How Coding Helps Kids Thrive - Jeff Hughes

How Coding Helps Kids Thrive - Jeff Hughes

Episode 1 - Jeff Hughes, Founder & CEO of Skill Samurai 

How coding helps kids thrive - Podcast - Parenting in the digital age

Speaker 1 (00:04):

Welcome to the Parenting in the Digital Age podcast, many parents are concerned that their child might be falling behind. Others are just looking for ways to help their children thrive, not just in the classroom, but socially and well into their future careers. Each episode, we explore the challenges facing parents in the modern world, from behaviour, education and nutrition, to device and gaming addiction. We interview a range of leaders in the area of childhood development to help you successfully navigate parenting in the digital age, here is your host Jamie Buttigieg.

Speaker 2 (00:40):

Okay. Welcome to the first episode of our podcast Parenting in the Digital Age. On today's episode, we are joined by Jeff Hughes, who is the founder and CEO at Skill Samurai. And today we'll be discussing how coding can help kids thrive. Now, Jeff, rather than me provide some pre-written bio introduction, uh, maybe you could tell us in your own words, a bit about yourself and, what you're passionate about and ultimately what Skill Samurai is all about.

Speaker 3 (01:08):

Yeah, thank you. I'm happy to be here. Um, so my name's Jeff, I live on the east coast of Canada in new Brunswick. I've been married for 24 years and we have three kids. Um, I actually started this business, uh, eight years ago after visiting my kid's school and seeing that they had three computers, uh, for 300 kids. And I realized that we, we needed to do something different that, um, education and education system just wasn't equipped to give my kids the skills that they needed. So I actually, uh, went and I spoke with some other dads and they shared similar concerns. Um, and then this was kind of the result, but what I'm really passionate about is the power of education to transform people's lives. Uh, when I look back on my experience, uh, a lot of the things I've done through my work and volunteer life have really been about that. And it's only looking back in retrospect that I can see that pattern of, uh, you wanting to be involved with education to, to help people.

Speaker 2 (02:23):

Yeah. And, and so what, what exactly is Skill Samurai for our listeners who don't know.

Speaker 3 (02:31):

Yeah. Skill Samurai is a stem and coding academy, and we really fit into that space that exists between skills that employers need and the skills that schools are able to teach. So there's always going to be a gap there at the moment that is a lot of computer science and computer programming classes, uh, technology classes. So we want to prepare kids with skills that they need so that they can really be career ready. Uh, by the time they graduate from high school for other kids, it is about helping them get far ahead so that they can really have a great, uh, application for university that will really help them stand out.

Speaker 2 (03:18):

Yeah. That that's, uh, that's fantastic. And it definitely fills a gap in the market. Now, perhaps I should take a small step back here and, uh, ask you for those parents who aren't familiar because I, I still meet parents who, um, you know, sort of say, Hey, Jamie, I don't know what coding is. Um, my, my son wants to, you know, do some computer programming, tell us what coding is. And, uh, you know, for, for those who don't know what coding is.

Speaker 3 (03:42):

Yeah. It's funny, eight years ago, we had to teach every parent what it was, uh, because they, they heard about it, but the, the old word for it was computer programming. And in the simplest term that is written instructions for a computer and a language that they understand. So there are lots of computer coding languages, and we focus on a number of them, but it would be the same way that I'm talking to you. If I were going to give you an instructions on how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, I would make a very detailed list. And then I would give it to you. That's what kids are learning to do with the computer. They're giving a detailed list of instructions for the computer to follow.

Speaker 2 (04:30):

Yeah. Okay. That, that makes a lot of sense. And, um, you know, there are, I guess there's a mountain of, of research that, uh, and studies that demonstrate how coding specifically, or computer programming can help children grow and thrive. But what are some of those specific ways that coding helps children?

Speaker 3 (04:49):

Yeah. I, you know, as I was thinking about this there, as we're talking about this gap in 2017, there were only 36 teachers in America that graduated with a computer science degree compared to 10,000 in math, 12,000 in science. So there's this real gap, even in the pipeline of teaching teachers, how to teach stem. So they don't really know how to, um, talk to kids, how to prepare them, how to, um, get them ready. So one of the ways that we help is kids come to us and they find a place that they belong. So I'll tell you, uh, about Nick, Nick was 12 years old. He was in a farming community. He loved computer science. It wasn't a part of his school curriculum. And it wasn't seen as something really cool by his friends. So it wasn't really valued. So as a result, he didn't have confidence.

