Sarah Broach's son Marlon would rather stick a fork in his eye than play soccer, but he can design one heck of a video game.
The Broachs are part of a number of families eager to give their kids an edge, and maybe even a shot at being tech's new kid millionaire, by having them learn computer coding -- the fundamentals of how to build websites, make apps and design video games.
Marlon, 13, had tried one sport and after-school activity after another, but none of them stuck. That was until he started going to Pixel Academy, an extracurricular tech wonderland for kids in Brooklyn, NY.
"Every parent's constant anxiety is screen time," said Broach, who lives in New York's East Village. "At Pixel Academy, he's spending time in front of a screen and learning at the same time."
Marlon, like the other 50 kids who go to Pixel Academy, learns to code, make movies with special effects and use the 3-D printer. He made Broach a 3-D heart from the printer for Mother's Day.
Mike Fischthal, a former 3-D animator at Nickelodeon, started Pixel earlier this year. It's grown so quickly that the academy is ready to hire an eighth employee this summer and will run a 3-week camp in July, after parents pleaded for one. The youngest coder at the academy is six years old.
The conditions are just right for a place like Pixel Academy to thrive. Earlier this year, the kid coding craze heated up after tech executives Microsoft(MSFT) founder Bill Gates, Facebook(FB) founder Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter's Jack Dorsey released a video urging kids to learn how to code.
Add to that the recent tech wunderkind stories -- David Karp sold blogging site Tumblr, which he built at 20-years-old, to Yahoo(YHOO) for $1.1 billion, and 17-year-old Nick D'Aloisio sold his news-reading app also to Yahoo for tens of millions. Karp dropped out of high school, and D'Aloisio started coding at the age of 12.
Similar schools across the country and online, including Codeacademy and CoderDojo, with branches in Minneapolis, Seattle and Bismark, ND, have also cropped up to meet the growing demand.
"Parents read in the news that we're falling behind in science in engineering careers. When their kids come here, they can stop worrying about schools keeping up to date with technology," said Fischthal, 30, who sunk his life savings and retirement account into opening Pixel Academy.
3-D printing guitars and records
Besides, it's where the jobs are. Computer-related jobs are expected to grow by about 22% between 2010 and 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and web developers can make $30 an hour without even having a degree.
Broach, who's read that there's a lack of computer scientists coming out of college, wants Marlon to have the chance to learn as much about programming as a child, but in a fun way.
"I don't want him to be a vegetable staring at a screen," she said. "Some of the kids at Pixel could be the next David Karp."
Similarly, Josh Wolf-Powers was looking for a way to make screen time less isolating for his video game-obsessed 8-year-old son Sasha. Now, Sasha is using the coding skills he's learning at Pixel to design a sword for the popular game Minecraft.
"My son will sit and stare at a computer for hours and not interact with anyone except for the occasional nasty comment when anyone dares interrupt him," he said. "Pixel Academy provides an alternative where he's interacting with older, more experience kids."
"And they're providing child care. I'd jump at that."