Computational Thinking in Early Childhood

The development of skills related to problem solving is closely linked to a type of thinking called computational thinking. Learn more in the following article.
Computational Thinking in Early Childhood

Last update: 29 April, 2021

The development of computational thinking in early childhood involves the creation of conducive learning environments and activities that allow children, in their early stages of development, to progress in computational skills.

What is computational thinking?

The term “computational thinking” was first used in 1996 by Seymour Papert. This term refers to a method or approach to formulating and solving problems by considering the integration of digital technologies with human ideas.

So, it’s thinking that involves a mental process capable of formulating problems that a computer can find solutions to.

Thus, the development of computational thinking allows people, through computing skills, to solve problems of different kinds. The skills we’re referring to take part in various types of thought, such as:

  • Critical thinking
  • Lateral thinking
  • Logical thinking
  • Analytical thinking
  • Algorithmic thinking
  • Divergent thinking
  • Abstract thinking
Computational Thinking in Early Childhood

Due to these types of thought involved, computational thinking is considered to be a problem-solving process to develop higher-order thinking. In this sense, the Computer Science Teachers Associations (CSTA) and the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) argue that this problem-solving process includes the following characteristics:

  • Formulating problems that can be decomposed and solved with the use of computers.
  • Logical organization of data for analysis.
  • Using simulations and other data abstraction models to represent the data.
  • Automating solutions through algorithmic thinking, consisting of an ordered series of steps.
  • Analyzing the implementation and solution steps to improve effectiveness, efficiency, and resources.
  • Generalizing and transferring this problem-solving process to others and to other situations.

Computational thinking in children

It’s important to note that we shouldn’t directly relate early initiation in computational thinking skills to programming objectives.

Along those same lines, Jeannette Wing, former corporate vice president of Microsoft Research, who has greatly developed the idea of computational thinking, argues that this is a way of thinking that isn’t just for programmers. In fact, she goes on to say that these are useful skills for everyone, not just computer scientists.

So, teaching skills that are part of computational thinking helps children – from a young age – to better structure all the other knowledge of school subjects. At the same time, it encourages the practice of STEM skills and promotes innovation and creation.

And, since occupational thinking involves abstract and complex mental processes, it’s best if it’s encouraged from the earliest stages of child development. Just as it is in other areas such as dance, music, sports, or art.

Computational Thinking in Early Childhood


Importance of play in developing computational thinking in children

By now, you may be thinking that the development of computational thinking in children seems to involve a certain complexity. However, several studies show that, in a playful way, through games, it’s possible and accessible for children to progressively develop this type of thinking. That is, through fun, free, and voluntary activities that motivate their learning.

Thus, one way of approaching the teaching of programming skills to children is through the creation of robots. Robotics is a technology that allows the understanding of sequences of instructions that follow one after another. All this aims to achieve a final goal, which is typical of algorithmic and computational thinking.

Today, there are several computational platforms, such as Scratch, where children can create games and activities, and generate computational thinking.

Scratch is a visual programming language for children 6 years and older, developed by the “Lifelong Kindergarten group” at the MIT Media Lab (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). It’s free and valid for Windows, Mac, and Linux platforms.

Regarding the development of computational thinking in early childhood education

To conclude, it’s important to include content related to programming languages in the early school curriculum. Furthermore, it should adapt to the children’s learning and development level. As we’ve seen, learning this content is beneficial for children because it improves their attention span, concentration, autonomy, and creativity.

Therefore, integrating robotics in the early childhood education classroom is a good way for children to begin to become familiar with computational thinking. Considering the maturity and learning level of children of infant age, the training and intervention of the educator will likely be essential.

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