The Essential Skill Schools Don’t Teach

Written on December 11, 2013 at 10:00 am , by

Last week I asked you to help your kids understand how much human brilliance went into creating a world where we can ask for a portable touchscreen tablet that connects to the Internet—and reasonably expect to get one—for Christmas. This week is Computer Science Education Week (CSEdWeek), so I’m asking again: Would you teach your kids to read without teaching them to write? No. But that’s what lots of people do with technology. We give kids a phone, tablet or computer and let them use it, but we never even suggest that they learn to program it.

Software coders contributed to the computer I’m writing this on, the phone I use 30 times a day, the website I just shopped on, and the economic growth of the last 50 years. I want my kids to know how to code. It’s not even that hard. And it’s certainly a necessary skill for the future. Computer programming jobs are growing at twice the national average and are among the top-paying jobs available.

I’m not alone in wanting kids to learn how to code. Microsoft, Apple, Google, Facebook and Twitter all agree on how important this is. But 90% of schools don’t teach it. Less than 2.4% of college students graduate with a degree in computer science, and not a single U.S. state has computer science as a graduation requirement.

Step up. Help your kids learn this essential skill. And sign a petition to get schools to teach it. Head over to, watch the video (above) and get in the game to raise awareness about the importance of putting computer science classes in schools, and to encourage 10 million students to join the “Hour of Code” campaign this week.

If you’re still shopping for holiday gifts for your kids, help them to think of themselves as creators—writers—of the future, instead of just passive consumers—readers—of its innovations. Here are some toys and games that will inspire their creativity and help them see themselves as builders of technology.


Bookmark this programming language and online community and help your youngster learn to program and share interactive media such as stories, games and animation with people from all over the world. It teaches kids to think creatively, work collaboratively and reason systematically. It also helps them learn to code—and code to learn.


This site lets kids click and drag to create animated movies and stories. Got an iPad-toting younger child (6 to 8)? Install the mobile app.


A dollhouse—with circuitry—that encourages girls to build structures to meet their own vision. Created by two female engineers determined to inspire a generation of girls to become engineers.


This set of building blocks appeals to a girl’s desire to tell stories as she plays. Also designed to inspire the next generation of girls to think of themselves as engineers.

Kodu Game Lab

Playing games is fun, but building them is creative. Help your kids tap into their creativity and get them excited about computer engineering with this game-design tool that lets them build their own video games in minutes. Available for PC or Xbox.

Lego Mindstorms

Take that impulse to build things with blocks into the world of robotics with the programmable robotics kit from Lego. Or install the app on that new tablet and use it to help your teen think like a programmer.


Christina Tynan-Wood has been covering technology since the dawn of the Internet and currently writes the Family Tech column for Family Circle. You can find more advice about buying and using technology at




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3 Responses to “The Essential Skill Schools Don’t Teach”

  1. I’m a veteran teacher and a parent, and my question would be: what would you like schools to STOP teaching to try to fit in one more thing? Budgets are already being slashed and many schools struggle to pay teachers decent wages and keep offerings like art and music. Instead of petitioning blindly, run for school board and work to understand what your school does offer and where it needs help meeting more needs for more students. Work with local tech businesses to offer free classes during study halls. Schools and teachers are doing the best they can under so much pressure these days that adding to the demands almost guarantees a bad result. Can you say “No Child Left Behind Law”? I sure can!

  2. It could be an elective in Middle School or High School. Nothing would need to be taken away. I am sure there would be an easy way to make it required to graduate high school without taking away any core classes as well. Instead of 10 electives, they take 9. I also think that personal finance should be required too. There has to be a way to fit it in somewhere because the kids that don’t have the programming computer savvy parents will otherwise not get an introduction to it until college. I am 30 now but computer programming was not taught at my school and my parents barely knew how to operate a computer let alone fix one or program it. What I do know about computers I learned from friends or from self teaching, but I never would have known that I would need programming even though I am not going into the computer science or programming field. I am a physicist finishing my degree and if I had half of the programming experience that some of the young people today have just from their spare time I would be at a much better advantage. There are a lot more places where coding is required then one might think.

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