Frequently asked questions

About programming as a hobby

Why choose programming as a hobby?

The most important reason is that programming is fun! Programming is one way to self-actualization: by programming it is possible to design and implement your own games and programs. The programming hobby also supports developing problem-solving skills, logical thinking and understanding of mathematical concepts.

The programming hobby does not include learning to use different technical devices or repairing computers. However, it helps to perceive that somebody has developed every technical device and its functions that we use in everyday life. Reading this text would not be possible without programming.

For whom is the programming hobby suitable?

Everyone can start programming. Depends on your own background and skills, in what way it is recommendable to begin. Check out the short descriptions of programming clubs in English or more detailed ones in Finnish.

Before choosing your first programming language, you should consider what the aim of practicing is. Do you want to do interactive applications, for example, or statistical calculations, exercises that prepare you for programming competitions, or your own website? The most important thing is to find a material or a project which is suitable for you and interesting enough to spend time with. In any case, it will take some time to gain the skills for programming the whole project yourself from start to finish without any instructions. Therefore, patience is needed!

Basic skills in one language will support you to learn other ones. Almost all programming languages are based on the same logic. Taking this into account, it does not matter so much, what language you choose at the beginning of your hobby. But then, there are certain languages that are friendlier for beginners than others. Scratch offers a good visual environment to start for any literate person - also for adults. Among the text-based programming languages, Linkki recommends Python and Java. The University of Helsinki provides a free MOOC of Object Oriented Programming with Java, which is available both in English and in Finnish.

What kinds of need for support does a child have with the programming hobby?

Like all other learning activities, learning programming is also affected by motivation. For learning, the most favorable kind of motivation is internal motivation. Learners who are internally motivated want to learn because they are interested in the topic. Accordingly, intrinsically motivated children are interested in programming and that is why they will visit the programming club frequently. In this case parents do not need to give separate rewards to the child for learning. You could say that the child’s own interest is an important starting point for the hobby.

Support from an adult is needed for raising and maintaining motivation. The younger the child, the more support is good to provide in the learning processes. Among other things, the perceptions of yourself as a learner, skills to direct your own work and concentration skills will develop gradually with gained experience and years of age.

It is recommended that children are toward meaningful learning. As an adult, you can discuss with the child about what she/he has learned from the projects. The atmosphere at home affects the attitudes of the child: the most important thing is to create a supportive atmosphere for learning! It does not matter if you are not familiar with the concepts the child is studying, as long as you have a supportive attitude.

It is worth trying to discuss programming-related topics with the child. Even if there is not lot of time, help your child in starting to program. Create a user account to Scratch together. Creating an account requires a parent’s email address for e.g. allowing the child to share projects. After creating an account, show the child how to find ideas and materials for projects. Occasionally, ask the child to show you what he/she has achieved and ask about how the functions are made. Be supportive and focus on the parts of the project that function well. Discuss the things your child has learned and what the child would like to learn next.

Drawing the line between programming and screen/game time can be difficult. One possibility is to settle the rule that in programming time the child can play only projects made by him/herself.

What equipment is needed in programming?

To participate in Linkki clubs you do not have to have your own computer at home, although it is easier for a child if she/he has the opportunity to practice programming at home or, for example, in a library. For learning routines in programming, it is useful to have more time for programming than only the club time (2 hours per week).

For using Scratch, you should have a computer with functional internet access. Also, Adobe Flash should be installed. A mouse is not obligatory, but it makes programming more comfortable.

For making applications for Android devices by using AppInventor at home, an Android phone or tablet is needed.

For programming with Python or Java, Python or Java should be installed on your home computer. It is also recommended to install a suitable text editor, such as Pycharm or NetBeans. An Internet connection is not necessary for the actual programming, if everything needed is already installed. However, searching for information or asking for help on the Internet might help with possible problem situations.

Do you have recommendations for things we can do together at home to support the programming hobby?

  • Hello Ruby: a book and material
  • Code.org: easy programming challenges for beginners on the Internet
  • Lightbot: a beginner-friendly application that teaches algorithmic thinking through robot-controlling tasks (available for mobile devices and computer)
  • Code Combat: programming game, playable in the Internet browser

My child’s project does not work like she/he planned - what to do?

Programming is not always so easy and inevitably your child will face moments when the project does not work immediately like planned. It is important to discuss this with the child and point out that these situations are common. You can also tell them that the hobby helps to develop valuable skills in problem solving. There is no need to panic!

If the project does not work, first find out which functionality the child is trying to implement. Also ask the child to describe how the functionality should work. Then go through the code together, even if you are not familiar with programming. The child is often able to solve the problem by simply talking it through with someone.

If the problem continues, the child can ask for help from the Linkki advisors in Peliklinikka (the instructions are unfortunately only in Finnish). Please note that in this case, you should accept the project-sharing of your child’s Scratch account (the message for accepting the sharing comes to the parent’s email straight after the child has created an account in Scratch). Help in challenging situations is also available from the programming clubs. The Linkki advisors are happy to help!

About the club supply of Linkki

How to choose a suitable club for a child/teenager?

Please have a conversation with your child/teenager about choosing the club that interests her/him. The short descriptions are on the club page. There are also more detailed descriptions in Finnish. Linkki coordinators are happy to help you with choosing a club. You are welcome to send any questions to linkki@cs.helsinki.fi.

What kind of language skills are needed in the clubs?

In Linkki clubs guidance and instructions are given in Finnish. Participants should have sufficient skills in Finnish to understand them. Sometimes there have been bilingual children in the clubs. Advisors can answer single questions in English and part of them also in Swedish. Unfortunately, Linkki is not able to organize instruction entirely in English/Swedish for any individual child in a club.

If you have already collected group of children, it might be possible to organize instruction in English/Swedish. If you are interested in tailored programming classes, please contact the Linkki coordinators (linkki@cs.helsinki.fi) and tell them more about the needs of your group.

We are not living in the metropolitan area. Is it still possible to get help to learn programming?

The virtual club of Linkki supports learning Scratch programming regardless of time and place. The instructions for attending the club are only in Finnish at the moment. If you are interested in text-based programming, the University of Helsinki organizes MOOCs in Java programming, which are available also in English.

My child does not like school mathematics. Can she/he learn programming?

Mathematics and programming are often connected to each other. In both fields, logical thinking and problem-solving skills are key competencies. The algorithms (or operational guidelines) are present in both areas of expertise. However, guidelines are applied also in many other contexts. Your child is already used to them! She/he has perhaps taken part in baking or put on outdoor clothes before going out. There is a certain formula behind these actions. Basically, algorithms can be equally described as performing certain functions in a certain order.

Liking mathematics or skills in mathematics are not prerequisites for learning programming. In programming, mathematics is handled early on. For example, coordinates are needed when planning the movements of game characters. However, the basic calculations (known from the school world) are rarely used. The programming hobby can support learning mathematics, but it is also possible to focus on projects that are not directly related to mathematics. After all, Linkki advisors have noticed that many club visitors are enthusiastic about applying mathematics.

My child has special needs - can she/he participate in a Linkki club?

Everyone interested in programming is welcome to participate in the clubs! Please let us know about your child’s special needs by sending a message to linkki@cs.helsinki.fi. Together we can discuss how to ensure your child will get the best possible experience of a club!

Linkki welcomes parents to support their children in clubs when needed. The club spaces are accessible. Scratch programming is unfortunately not suitable for visually impaired persons, but text-based programming is possible with a screen-reader program.