might be difficult for adults to pick up.
"It seems to come so much more naturally for them," she said.
That comfort with technology is one of the biggest changes Colter has seen in her 21 years in the classroom, 16 of them at FPD. There was a time when students might come to school having never used a computer, but now they're familiar with using laptops, iPads and other devices at home.
"The computers have gotten a lot smaller, they've gotten a lot faster and the kids have gotten a lot more tech-savvy," she said. "I used to know a whole lot more than my students, and now sometimes they come in and they even know more than I do."
Besides the classroom activities, FPD offers a Kool Kids Coding Club for children throughout the community, whether they attend FPD or not. The next session will be offered for students in kindergarten through second grade Tuesdays in March from 3:45 to 4:45 p.m., with a cost of $60 for the four-class session.
More information is available at www.fpdmacon.org/center-for-discovery.
"It's been very popular," Colter said. "The kids really enjoy coming."
To contact writer Jeremy Timmmerman, call 744-4331.