In this intro to coding for kids, we are going to explain why it’s a great time to get into computer science, as well as some of the best options for getting started. More than ever, knowledge of computers and digital technology is considered a key component of a well-rounded education. More jobs require technical skills, even in nontechnical roles, and the graduates of STEM university programs tend to earn significantly more than their non-STEM peers.
In this post, we will cover ten steps you can consider to help introduce programming to kids such as your children or your students. Keep on reading for some helpful directions in the super interesting world of computer science education. You’ll never believe how easy it is to get started.
Here's an intro to coding for kids
What is coding for kids?
Coding for kids is a bit like doing the preliminary steps for taking a longer journey later on. When most people think of coding, they imagine cryptic, multicolored text that requires a degree in mathematics to understand. If you placed an eight year old beginner in front of a computer and told them to learn C or Python, most would quickly get frustrated, shut down, and give up, perhaps associating the discipline itself as “not for them” without really giving it the time it deserves.
Coding for kids actually can begin without coding or within so-called “low code” or “no code” environments, where kids use games, art, puzzles, and logic to understand the many cool applications for software and its fundamental concepts in a fun, approachable way. Before you take a long journey, you need supplies, tools, knowledge, and experience in order to get the most out of your trip, so introducing kids to coding early is an excellent idea.
When’s the best time to start coding for kids?
This brings us to the next question, "How young is too young to learn to code?" And, "Am I too old to learn how to code?" There is no simple answer to either question, but answering them might surprise you. On the one hand, there have never been more tools, games, and software programs such as Scratch and Roblox Studio, to help kids learn. Some of these tools are so well designed that they are good for adults as well who might want to learn a new skill, but who haven’t been exposed to computer science concepts.
What can you do once you learn coding?
Once you learn coding, you will be ready to build your own games, mobile apps, and other types of software. Coding is a skill that is used in other ways that software engineering. Through coding, students gain access to interesting careers and disciplines in higher education, such as AI, Robotics, Mechanical Engineering, and Data Science. These in-demand careers can lead to high salaries, fun opportunities to learn, and amazing benefits.
Get started on an intro to coding for kids
Let's jump right in.
1. Define coding without explaining Computer Science
Coding is vast and complicated. But it doesn’t have to feel that way if students start small and begin with learning fundamental concepts in a simple and accessible way. Explaining how code powers everything we use in the modern world, from cars to phones to airplanes and AI, is a good start.
Answering the question, “What is code?”, is actually quite simple. Code is the directions humans give to computers to make them do things. Without code, computers would be unable to complete the very complex and difficult tasks that human beings use them for. For the majority of kids, if you explain to them that Minecraft, Roblox, and YouTube were all made with code, you will usually grab their attention!
2. Start with low-code or no-code options
As this article at Super Parents recommends, begin on a made-for-kids coding platform such as Scratch or Code.org, where kids can learn about coding through fun, colorful blocks of code, which can be used to build fun games and animations. The learning curve is low, but the possibilities are endless. These programs are usually free, though some have paid options as well. Kids can also get live expert guidance and all their questions answered as they learn these platforms, with Create & Learn's Scratch coding classes: Scratch Junior (K-2), Scratch Ninja (Grades 2-6), Accelerated Scratch (Grades 6+). Kids can quickly build their own small games while learning about concepts that apply in other programming languages as well, such as Python, C++, and Java.
3. Learn about data types
In coding, it is crucial to learn how different types of data interact with each other and with the computer. Different types of data are used in different tasks: loops allow users to repeat actions, variables allow users to store data such as scores, timers, and player health in a game, while other data types might be used to bring in APIs that can power your app using data from other places in the Internet such as Google Maps or Amazon Web Services. In Scratch, the data types are color coded and listed on the left hand side of the screen.
4. Code with them
Coding alongside a parent or teacher is a great way for kids to build confidence without getting overwhelmed. Make sure you let them take the ‘Project Lead’ role by allowing them to control the design process, but give them a hand when they get stuck or need better understanding. This will feel a bit like training wheels, to help them keep moving without fear of falling. If you’re a parent, you should consider reading or watching some tutorials for building simple projects. If you can show kids how to program a fun game, they will get excited and be very motivated to follow you.
