Like reading and writing, coding is a skill that is gradually picked up over time. That’s why it’s great to get students started early, so they have ample time to internalize fundamental programming concepts. There are numerous online resources geared towards coding for little kids, whether they are entertaining games that build basic logic skills, or simple block coding programs that abstract away the complexities of text-based coding. So today we'll take a look at some classes, clubs, and apps that can help your child learn the basics of coding. Plus, we'll reveal some of the best ways to evaluate a program's fit for your child.
How to learn coding for little kids (options for K-2)
When teaching young students (K-2) programming, it’s important to find material at an appropriate level that fosters growth without excess frustration. In general, the strict rules of text-based programming will be too complex for young students; however, there are numerous other ways to approach coding.
Here are some things to keep in mind when introducing very young students to programming:
- Focus on logic/reasoning skills: Regardless of what language you use, all programming relies on sound logic and reasoning, so having students work through logic puzzles builds up the skills they need for programming later in life
- Use games: Games are a great way to keep young students engaged - here are some of the best coding games
- Block-based coding is great: Block coding reduces the complexity of programming, allowing students to play with the concepts of loops, variables, etc. without having to worry about the specific syntax of programming languages
Ways to learn coding for kids
Create & Learn’s block-coding for K-2 students is taught using ScratchJr. Scratch Jr. is a simplified version of MIT’s Scratch programming, allowing young students to channel their creativity by making fun animations and stories! Students need no prior coding experience to take this course. These live online 45-minute classes have at most 2-3 students, ensuring that each child will get all the help they need from their instructor. It should be noted that Chromebooks do not support ScratchJr, so students must work from a Windows/Mac computer or a tablet.
Expert review: "My girls have loved the Scratch Junior class. The teacher is very patient and the girls are really enjoying it. I can see their curiosity into coding growing." - Cassie H., Parent.
Students who complete Create & Learn’s Scratch Junior curriculum are able to enroll in the Scratch Junior Club. This group meets once weekly for 6 weeks, each time working on a new project or challenge with the instructor. It is a great way to build upon and reinforce the skills learned in the Scratch Jr. course, and to further develop their interest in coding! You can also explore fun Scratch Jr project ideas to try on your own with your student.
Expert review: "Thank you very much to the instructor, for having the patience to teach my kids. My son loves Create & Learn very much! He learned a lot about computers and the classes were really fun, and also can inspire children." - Eva P., Parent.
Code.org is a non-profit organization which strives to bring computer science education to every student’s core education. They are also the creators of the Hour of Code program, which has been utilized by more than 15% of all students in the world! In addition, they have created various courses for teaching computer science principles, each targeting a different age range. Their “Pre-Reader Express” is a self-directed course targeting students aged 4-8, and is completely free!
It introduces students to the ideas of sequencing, loops, and events using various games and simple block coding. Because this course is self-directed, there isn’t a teacher available for answering questions; however, strongly-motivated students could work through this course and build on those skills by trying out Code.org’s advanced curricula.
Expert review: "Every single day yielded the same results— 100% engagement." - Nina Nichols Peery, Teacher.
As mentioned above, Scratch Jr. is a web-browser based block-coding tool developed by MIT, intended for early-elementary aged students. For adventurous students who want to learn on their own, Scratch Jr. has free tutorials on their website on the “Teach” page. Students can also take advantage of Scratch Jr. Connect, a resource containing numerous tutorials and sample projects created by other users. This allows students to learn new skills by looking at other people’s work, and then build upon those projects to create their own games and animations. Again, this a self-directed route, so students may have a tough time if they get stuck on their own.
Expert review: "I like this game! My daughter first started playing this at school, and she has loved it ever since! It is great and very easy to use. There are many blocks, characters, backgrounds etc. The only thing that could be improved, is the parental controls. They use very simple maths like 50+1. But apart from that, it's great and if you're thinking of downloading, definitely do so! Props to the creator(s)!" - Michele Lukes, Parent.
5. Code Monkey
Much more advanced young students can have fun helping monkey recover all of his stolen bananas in Code Monkey’s courses. The program offers seven different courses for more advanced coders. The first two courses - “Codemonkey Jr.” and “Beaver Achiever" - use block-based coding to help characters move around and complete goals within their world. You may begin by creating a parent account using the free trial period; once this trial is complete, you can pay for a monthly or annual subscription to extend your student’s access to the program.
Expert review: "Of the few I looked at CodeMonkey was both immediately available (nothing to download), and also did an excellent job of explaining programming concepts in a series of fun logic puzzles. The creators have done an excellent job in keeping each lesson accessible and building off of the concepts in the previous lessons. The gamification also helps tremendously." - Eric. G, Parent (via Common Sense Media).
Ways to introduce coding to preschoolers
Because coding involves sophisticated rules and a strong command of logic, it isn’t necessarily realistic to expect preschoolers to be able to “write code.” However, preschoolers can absolutely start working on the critical thinking and mathematical skills necessary for programming!
1. Code Karts
Code Karts is a free app available for Android and iOS devices that helps students learn the basics of logic. Students use color-coded direction blocks to help guide their car from the start line to the finish line. The game is quite simple to understand and feels much more like a “game” than an “intro to coding.” As such, this app would be suitable for very young students as an introduction to logic and problem solving! There are different modes offered, including a solo mode, duo mode against an AI, and a game for practicing binary code. Note that although the app is free, a purchase is necessary to unlock more levels and game modes.
Just about everyone knows what LEGOs are, and there’s a reason for their predominance in the toy market. LEGOs not only are a fun-to-use toy, but also are a great way to learn sequencing and practice problem solving. Students can channel their creative energy into visualizing the thing they want to create, and then practice breaking that thing down into smaller, achievable steps. This type of thinking is similar to the problem solving approach used when programming.
3. Number Games
An understanding of numbers and basic mathematical operations is critical to literally every aspect of programming, whether programming things as simple as a command-line program, or as advanced as data analytics. Building those foundations early will save students from focusing as much on the math part of programming, and instead allow them to worry about the code they need to write. Additional examples of some number games are included here: Preschool math games.
Get started with coding for little kids
You’ve seen some tools, now it’s time to introduce your little kid to the amazing world of coding! For early elementary students (K-2), go ahead and try out some block-based beginner-friendly coding such as Create & Learn’s award-winning Scratch Junior Course. Preschool students will benefit from building their math and logic skills with fun games and activities like LEGOs. If you’re looking for more strategies for introducing logic to preschoolers, check out this coding logic article.
Written by Create & Learn instructor Dominic Occhietti. Dominic is a graduate of Michigan State University, where he studied music performance and computer science. He thoroughly enjoys teaching, whether that be coding classes, French horn lessons, or even downhill skiing lessons!