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Computational thinking: Kids don't need digital games to learn it

Teaching our pre-schoolers that symbols and/or colours have referential functions useful in facilitating thought processes in planning and problem-solving is nothing new (Pre-schoolers get early start in coding game; May 22).

In fact, children acquire such thinking quite spontaneously though many activities with representational intent, such as numeracy, writing, drawing, singing, dancing or pretend play. They generate marks and symbols, or body movements or gestures to code, create and express meanings from scratch.

Children already learn "algorithmic thinking" - logical sequencing or doing things step-by-step - through retelling a story from start to end, breaking down complex tasks into sequential steps during outdoor play, or even through skills such as dressing and undressing themselves.

Pre-schoolers also acquire the "decomposition" thought process through playing with puzzles or blocks; they learn that many parts form a whole picture or structure.

I am concerned that these skills are now being introduced on a tech-platform via screen time. Playing digital games at a young age may not be developmentally appropriate.

Can we really observe computational thinking and coding acquisition skills in the pre-schoolers? How can we help them expand these skills beyond digital games and into solving everyday problems?

The increased exposure to digital games and screen time has future implications that we need to mitigate.

Rebecca Chan (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 28, 2017, with the headline 'Computational thinking: Kids don't need digital games to learn it'. Print Edition | Subscribe