Interest in coding and computer science can begin in elementary school, and children who develop an early enthusiasm for coding develop high-level skills and interests that can carry them through to college and the workforce.

There are a variety of ways educators can encourage students–particularly girls–to explore coding, said Christopher Whittum, a teacher and instructional technologist who has just released a book with tips on incorporating open source resources and coding into schools.

1. Help kids realize that coding can be creative. “It isn’t necessarily some ‘computer geek’ sitting there entering lines of code,” Whittum said. “Learning can be fun and creative. The creativity part is big.”

2. Coding teaches kids to think outside the box. “It gives them more opportunity to be themselves and create unique things–if teachers can work it into assignments, there are no restrictions on kids’ creativity,” Whittum said.

3. Coding stimulates thinking and motivation. Whittum recommended showing students the coding behind some of their favorite websites or games to pique their interest. “Once they see what they can be done, and they realize that it isn’t an insurmountable task, it’s approachable, and it’s something they can attain,” he said.

4. Equal technology exposure is critical to grabbing girls’ interest in coding. “Early exposure is key–the sooner, the better,” Whittum said. Making computers, programming, and coding a “boy thing” should be avoided at all times.

5. Have teachers who are passionate about it, and offer it as a class. In fact, Whittum said, offering coding and computer programming classes in elementary and middle school would give students an edge once they get to high school. Offering relatively advanced classes in high school, then, would help students cultivate in-demand coding and programming skills as they enter college and the workforce.

6. Make it collaborative. Let students work in groups, or have students work individually and then share their final products to compare and contrast how different each student interprets the same thing. “Make it social–give kids the chance to show off their work,” Whittum said. “Sharing their ideas in an positive way stimulates interest.”