Do 4-and-5-year-olds need to learn code in kindergarten?
Photo credit: Woodley Wonder Works (CC-By-2.0)

The Iowa Department of Education recently linked to an article written by Mary Stegmier at The Des Moines Register on their Facebook page.  They wrote, “A nice wrap-up of the steps Iowa schools are taking to improve, including support for teachers (TLC), early literacy and competency-based education.”

Stegmier pointed out five different trends launching in some Iowa schools this year including new tests being used to assess literacy. Schools that have student-led conferences  not only have students involved in parent-teacher conferences, but actually lead them (I’ll keep an open mind).  Competency-based education where students set the pace which sounds good because it is similar to what homeschooling families would do.  It’s pretty easy to do one-on-one.  In a public school setting we’ll see, and the devil, as always, will be in the details.  Giving schools the flexibility to do this if they want is great, but will this trend become a mandate?  To be seen.

Then the teacher leadership program will launch in 39 school districts.  I really have my doubts.  Pulling quality teachers away from the classroom doesn’t seem like the best idea to me, and the impact on the state budget is of concern.  Perhaps the pilot in these 39 school districts will be great and it will prove itself to be a program that others want to emulate – we’ll see.

The fifth and last trend Stegmier points out is kids learning to code.  As an idea it sounds great, but how she describes it gives me concern.

In classrooms across Iowa, 4- and 5-year-olds will learn rudimentary computer coding, and those lessons are expected to gain more prominence in Iowa schools in the years ahead.

A few national organizations, including CoderDojo and, have developed free, self-guided tutorials that teachers or mentors can use to introduce elementary, middle and high school students to the field of computer science.

Knowing how to code enables students to go from being consumers of technology to producers, said Vicky Pedersen, an Iowa City High School instructor who teaches pre-engineering courses.

Looking at a video that released last year I can get behind kids learning code.

But 4-and-5-year-olds?  I can see upper elementary, middle school, and high school kids learning coding.  I think it is a valuable skill one, having taught myself website development, that I wish I had a better handle on.  Kindergarteners need to focus on reading.  With Iowa Core’s implementation happening this school year in all of Iowa’s public schools and most accredited non-public schools; kindergarteners already face a tall order.

The Iowa Core’s math and English language arts standards encompass the Common Core State Standards.  Here are some of the standards being implemented in kindergarten classes across the state.

CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.K.OA.A.3 (Kindergarten Operations & Algebraic Thinking)

Decompose numbers less than or equal to 10 into pairs in more than one way, e.g., by using objects or drawings, and record each decomposition by a drawing or equation (e.g., 5 = 2 + 3 and 5 = 4 + 1).


For any number from 1 to 9, find the number that makes 10 when added to the given number, e.g., by using objects or drawings, and record the answer with a drawing or equation.

CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.K.NBT.A.1 (Number & Operations in Base 10)

Compose and decompose numbers from 11 to 19 into ten ones and some further ones, e.g., by using objects or drawings, and record each composition or decomposition by a drawing or equation (such as 18 = 10 + 8); understand that these numbers are composed of ten ones and one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, or nine ones.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.K.8 (Informational Text)

With prompting and support, identify the reasons an author gives to support points in a text.


Use a combination of drawing, dictating, and writing to compose opinion pieces in which they tell a reader the topic or the name of the book they are writing about and state an opinion or preference about the topic or book (e.g., My favorite book is…).


Use a combination of drawing, dictating, and writing to compose informative/explanatory texts in which they name what they are writing about and supply some information about the topic.


Participate in shared research and writing projects (e.g., explore a number of books by a favorite author and express opinions about them).

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.K.1 Speaking & Listening

Participate in collaborative conversations with diverse partners about kindergarten topics and texts with peers and adults in small and larger groups.

This is not the Kindergarten of my childhood, and it is no wonder that child psychologists, child development experts and social workers have shown concern about the developmental appropriateness of the standards.  They are causing stress as New York teachers have seen.  Do we really believe that Iowa students are that different?

Do we need to throw coding on top this?

I don’t think so.  I agree it’s important skill to learn, but it can wait.  Let kids learn how to read first, schools have had a hard enough time teaching that.

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  1. Primary grade students can use programs like Daisy the Dinosaur to learn easy coding-related logic. Nothing too strenuous and shouldn’t be more complex than many of the other electronic games they likely play at home.

    Is there time for coding in primary grades’ learning and teaching? Yeah, I think there is. I get what you’re saying about priorities and new complexities, Shane, but there’s an awful lot of slack in instructional time when we look over the entire year. After all, they have time for parties, movies, and lots of other non-instructional stuff. I’m not against any of those things necessarily, just noting that the time is there…

    1. Do you know why they make time for “non-instructional stuff”? Because we’re talking about FIVE year olds. There are plenty of adults who can’t sit still for eight hours a day, but we think nothing of asking a roomful of 4-6 year olds to sit down, shut up, and do what they’re told. They’re kids. Particularly at that age, kids learn through play. We used to allow that. Somewhere along the line though, we’ve lost sight of the fact that we’re talking about kids, not tiny adults.

      They have their whole, freakin’ life to be in school and to learn coding. They’re only kids for a short period of time. When (and why) did we get in such a hurry for them to grow up?

      1. Once again, I’m not against any of those things. And I’m not in any hurry for my kids to grow up either! 🙂

        I’ll note that, just as we find ways to make early literacy and numeracy fun and playful, the same can be done with early coding concepts. If you play around with some of the apps for primary students, you’ll see that they mostly address simple logic and sequencing concepts (which, of course, may help with other learning areas as well).

  2. I downloaded a free kids’ coding app, and my daughter didn’t enjoy it very much. She was in kindergarten at the time. The app’s premise was basically, you assign sounds to a character’s different actions. She had a hard time remembering which sounds she’d assigned to each action. It wasn’t strenuous, but it wasn’t something that really caught her fancy, either.

  3. Kids should learn how to program, not code (this post explains is what I mean ). I don’t think code if for everyone, I can even imagine some children being turned away from technology because of the pain of the syntax.

    There are some tools that enable people to build things and applications without actually having to code. So this is auto-promotion, but Bubble ( is one of them (I’m a cofounder). Kids can build functioning apps without code on Bubble. There is a learning curve, as it’s programming (which is what we need for kids), but this is with a visual interface that gets rid of the coding aspect. That way, they will have to think about the flow of actions, the data structure, they will have to handle conditionality in a visual way.

    MIT Scratch does that as well, but it’s about moving something on the screen. Bubble is a programming tool that lets people build apps like Facebook or Aibnb. Something kids could be excited about!

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