Parents have a complex relationship with screen time and technology use at home. On the one hand, we are constantly trying to limit mindless screen time in order to promote productive activities. We want our kids to do activities that are educational, social, creative, and challenging.
Yet at the same time, we want our children to be technically literate. We know that computers and technology are pervasive and their use will continue to grow. So how do we make sure screen time is productive and builds lifelong skills?
Kids coding classes may be the solution you are looking for. It seems there are endless options, from summer all-day coding camps to free online tutorials — it is easy to endlessly bounce from one to the next without truly getting anywhere.
Breakout Mentors provides a long-term solution that grows with your son or daughter as they advance over months or years. I will review their online kids coding classes with personalized one-on-one mentors.
About Breakout Mentors
They have been helping kids learn to code since 2011, which makes them one of the earliest companies in this space. It started with in-person coding around Stanford University right in the heart of Silicon Valley — Palo Alto and Los Altos, California.
The Founder is a Stanford Engineering graduate and started the business to provide a more personalized and long-term option for kids learning to code.
Many kids go through coding summer camps and online tutorials where they are given step-by-step instructions. This can provide exposure to coding concepts but doesn’t really challenge the student’s logical reasoning skills.
One of the main advantages of one-on-one instruction is meeting the student where they are in their learning process and continuing to challenge them at the right pace over months and years.
Today Breakout Mentors works with kid coders online all over the world. Their unique blend of project-based learning from ages 8 to 17 is an excellent match for beginners to very experienced students.
One-on-one learning is not the cheapest option for kids to learn to code, but with a team of impressive young mentors, you know they are in good hands.
Learning to code can be very tough, especially for kids. It requires you to type out the code perfectly and kids aren’t exactly known for their attention to detail.
That makes the subject sink or swim: at an early age, kids might decide they aren’t good at coding and it isn’t for them. What if they had help at that crucial point to get past the initial hurdles?
I love the personal connection that is part of having a mentor. Simply providing a role model at a top university studying engineering is huge. It makes the STEM education path seem achievable for children.
Plus, a mentor can encourage the natural creativity present in young girls and boys, helping them bring their ideas to life.
It is clear that coding is important to the future and schools aren’t adapting fast enough to provide this education. So while I love free activities, kids’ coding is one of the areas I think it makes the most sense to invest time and money.
I know many parents are overwhelmed with the number of kids’ coding activity options. So it is wonderful to have a program that grows with your son or daughter. That way, you don’t have to constantly evaluate whether one afterschool class, summer camp, or online tutorial matches your kids’ experience level. It is a one-time decision to get on a learning path that will continue to challenge them at the right pace.
How it Works
Breakout Mentors has a unique onboarding process. One of their experts connects with the parents by phone to understand more about the potential student’s experience and interests in coding. This showcases just how much effort is put into personalizing the experience for each student.
When you sign up, you are sent a form that gathers even more preferences for scheduling and mentor personality. The online sessions can be held on weekdays or weekends, which is wonderful, given how many activities a family has on their calendar.
They will take all the information about your son or daughter and discuss it with the mentors to determine the perfect match. The mentors are Computer Science and engineering students at top schools like Stanford University and UC Berkeley.
Generally speaking, it is a weekly 90-minute session over video conference, although there are other options. The billing is by monthly packages that include some flexibility to skip weeks occasionally. This is a huge benefit since it can be tough to reschedule around family trips and holidays.
There are three different monthly package options available, with the most popular option is committing to at least three monthly sessions for $425. Then if you meet a fourth time, it is billed an additional $110, which is a massive 22% discount. Overall, these options provide a lot of flexibility that busy families appreciate, including rescheduling or canceling sessions directly with the mentor.
Homework between sessions is something that can be personalized for each student. Some families don’t want more work other than the weekly 90 minutes. Other families may want thirty to sixty minutes of assignments to reinforce the learning.
Monthly written recaps are provided to the parents about what was accomplished in the previous month’s sessions. This provides a good opportunity to ask your child about their project and how it works. The mentor also provides notes about skills they are working on and future plans.
Beginner to Advanced Options at Various Ages
Personalized kids coding means Breakout Mentors is a good fit for any age or skill level. So while there aren’t hard and fast rules for slotting students into tracks, let’s look at the various options.
Coding Fundamentals Track
This is where most students start unless they come in with a lot of experience. The goal is to master coding logic: understanding the flow of the code with loops, conditionals, variables, and functions.
The mentor assists with the many skills necessary beyond the individual concepts, like planning ahead and troubleshooting when things go wrong. All while doing exciting projects
For students ages eight to eleven usually use the Scratch drag-and-drop coding language to start. This allows them to do exciting projects more quickly without typing out the code. Then when they are ready, perhaps after one year in working with a mentor, they switch to typing the code in Python.
Students twelve and up are encouraged to jump into Python coding. They will learn how to use a graphics library to create exciting games and projects.
Computer Science Track
Once students have established solid coding fundamentals, they are introduced to more challenging and powerful computer science concepts. Beginner middle school students might switch to the Computer Science
Track one year into working with their mentor. Or high school students with some previous coding experience may jump straight into it.
In the Computer Science, Track students learn Python, Java, or C++ based on their age, experience, and interests. The language isn’t as important as learning to think more abstractly: understanding the power of planning to utilize object-oriented concepts, recursive algorithms, and data structures.
Girls Coding Academy
The Girls Coding Academy is not a curriculum track but a more specialized offering for girls learning to code. Girl coders face additional obstacles in camps and classes filled with boys.
That’s why it is ideal for working one-on-one with a female mentor who is passionate about girls in STEM.
USACO Competitive Programming Academy
Advanced high school coders may have heard of USACO competitive programming. USACO is the most prestigious measuring stick for talented coders and a fun challenge for anyone who enjoys puzzles.
Breakout Mentors has a team that focuses specifically on preparing for these contests. It requires learning advanced data structures and algorithms to write code that efficiently finds a solution to the puzzle problem.
Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence Academy
Again for advanced high school coding students, this track is project-based learning in an exciting new area: Artificial Intelligence. Machine learning is the study of techniques to solve complex tasks using data.
Unlike traditional software, ML algorithms can adapt and improve their performance and have become increasingly important in today’s world of big data. These algorithms power many of today’s applications, from search engines to speech recognition, disease detection, and semi-autonomous vehicles.
The impressive projects produced can make for an excellent capstone project for high school coders. This provides something to write about on college admissions essays that combines several areas of interest.
Breakout Mentors is a great choice for families serious about giving their kids the best way to learn how to code. It is comforting to know that they will have a STEM role model to meet each week who will continue to challenge them at the right pace.
It is sometimes hard for non-technical parents to evaluate the numerous kids’ coding options out there, so leave it to the experts to determine where your son or daughter should slot in. Breakout Mentors have extensive experience in this and have worked with many students for years as they advance.
No matter what solution you choose, I hope you explore coding as a productive use of screen time for your son or daughter!