Why You Should Let Your Kid Build the Next Great App

The ability to code is an increasingly sought after skill. We explore some of the resources available to jump start your child's interest in programming.

Nearly five years ago, Apple opened up iPhone (and iOS) to developers, and launched the app revolution. Today, we have hundreds of thousands of apps to choose from, and app stores by Apple, Amazon, Google and a host of others. There are apps for everything, it seems, including apps to educate and entertain children. Some of these apps are made by children, in fact. Perhaps it’s time for you to encourage your son or daughter to build their own app.

Apple, for example, promotes their educational apps, telling parents “there’s no limit to the learning possibilities”. This may be true. After all, there are apps to teach a new language, to help children learn statistics, to explore the world and understand chemistry.

  • Super Scratch Adventure

    The Super Scratch Adventure book teaches kids programming skills by walking them through the creation of their own video game using Scratch.

  • Scratch

    Scratch is a programming language created by MIT that teaches kids the basics of programming while making it fun for them to learn.

  • Khan Academy

    The Khan Academy has a wide range of tutorials that emphasizes creativity and exploration and make programming approachable for people of all ages, including young kids.

But there are also apps that teach children how to code. Apps like CoderDojo help children interested in building apps stay connected with one another. Khan Academy offers apps and videos to help children learn the basics of computer coding. Scratch Maze and other apps are available to help teach mobile app programming. Even schools are leaping into the app development movement.

According to Forbes, in Silicon Valley there are after-school programs to teach children how to code. Some are even led by children:

It is the middle of summer in paradise and we are learning how to code and market iPhone apps. Our teachers aren’t computer science Ph.D.’s or even 20-something Google developers putting in some feel-good time, but rather Matt Dillabough and Max Colbert, two 13-year-olds who think Facebook is a fad and software development is a must-have skill.

Dillabough and Colbert are the founders and head teachers of the Menlo App Academy. The duo launched the Academy last fall as a weekend class after being unimpressed with their school’s computer class, which they describe as “typing”.

The Academy was quickly popular. Kids from Texas and Tokyo inquired about attending remotely somehow. The summer session sold out in weeks. The CEO of the recently-public security technology company Fortinet sent his son to the Academy, as did Chris Espinosa, Apple’s eighth employee (he was 14 when he joined). In a twist that could only happen in Silicon Valley, Espinosa pioneered Apple’s  Xcode integrated design environment. This happens to be the software-creating tool set these kids are using to build their apps.

It’s not only  happening in Silicon Valley, of course.  In England, the government is re-tooling the curriculum as it understands the growing importance of technology and app development:

A new ICT (information and communications technology) curriculum will be introduced in September. Universities and the UK gaming and technology industries have called for an overhaul to the teaching of computing and technology in schools.

The new curriculum could see 16-year-olds taught how to create apps for smart phones and tablets, and 18-year-olds learning to code.

The question remains: is learning to develop apps a worthwhile skill for your child?

Only you can answer that, but do remember: Apple alone has paid out over $8 billion to app developers.

Of course, maybe your child won’t earn much money from their app – or any at all. It can still be a worthwhile pursuit. Consider the story of this young man, Alex Greene. He built an app and though it wasn’t hugely popular, nor did it make him any money, it definitely helped get him into Stanford University’s prestigious Computer Science program:

Standing out from the crowd of applicants vying to get into Stanford University’s Computer Science undergraduate program is no easy task. That’s not surprising, given the high rankings Stanford has. With such a reputation, the competition for admission is fierce. So how does one think outside the box and grab the attention of admissions officers? Write an iPhone app! That’s exactly what Alex Greene did.

You never know…

About Brian Hall

Brian S Hall writes about technology, immortality and food for ReadWrite, Techpinions, Unwired View and other publications. His thoughts on the 'smartphone wars' and how these are rapidly de-constructing markets, industries, business models and relationships around the world can be found on his personal site at www.brianshall.com