5. Focus on building scripts and debugging
Coding is an iterative process, which means that we build it stage by stage, and testing and review each stage to make sure the components work together. Focusing on syntax is more important than learning everything before you begin: code is run in order from top to bottom and the order in which things happens is important. This might seem tedious, but focusing on scripts of code, groups of blocks in Scratch, allows us to control specific individual elements of our programs.
By building and testing, it allows us to find bugs and fix them, also known as ‘debugging’. Most programming is problem solving, and many of the problems we encounter require careful attention to detail. Remember that anytime your child doesn’t know how to proceed is an opportunity for learning. Once your child sees how scripting works, you can start bringing your scripts together and focus on completing projects.
6. Share with others
Once your child has built something, encourage them to share it. On Scratch, it is easy to share your projects with others. You can even see inside the code of other peoples’ programs, allowing kids to learn how to code through following the example of more experienced developers. Sharing is a great way to boost confidence, by showing others that you made something difficult. It can also be a great way to see what works and what doesn’t. One good question to ask a beta player is, “Is it fun to play?”
7. Take a free intro coding class
We get it. Coding is hard! Studying on your own is a great way to build confidence, and Computer Science is unique in that one can gain huge amounts of knowledge without stepping foot into a classroom, since there are so many amazing free resources and tutorials online. With this abundance of resources comes a drawback: it’s easy to get lost and it’s easy to focus on unimportant things when you don’t have someone to guide you.
There are a lot of free trials out there, some of which involve a subscription, and many of which use pre-recorded videos to teach students how to code. While these are great options, Create & Learn offers a wide variety of free intro coding classes, each of which is led by an expert in live sessions with small groups of kids. Students can try out Scratch in a structured environment where they will receive lots of encouragement. We also have advanced classes for teens in Python, Web Design, and Robotics.
8. Enroll in a coding camp
If you are interested in coding or if you have tried a trial and you want to go deeper, then a coding camp is a great way to dive into the world of software development in Scratch. Create & Learn coding camps run seasonally several times a year. They involve groups of classes that run in four session batches, that can be delivered weekly or daily.
9. Follow a free tutorial
Let’s face it, completing a project is the most motivating part of any creative goal. While the learning process should be appreciated as we progress through it, it can also be difficult and frustrating at times. Completing a project lets a kid say, “I made my own game!” The excitement and motivation to continue educating themselves is infectious, so whether you choose a trial class or a camp, both can help kids build complete projects faster. There are also many, many fun Scratch tutorials on our website, such as how to make a sprite jump, how to make a rock, paper, scissors game, how to make a golf game, and how to make a Mario game. Pick a project and see it through to completion, then ask, “What else could I add to make it more fun?” Most kids will already have an answer.
10. After Scratch, consider moving on to Python
Once your child has mastered some of the basic concepts such as loops, variables, conditional statements, and the basics of game design, it is time to begin removing the training wheels. Scratch was designed as an introduction to coding for kids, but it was intended to be left behind once they are ready to begin learning traditional programming in text based languages.
Python is the perfect programming language for a beginner because it is similar to natural language, so the code is not too difficult for kids or beginners to understand. The possibilities are endless, however, unlike some programming languages, which might be useful for specific tasks but completely useless for others, Python is versatile and well suited for applications including software development, data science, robotics, and artificial intelligence. Python projects for kids can be a good way to begin, as well as a free Python class led live by an expert.
Teach kids coding
If you are self motivated and you would like to study on your own, these free platforms are a great place to use to guide a kid through coding. You could also check out more on our article, teaching kids to write code.
Scratch was designed by engineers and educators from MIT, who wanted to make learning coding more accessible and fun for kids. Rather than worrying about building frameworks from scratch, no pun intended. It is user friendly, colorful, and the blocks of code stick together like LEGO. It’s even fun for adults and can help them understand the beginner concepts just as well as a child. All you need is an internet connection and a computer or tablet.
