Code Ninjas opens, providing game-based curriculum to teach coding

Oct. 17, 2019

A national franchise that teaches computer coding to kids using a game-based curriculum and martial arts belt system of advancement has opened in Sioux Falls.

Code Ninjas began offering its program Monday in a new retail center along 85th Street west of Minnesota Avenue.

“We’re a completely drop-in program,” said Stephanie Lilke, who owns the Sioux Falls franchise with her husband, David. “We’re for kids ages 7 to 14. They come in, and everyone will follow the same curriculum; they are self-paced, not self-taught.”

The curriculum is online, and the staff, or “senseis,” roam the room, or “dojo,” helping out as needed. Computers and other materials are provided. Code Ninjas started in 2016 and has grown to 434 locations in 44 states, with more opening across the U.S., Canada and in the U.K.

Students progress from learning how to use Scratch, which is block-based programming, and then start moving through the belt system from coding in Javascript to working with Roblox in the curriculum and then into C# programming.

“By the time they get to their black belt, they’re actually building a game to put in the App Store,” Lilke said. “So it’s that big reward at the end, that all this knowledge you’ve learned along the way, you’re able to build your own game to put in the App Store.”

Code Ninjas is open from 3:30 to 7:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. Kids come in for an hour twice a week at whatever time works for them.

“Everything else that you have in life is scheduled. … We work around all that. You come when it works for you.”

Code Ninjas offers a fun environment, Lilke said. “It’s not a classroom; it’s not teachers. It’s the dojo; it’s senseis.” Parents aren’t allowed in the dojo, but they can observe from the lobby where there’s Wi-Fi and free coffee and bottled water.

“Every time I’ve come back to the dojo with a kid and a parent, I tell them, ‘This is the best part. Mom’s got to stay here. Dad’s got to stay here. Only you get to come in.’ And their eyes just light up. They love that.”

The key to the curriculum is that it’s game-based.  “We want it to be fun,” Lilke said. “They don’t even realize they’re learning.”

That’s where the company’s motto fits in: “Kids have fun; parents see results.”

Lilke was a stay-at-home mom, but as her children got older, she was ready to go back into the workforce. “I wanted to do something more than just have a job. I wanted to do something that made a difference and something that did something for our community.”

She knew Code Ninjas was it.

“There is nothing like this in Sioux Falls. We have kids; we know how much technology affects every aspect of every job. Maybe even if your kid isn’t going to become a computer programmer, the knowledge and the skills that they’re learning going through our curriculum, they’re going to use that in any job.”

Subscriptions range from month-to-month to three- and six-month packages, with discounts for the longer subscriptions. While the curriculum is self-paced, it likely would take someone four years to earn a black belt, Lilke said. There also will be camps in the summer.

She schedules half-hour game-building sessions with a sensei for kids whose parents aren’t sure if Code Ninjas will be a good fit. “It gives them an idea of what is involved,” she said. “Come in and try it and see what you think.”

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Code Ninjas opens, providing game-based curriculum to teach coding

A national franchise that teaches computer coding to kids using a game-based curriculum and martial arts belt system of advancement has opened in Sioux Falls.

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