Hitchhikers guide to starting a CoderDojo

So have you been looking for somewhere for your child to learn to code...but couldn’t find anywhere? Maybe you’ve heard about CoderDojo, the global network of free coding clubs for kids 7-17. Maybe you have a passion about ensuring kids are equipped with the skills of the future...and are looking for a way to give back to the community? Then read on to find out more about what becoming a Coderdojo “Champion” means and what’s involved in setting up a Dojo in your area.

So...What is a Dojo?

A Dojo is a free, informal coding club for kids aged 7-17. Often run in libraries or other community spaces, it’s a place where children (and often also their parents) can learn to code in a fun, social environment, supported by volunteers who have hands-on IT experience.

But I can’t code...

First off, to dispel a myth - you DO NOT need to be an IT person to be a CoderDojo Champion. The most important job for the Champion is to co-ordinates the setting up and running of a Dojo. Our tight-knit group of Dojos in NSW as well as the CoderDojo NSW regional body can give you support along the way.

How much time will it take?

Being a champion takes approximately 1-2 hours per week of preparation plus 2 hours attending the Dojo during school terms. It can be less if you spread the load amongst a team of volunteers, after all many hands make light work!

All right then...what do I need to do?

You should plan for 6-8 weeks to get everything in place to start your Dojo. Here are the 5 things you’ll need to do:

  1. Find volunteers - recruit from your network of co-workers, friends and family local newspapers. Not all mentors need to have an IT background but you will need some who can turn up regularly.
  2. Find a venue for your Dojo 
    Good contacts are local councils, community groups, local IT businesses.  A good venue has: wifi access, public access to the building, power points to charge laptops and somewhere for the kids to sit down. Make sure that the location is willing to include you in their Public Liability Insurance. Dojos are not allowed in private residences.
  3. Plan your content. 
    CoderDojo provides lots of ready-to-go resources at kata.coderdojo.com. However Champions have the flexibility to tailor based on what the kids are interested in and the skills of volunteers.
  4. Promote your dojo. 
    Get the word out there using any avenue that you like - local schools, youth organisations, twitter, local papers  etc. Make sure you use the CoderDojo ZEN platform or a platform like Eventbrite so you can track RSVPs.
  5. Start coding!

Ben’s Story (Champion for Balmain Dojo)

Back in 2014, I’d heard all about getting kids coding and realised there was a huge need, so I decided to get involved. I stumbled upon the CoderDojo Foundation, and their site had it all. What got me was their philosophy, and the foundation story was a winner - started by an Irishman and Australian... Teaching kids how to code For Free, Forever!  Yes, it’s true!

I read about James Whelton and Bill Liao and why they started the CoderDojo Foundation.

When I contacted Rosa at CoderDojo Foundation she was very helpful and even put me in touch with others in Sydney looking to start a Dojo.

The hunt for a venue was the hardest part, but I didn’t ask just one. I’d approached *everyone* and chased them up. Youth officers and youth programme coordinators in local councils, youth support groups, P&C at schools, PCYC - all were very interested. I approached with my story already in mind - what I wanted to do, how we’d get started etc etc.

Once the location was set, I needed more volunteers, so I drew on my friends in IT Development, their friends, parents of kids in my neighbourhood. I networked with anyone who was interested and asked others to put friends in touch.

Then it was all about tickets, and getting the message out that CoderDojo was on: Facebook; Library notices; Council newsletters; notices on supermarket noticeboards; local school principals and assistant principals; P&C; the parent pick-up/drop-off network.

When I ran the first session I asked the parents for their help - and help they did - from setting up tables and chairs on the day, to getting name badges, spreading the word to schools to driving Facebook and blog posts.

Two plus years on and there are CoderDojo Ninjas and Parents that have been coming along the whole time, they’ve grown and so have I.

How can I find out more? 

Feel free to contact us at [email protected]. You could drop into a local Dojo (see coderdojo.com) to see how they are run. Our Champion and Volunteers are more than happy to share their experiences.

After all the effort you and others have put into organising the setup and running of the Coderdojo session, Remember to have fun! It’s important that Coderdojo is free, inclusive, social and fun for the kids and the volunteers. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing a child’s face light up when they have learnt or created something new!

“The programmers of tomorrow are the wizards of the future”

Gabe Newell (Co-Founder,  Valve Corporation)

Contact us now: [email protected] or follow us on fb/Twitter: coderdojonsw

Happy Coding!

Special thanks to Elizabeth Peters of CoderDojo NSW for providing this great post on getting started with CoderDojo. Image provided by CoderDojo NSW "CoderDojo Ninja, Oliver showing the game he created in Scratch at the Balmain CoderDojo"