Ages: 7 - 15
Best for: Beginners who want to create something quickly; intermediate students who want to design simple games and animations.
2. W3 schools
This website is incredible. It is the largest site for developers on the Internet with over 60 million monthly users. It has a wide variety of coding tutorials and you don’t need any previous experience to get started. If you follow their intended course, you will be able to quickly design and launch your own websites and web applications. They also offer paid courses and a subscription service for a fee.
Best for: Beginners who want to start with text based languages, esp. Teens and young adults.
3. Google CS
Learn from the best in the business with Google’s CS First, a large guided curriculum for students of all skill levels. Ideal for teens, older students, and adults, CS First uses a mix of tutorials and independent projects to help students build competencies in backend development, front end development, APIs and Data structures.
Best for: Intermediate students who want a challenge but who like structure
Introduction to coding courses for kids
Taking a live class is the best way to introduce kids to coding. Students, especially young ones, are excited to learn, but they struggle to remain engaged when things get difficult, which makes self-study less effective for most students. In a safe, structured environment, most kids can thrive, regardless of what they like to make.
Scratch Ninja classes are an excellent way to learn coding. Containing 4 levels of 4 sessions each, students will begin with the Scratch basics, before proceeding to develop their own games, animations, and simple apps. Digital artists, gamers, and puzzle loving kids will love Scratch, while its simplicity makes it easy for even small children to grasp.
If you ask any child, chances are they have played Minecraft. The best selling game of all time, and a genuine work of art, Minecraft is an impressively vast and engaging game with a very simple concept: 1. Mine 2. Craft. Players use tools to dig into the earth in search of precious minerals to build castles and farms, while fighting hostile enemies. Minecraft is an incredible learning tool, both for its in-game exploration and economics, but also for its potential for using mods and for designing mods on one’s own. In our Minecraft Modding Quest, we help students run their own Mods in their own Minecraft world.
Students interested in how the Internet works, artificial intelligence, and robotics will love our Python courses, where they will learn how to use databases, APIs, and machine learning to interact with and design AIs for a variety of functions. This advanced class is an excellent way to prepare for AP classes in Computer Science and University-level education.
In partnership with Meta, Create & Learn offers classes for students interested in the power of STEM, while providing a pathway for them to create real impact in their communities. This live online program includes 15 hours of fun learning and hands-on coding and game creation. Students learn beginner-friendly coding and create games, and build a final project for a social issue they care about. Plus, they'll get their project reviewed by Meta employees, and receive a Certificate of Completion!
Intro to coding for kids keys
No matter which path you chose to take for your child, here are a few tips to consider for their first three months:
- Consistency is key: Practice every day if you can, or at least schedule several times per week where you routinely have, “Coding Time.” You should focus on building regular practice rather than working in huge chunks of time.
- Find something that suits their interests: Kids love to play Minecraft and you can quickly get kids engaged if you help them understand that every video game is the product of code. Whether it’s Zelda, Pokemon, or Roblox, kids who love games don’t need too much motivation to build their own, especially if they are supported by a teacher.
- Explain how coding works in the world: Beyond gaming and social media, coding allows people to communicate with each other around the world, to learn almost anything, while power most household appliances, machines, and computers.
- Keep things simple: Don’t just get into object oriented programming and APIs on the first lesson. We have a lot of other great resources to help teach your kids to code in ways specifically designed for them.
Get started with this intro to coding for kids
Now you know the first steps to get started with introducing kids to coding. Whether a total beginner or an intermediate one, all students can benefit from the encouragement of a parent, so remember to work alongside them. Support them further by signing them up for a free coding class. There’s nothing to lose.
Written by Bryan Gordon, a Create & Learn instructor. After ten years of working as an English teacher, Bryan began studying Math and Computer Science over the past few years. Aside from writing and teaching, he likes cooking, gardening, playing guitar, and hanging out with his cats, Baguette and Wally.