Singapore dad shares his secrets on helping kids become tech whizzes!
Kids love spending time playing games on their smart phones and tablets. One parent tells us how you can nurture this love of tech into much greater things!
theAsianparent checked out the 11th National Robotics Programming Competition at Nanyang Polytechnic earlier this week. This year’s competition, organised by Nanyang Polytechnic and Admiralty Secondary School, followed the theme “Overcoming Challenges, The Voyage Home.” And it showcases how primary kids using technology is possible!
We were excited about their new initiative that sees primary kids teaming up with their parents for the Smart Programmable Drone event. For this event, fly zones were set up with designated disaster, refugee and medical areas. Competitors received different objectives and needed to program their drones to complete these objectives.
We sat down with Nathan and Eugene Yap, one of the teams of that competed in the Best Drone Performance competition, to ask them about how they got involved with drone technology.*
Nathan told us that he first became interested in drones a couple of years ago when he was 5 or 6. So far, he’s mostly been learning the basics of Scratch. He’s excited to start P3 next year when he will be able to learn more about robots and drones in his CCAs.
We asked Nathan’s dad Eugene a few questions about how he encourages his son’s interest in learning to code at such a young age and what recommendations he has for other parents hoping to foster the same interests in their own kids.
Q: Hey guys, thanks for sitting down with us. Eugene, what are you doing at home to support Nathan’s interest in technology?
A: Right now the main thing is letting him take control and play at his own pace. We went through a few basics of Scratch together and then he made an animation with it completely on his own. His mom and I are careful to limit his screen time, but we think this is much better than using that time to play games.
Q: It’s amazing that he made an animation all by himself! Why do you think it’s important for kids to learn about technology?
A: In this day and age, it is so important to have a good grasp on how technology works. My generation focused on learning enough to be able to competently use these tools as they evolved, but kids now already know how to use a computer or smart phone from a very young age.
These days, it’s important to have a deeper understanding of how technology works. We think that if Nathan learns the “behind the scenes”, so to speak, then he will be better set when it comes to being able to fix something that has stopped working on his own.
Q: What are some other benefits of this hobby?
A: Nathan and I have spent a lot of time together since he showed an interest in coding, first learning the basics of Scratch and then me sitting with him when he’s working on writing and designing these animations. It’s been great father-son bonding time. After today’s competition, I’m very seriously thinking of buying a drone so that we can take it outside to fly during the school holidays.
Another benefit is that entering these competitions is a huge confidence-booster for Nathan. There’s the peer pressure element – that he sees other kids which make him think if they can do it, then he can too. At this event, and the one we entered previously, he was the youngest kid there and even though he doesn’t necessarily see other kids as being a different age to him, I think it is subconsciously building his confidence because he can compete at the same level as them.
Q: What are your recommendations for other parents with kids expressing similar interests?
A: The first step is being a strong reader. Our younger son, who’s three years old, is very curious but he’s really too young to start learning Scratch because he is still learning to read. We hope he’ll be able to start in another year though!
Another thing is to let kids go at their own pace. We never want Nathan to see learning to code as doing homework or another chore. His mom and I think that the best way to encourage this interest is through the kids still seeing it as playtime.
Q: Finally, do you think parents need to have a tech background to teach their kids about technology?
A: Definitely not! I’m a PE teacher and my “tech background” consists of one Java module that I took in university. This is all new to me, and completely different from anything I learned in my school computer classes. It means that I’m learning new things along with Nathan and I think that is part of what makes it fun for both of us.
* This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
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