Why teach kids to code?
To a lot of parents, the idea of coding for kids might seem kind of wild. But when you think about coding as a language like French or Spanish, it makes sense that—like all other languages—coding is best learned young.
Today, code is arguably the most used language in the world and learning to “speak” it is quickly becoming part of global literacy.
Fundamentally, coding is the act of breaking down a problem into a series of logical, ordered steps. A successful coder uses critical thinking, problem solving, and creativity to find solutions to complex problems.
As you can imagine, these skills are transferable to nearly everything we do in our life and work and are definitely worth learning young.
So, we’ve established that coding is a valuable and fundamental STEM skill for kids to learn…but too much screen time is not recommended for preschool-aged learners. Are there other options? Luckily, there is a treasure trove of resources out there for parents looking for screen-free coding activities.
Below, I’ll share some of the best toys, activities, and books to help young coders to get started.
Robot Turtles is a coding board game for pre-schoolers. Inspired by the Logo programming language, the game teaches the fundamentals of coding and functions…with a side of silly turtle noises.
Players dictate the movements of their turtles with code cards, forward, left, and right. With increasing levels of difficulty (and more complex code cards), the game is never boring. Designed to be played with an adult.
Code and Go Robot Mouse
Code and Go Robot Mouse is a great puzzle game for first time coders. It features Colby, a robot mouse that lights up, makes sounds, and is controlled by inputting code through a few simple buttons.
Kids can set up a maze using one of ten activity cards—or design their own maze—and use the 40+ coding cards to figure out how to get Colby to his cheese. Code and Go Robot is definitely a win for a young coder.
Botley, the Coding Robot Activity Set
Botley (like Colby the Robot Mouse but a step up), is an easy-to-program robot that provides hours of hands-on learning and fun. Using the included coding cards and “if, then” logic, kids can program Botley to travel through and around all kinds of kid-created obstacle courses.
Botley can complete up to 120 steps and has unlockable features for the ambitious coder. This affordably priced set is a fun and friendly way for kids to start their coding journey.
There are a lot of STEM activities out there to introduce preschoolers to the concepts of coding. Whether its learning how binary works or translating conditional statements into real-world play, you can find something for everyone. I’ve rounded up a few of my favorite hands-on activities below – have fun!
Want to get outside and burn off some extra energy while learning your code? This backyard coding activity is perfect. The blog “Left Brain Craft Brain” has a great idea for a Simon Says-like game that can be adapted for different ages. One child becomes the “programmer” and the others are “computers.” The programmer leads kids through If, Then–and if they’re really ambitious, If, Then, Else statements—for a silly, but effective game of outdoor coding.
Binary Coding Bracelets
Write your name using beads and binary! This activity (featured on blog MamaSmiles) incorporates ASCII with fine motor skills and results in a wearable piece of jewelry. Find a printable ASCII code sheet and help kids translate the letters of their names into binary code and “write” them by stringing beads on a bracelet or necklace.
Beginner Coding Game
Turn your living room into a coding activity for kids using painters tape and a series of printed commands. Using the painters tape, make a 9 (or more) square grid with an “X” in one square to represent your destination. Have kids lay out coding commands in a process that will get them, one square at a time, to the finish line.
There is never a downside to reading with kids and luckily, there are some intro to coding books that are both fun and informative. The “Hello Ruby” series has 2 books so far, with a third one on the way. “Hello Ruby: Adventures in Coding” and “Hello Ruby: Journey Inside the Computer” tell the story of a young, active girl with a big imagination. Through Ruby’s adventures, kids learn computational thinking, how to turn big problems into small ones, and how to create step by step plans. The books also include several STEM activities, making it a win-win for kids and parents.
The Kids Get Coding provides an easy-to-follow introduction to computer languages (HTML, Scratch, Python, and Java), bugs, and programming—all led by the friendly “Data Duck.” The books come with side-by-side on and off-line activities that allow kids to apply what they’ve learned. Written at a 3rd grade reading level, this book is accessible to children as young as six.