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How to work with young people learning to code

It helps Ninjas to see that you’re still learning as well. If you can code already, they’ll see what they might achieve
A woman showing two girls some electronics.

When working with young people, you must ensure that you have investigated the requirements and laws regarding adults working with young people in your area, and that you are fully compliant with them.

One rule: be cool!

“Helping, sharing, supporting, encouraging, cooperating, and being kind are all very cool. Bullying, lying, time wasting and disrupting the Dojo are all considered uncool.”
Bill Liao, CoderDojo co-founder

Show you’re still learning too

It helps Ninjas to see that you’re still learning as well. If you can code already, they’ll see what they might achieve, while also realising that there is no all-knowing expert who has finished learning.

If you don’t have technical skills, you can work through projects with the Ninjas and solve problems as a team.

How to do this:

  • Let the Ninjas see that when you realise you don’t know something, you react with curiosity and enthusiasm about learning, rather than with frustration.
  • Try things, even if you’re not sure they’ll work.
  • If you do always have the right answer, consider occasionally making a deliberate mistake so they can see how you go about identifying and correcting it.
  • If you have a technology-related side project in progress, bring it to the Dojo and do a quick showcase, just like the Ninjas do at the end of a Dojo.
“Even though my involvement so far has been as a mentor, I feel like I’m the one who learns the most after each event. Whether the audience is young or old, male or female, each of their unique perspectives continues to inspire and influence my professional and personal life.”
Michelle Tuason, Dojo mentor, Kansas City, Missouri, USA

Quality connection trumps expertise

While technical skills are useful, forming a great connection with the Ninjas will help you have a far greater impact than any cool bit of code could. It will make your feedback more important to them, and your encouragement more valued by them.

How to do this:

  • Introduce yourself to new Ninjas by name. Have a conversation with them. Learn a little about them and what they’re interested in. Really listen to them and engage with them — their interests may lead to some awesome projects in time.
  • When working with a Ninja on their project, don’t stand over them. Get on their level by sitting next to them or crouching down.
  • Be yourself, and share relevant and appropriate information about yourself in conversation.
  • Be visibly interested in and enthused by the progress Ninjas make with their projects and skills.
  • Keep coming back! Reliability will help you build up trust with the Ninjas.
“You can imagine the excited faces of the young coders… Trust me: you always get more than what you give.”
Ignacio Calvo, Dojo mentor, Dublin, Ireland
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