Learn to Code: JavaScript

Khan Academy was where our children first started their journey to learning programming. They started here and progressed to Codecademy. I’ve included both resources in this single post because they use the same computer language: JavaScript. Both resources employ a technique called responsive programming environment where you can literally type code into your browser and have it do something for you. You may not have heard of JavaScript previously, but chances are that you run some form of JavaScript every day. It is used in most browsers to manipulate web content before you see it. JavaScript is a language of the web.

JavaScript in Summary

Requirements Any computer that has a browser.
Cost Most learning resources are free but there are also paid alternatives.
Independence Level Children can work through the material independently after the initial set up.
Target Beginner / ages 9 & up
Outcomes An understanding of how computer programs are written.
Resources The two websites that we used have multiple learning videos that can be viewed and reviewed. There is an option to look at the source code of other programs so you can learn from other people’s work. The documentation pages on KhanAcademy are excellent.

JavaScript Background

JavaScript was invented by Netscape (now Mozilla) as a web browser language to run code on user computers during browsing. This ability to run code on the local computer, rather than on the webserver is called client side processing. The need to run code locally is driven by the need for websites to interact with the viewer. The JavaScript language is not derived from the Java language. The name JavaScript was chosen after initial release, to give it an air of pedigree.

What is Good about JavaScript as a Learning Language?

JavaScript is ubiquitous. You are most likely already using it whenever you fill out a form on a web page. It is a relatively easy language to learn. There are a great many resources available to help you learn it, more than other languages. JavaScript is open source, so once you know where to look you can read other people’s code and learn from them.

Khan Academy

Learn to Code: JavaScript

Khan Academy blends their watch and learn approach to other topics with an interactive console in the browser. You don’t need to install anything on your computer to use this resource. To get started simply create an account, if you don’t have one already, and browse to the ‘Computer Programming’ option under the ‘Learn’ menu. The ‘Learn Programming’ link then brings you to a set of tutorials to get started. Follow these and you are on your way. There is ample documentation for when you hit a speed bump, and the content is well moderated so you can allow your children a certain degree of freedom on the site.


Learn to Code: JavaScript

The Codecademy experience is quite different from Khan Academy. They employ a ‘learn by doing’ approach with prompts to nudge you in the right direction. Here you are given instructions for what you need to do and then it lets you do it yourself….or mess it up, whichever happens first. There are hints available when needed and clear, easy to follow instructions. It doesn’t have the pre-exercise tutorial experience of Khan Academy, so younger children may struggle at first. The ‘learn by doing’ approach has many great merits and this resource is great for that, however our experience has seen the children favour Khan Academy over Codecademy.

Our Children’s Take

IrishDev: Did you find JavaScript easy to learn?
IrishDoom: I only really changed a bunch of numbers and words to make it do something different, like making flowers turn into weeds.
IrishCyborg: Yes it was easy. Khan Academy was easier than Codecademy because it was more fun to do. Khan Academy is where I started liking coding.

IrishDev:Where you able to follow all the videos?
IrishDoom: I watched all the videos during the hour of code, I did learn from them but that was a few months ago so I forget now.
IrishCyborg: I was able to understand all the videos in Khan Academy and could follow the exercises on Codecademy.

IrishDev: How about the drawing features in Khan Academy, did you use or like them?
IrishDoom: I didn’t like the drawing features because I could only draw circles, lines or rectangles. I wanted to be able to draw pixel by pixel like with Scratch.
IrishCyborg: I did find the drawing a bit limited because you can only draw the basic shapes. I understand why they don’t allow you to use images from your computer (because some people might use rude images). The drawing section in Khan Academy helped me understand the coordinate system which is useful for other languages too.

IrishDev: Would you recommend these two resources to someone wanting to start programming?
IrishCyborg: No, I’d start with Scratch first, and then come to Khan Academy. Codecademy has a more official version of JavaScript so that would be good to use if you want to continue with JavaScript. I started learning Python after Khan Academy

Other resources for learning JavaScript

Note we have not used all of these resource ourselves, they are included as reference.

JavaScript for Cats …because cats are coders too ??? This is an entertaining e-book.

LearnStreet similar to Codecademy, it also has projects to pick and work through… always a good motivator to have something to show at the end!

CodeSchool have some free JavaScript courses, but unless you are considering signing up for the full membership it may be preferable to stick with a consistent experience from one of the other resources.

Mozilla Developer Network the originators of the language should be able to teach you a thing or two about it. It’s a bit dry for kids, so use this for further learning.


Other Posts in the ‘Kids that Code’ series.


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