Speaker 3 (05:57):

He, his mom found our camps through, uh, a program. We offered for the employees, an employee discount, and he came and within the first two hours, he was walking around teaching the other kids, sharing what he did. He started leading in the class that night. The mom called me and asked what happened, asked if we could start a school for her son, because his confidence was totally transformed throughout the rest of that week. He, he led the games. He walked around mentoring the other students. He came back another week. Then we had him come back as a leader in training. Then we had him come back as a paid coach. Um, so in his case, one small example of how him coming, finding a place where he fit in finding a place where his skills were valued and really brought about or helped him develop confidence that he didn't have before that.

Speaker 3 (06:59):

So we teach computer programming, but what we really want to see is that character transformation that kids are becoming confident, kids are learning how to solve problems. Uh, some of my own children, when something goes wrong, they really don't know what to do or how to solve it in little steps. So we like to show them that through learning computer programming, you're going to make a lot of mistakes. And the only way to fix it is through little, little changes, little steps. So we want them to, to learn those things. And lastly, with that, we only teach our, our classes, you know, in person we don't do online classes. And we do that because kids learn well as a team. It gives 'em the chance to, um, to learn while teamwork problem solving as a, as a group. Uh, and it gives 'em opportunities to teach what they've learned and also learn from others. So we want it to, uh, emulate a workplace, you know, in a classroom, you can go to the teacher for the answer at work. You can't go to your boss for the answer, you and your coworkers need to figure it out. So we really want the students to ask each other for the answers or for the solutions so they can work together. And through that, they can learn some valuable skills that traditional education doesn't focus as focus as much on.

Speaker 2 (08:25):

Yeah, that's a, that's a great educational methodology, particularly that story about, uh, young Nick, you know, I thought the answer was gonna be, you know, kind of fairly, uh, vanilla, you know, coding helps kids problem solving coding helps build computation thinking, but as you, as you got into there, it's, it's far wider. And, uh, it gives, it gives kids a place where they belong and when they find that place where they belong and they can, then they can truly thrive only then they can thrive. But, uh, you know, one of the things that I see in the classroom is that,

Speaker 4 (08:57):

You know, in my view, coding is one of the best activities kids can do, that, that constant iteration and debugging and my code doesn't work and how do I solve this? Whether it's intention individually, break it down, or with their, that really helping feel resilience. And I was having a conversation just last week with a parent, uh, who has two sons that come to the learning center, , in only six lessons, their OC score had increased dramatically.

Speaker 2 (09:45):

Score had shot up. So, um, coding also helps kids in the classroom before academically. So there are so many benefits to helping kids thrive. Uh, and I think one, one of the cool things that, that I like, and I'm particularly proud of is this is the way that Skill Samurai, it helps kids build a healthier relationship with technology. You know, many kids come in and they're, there's no other word for it. They're addicted to technology, they're addicted to their device, they're addicted to gaming. And you know, like you are stacked against them. Gaming manufacturers, you know, game builders are just like poker machine manufacturers. To some extent, they're looking for ways to keep the user on their platform for as long as possible. And that's how they've gotta be commercial. I get that. Uh, but that presents

Speaker 4 (10:36):

A problem for us as parents. So coding is a way to help kids get under the bonnet, of what they are playing and comsuming and really understand the technology that they're using.

Speaker 3 (10:52):

Yeah. We get a lot of parents who come with that concern. They'll say, you know, my, my child's playing video games all the time. My child's watching YouTube all the time, is this going to be good for them? And we're able to show them how our courses can help transform kids from consumers to creators. So they arrive only playing Minecraft and they leave creating, uh, their own custom versions of Minecraft for their friends to play. And we want them, we really do want to channel those obsessions into significant learning opportunities.

Speaker 2 (11:27):

Yeah, absolutely. Um, so is there an ideal age? So if I'm a parent listening to this podcast, uh, or seeing this video on social media, is, is there a, uh, an ideal age they should start, or it doesn't matter when they should start? What's your view on that? Hmm.

Speaker 3 (11:43):

Yeah, the, the best stage to learn really depends on the child themselves. Uh, every child's different, they have different learning styles. Uh, some children are curious and imaginative, imaginative. We had a girl, um, Olivia, we sent flyers home with her school. She was five years old. She went home with a flyer to her mom and said, mom, I'm five. And I don't know how to code yet. Her mom signed her up that day and she stayed with us for like six years. So, um, kids are different and their interests are different. We wouldn't really want to force them to do this. But one way to look at this is to see coding and programming is another language. So most experts recommend that a child start before the age of 10 in order to become fluent. And that's what we aim for. We want our students to be fluent in Java and Python the same way we would want them to be fluent in French or Spanish.

Speaker 3 (12:42):

So before 10 is a great time to start. And prior to that, we would look at things like reading comprehension. Can they understand the instructions and read them, uh, and are they able to work a little bit independently? So we have talked and we do have more programs for pre-reads, but for the most part, we, we are wanting children who can read, cuz that just makes it easier and more enjoyable for them through the class. So, you know, between eight and 10 would be our, um, our recommendation, but we have parents every day and you'll get this two saying, Hey, my child's six can, can they get started? So we, we do, we will provide more opportunities for that, uh, because it is a, so many parents see the need right now.

Speaker 2 (13:31):

Yeah, definitely. And, and you kind of touched on sort of the next question where that leads, um, uh, you, you, you compare it to learning a, a language like French or German or Italian mm-hmm <affirmative>. And one of the common questions that we get asked, uh, by parents is how long does it take my child to learn? And it's, there's, there's no, there's no, uh, definitive answer here because it's based on, you know,

Speaker 4 (13:55):

But how would you answer that? It take child?

Speaker 3 (14:03):

Yeah. <affirmative> yeah, same way I would with my kids, my kids all started French immersion, uh, in grade three and they took it all through high school. So all of their classes were in French when the time they graduate from high school, they do a test that proves that they are bilingual. And then that allows them to be certified, get jobs for the government and get jobs that require, um, that bilingual certification. And our courses are really the same, you know, they start in grade three and by the time they're in grade 12, they are really professionally proficient. They should be able to, uh, design websites program with Python, uh, and be ready for career certification or for careers. So it's good at the younger ages for them to, uh, get a taste of it, to try it and get excited. But this is really a, uh, you know, nine years, eight or nine years of coming once a week, um, to really enrich and supplement their school education and allow them to be fluent in, in those programming languages.

Speaker 2 (15:12):

Great answer. Yeah. Thanks Jeff. So one question we are, I'm gonna say, we ask all our guests, but this is the first episode, right? So one question we're going to ask all of our guests, uh, in, in, uh, concluding the podcast, uh, you know, it's, it's a podcast about parenting and helping kids thrive. So if you could go back and give your five year old self one piece of advice, what would it be?

Speaker 3 (15:37):

Yeah, I was thinking that, and any of the advice like you go back to 1979, what's even relevant to carry forward now. Um, because everything changed so much. Uh, but this is gonna be, you know, I'd probably intercept my 13 year old self, um, and say, take some business classes in high school and focus on that. Um, and I say that somewhat jokingly, but I spent 20 years of my working life, uh, working for other people, feeling like I was a horrible blown employee, uh, because of my skills and my giftings. Uh, but it turns out I'm just not really cut out to be an employee. I was trying to do all these things as an entrepreneur, as an employee. So my bosses hated it because I was trying to run their companies and I hated it because I couldn't direct the vision. So I would really encourage my younger self to, to focus on that, to, uh, to learn about business, to find opportunities and, and be, and not waste so much of my work life, I guess.

Speaker 2 (16:40):

Right. That's a great piece of advice. Now I, I suppose, uh, one, one question I'm throwing in here is before we wrap up, is there a question that I perhaps should have asked you, but haven't

Speaker 3 (16:51):

Well, that's a, yeah, I, I can't think of anything, you know, that's okay. Cause we were talking about facts though. Um, and you mentioned academics, kids who take computer science are 17% more likely to attend university. Uh, and part of that is what you alluded to, that it helps 'em in so many other subjects. So they are learning computational thinking, which will help them with math, science, um, even English. So they're doing so much better logically able to solve problems, uh, which helps on all their test scores. So it's really just interesting that, um, we can show a direct link between kids who take computer science and enrolling university and for a lot of parents that is, you know, that's one of those steps. Like let's get my, let's get my kids in university, um, and Skill Samurai. It would be a great way to enhance that opportunity, enhance the chance for them to, uh, get accepted and get in.

Speaker 2 (17:55):

Yeah, that's great. Jeff, thank you. Um, and uh, in wrapping up, where can our listeners find you online if they want to connect with you? How can they connect with you?

Speaker 3 (18:03):

Yeah. On LinkedIn, it is, uh, Jeffrey D. Hughes and on Instagram, it is the Jeff Hughes life.

Speaker 2 (18:12):

Excellent. Well thank, thank you, Jeff. It's uh, uh, great having you, my pleasure. Part of our first ever podcast and, uh, I'm sure there's some great info that parents can take away from that. So thanks again for joining us.

Speaker 3 (18:24):

My pleasure. Thank you.

Speaker 1 (18:28):

If you enjoyed the show, please connect with Jamie on LinkedIn or Instagram. You'll find links in the podcast. Description parenting in the digital age is sponsored by Skill Samurai, coding and stem academy for kids. Skill Samurai offers after school coding classes and holiday programs to help kids thrive academically and socially while preparing them for the careers of the future. Visit

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