Today we'll share some helpful steps for teaching kids to write code. Computer programming is a skill that many kids are learning earlier in life. For parents, this presents a challenge: How can I teach my kids about coding if I don’t know how to program? It’s not rocket science, but it can be overwhelming to know where to start. Don't worry, we've got you covered.

Teaching kids to write code in simple steps

We have broken down the process of beginning programming for kids regardless of their age or background.

1. Understand what code is and what it does

Code is the basic structure of any computer program or smart device. Any device with a computer inside of it runs with code, and this includes not only personal computers, tablets, and phones, but also cars, billboards, refrigerators, and security cameras. Every video game is built out of code.

While kids might find actual text-based coding languages confusing, most kids are heavily immersed in tech, and they can grasp concepts quickly that some adults might struggle with. Coding is the process of writing step-by-step instructions for computers and computer programs to follow.

This simple concept allows people to interact with their laptops, to use websites, and to study or work remotely. Defining coding for kids and showing them how it works in the world around them is the very first step to take when teaching kids how to code.

2. Begin with actual code instead of concepts alone

If you launch into concepts at the outset, kids will get lost and discouraged by big, confusing words like data types and algorithms. Most computer science students' first program they write is simply a program that types, “Hello, World!” on the screen. Here are some Hello World tutorial options.

This simple exercise is critical for giving kids the confidence that comes with knowing that they can create their own code, however simple. If you throw theory at kids, they are likely to shut down, which is why they should be working on hands-on projects from day one.

Scratch, one of the most popular programming platforms for kids, has an excellent tutorial to get kids started. While online schools like Create & Learn offer free trial coding classes to get kids interested in coding, before committing to a path of study - including a free Scratch class that guides kids through getting started with Scratch, led by a live expert.

3. Kids will benefit from learning in a group or class

Taking a coding class is a great way to get kids started learning programming. Create & Learn has a range of classes for all difficulty levels, ranging from introduction to Scratch to coding with Python for AI and machine learning. While it is possible to study and learn coding independently, self-study runs the risk of overwhelming or starting down paths that end up as dead ends. There’s simply so much information out there, that sifting through it becomes a chore.

Having a trained teacher, such as Create & Learn’s expert coding instructors, can help your child avoid pitfalls that might curb their enthusiasm for coding too early. Working with peers comes with a host of benefits, which is why many coding classes are structured in small groups. This allows kids to build communication, problem solving, and collaboration skills while learning to code.

4. Find an age appropriate first programming language

“Don’t get hung up on a particular language,” is one of the main pieces of advice teachers give to new coding students. Most professional software developers learn many computer languages and use several in their daily work. Luckily, all computer languages share concepts and methods, though they have various applications for which some are specifically designed. Start with the path of least resistance.

Scratch coding is, hands down, the best designed and most-popular starting tool for kids younger than high school age. It is fun, colorful, and has a low-learning curve. It’s free to try and was designed by Math and Engineering from MIT with the specific goal of getting more kids to begin programming. The platform is huge, but it is also simple and intended to be a stepping stone towards more advanced programming languages like Java, Python, or C++.

If your teenager is interested in coding, it might be advisable to start on a text based programming language instead. We recommend Python as a first language, because of its simplicity and proximity to natural language. The importance of the first language is learning fundamental concepts such as data types, loops, variables, and conditionals, all of which are part of every programming language.

5. Games, games, games: make coding fun

Many of our teachers first became interested in coding in high school because they loved video games. Nothing compared to that thrill of creating their first simple game using code. Of course, for many, it was just a ball jumping over triangles, but still. It was so cool to see code turn into an actual game that they could play and share!

Two of the most popular games ever, Minecraft and Roblox, are both platforms that can be extremely useful in teaching coding to kids. In both of these games, kids can use code to design their own mods in the case of Minecraft, and their own platformer games in Roblox.

For kids with a passion for gaming and an interest in coding, Unity and Unreal Studio are the two most popular game-design platforms for 2D and 3D games, so becoming familiar with those is important if you want to encourage your aspiring game designer. Aside from these, there are a host of other apps and games out there that can be great tools to get kids involved with code. Here's how to start coding games.

6. Hold off on more complex concepts

If you have technical knowledge already, resist the urge to go too far into Computer Science principles with a new learner. While these concepts are super interesting, they are essentially professional jargon that even non-technical adults will not understand. Teachers agree that presenting children with impossible to understand concepts will only cause them to shut down and give up. In the best-case scenario it will confuse them.

Hold off on teaching object-oriented programming, recursion, design patterns, and data structures other than lists/arrays. Once your child has begun learning text-based languages like Python and JavaScript, they can begin to learn about these advanced concepts and others like, networking protocols, SQL databases, and Domain-Specific Languages. Start slow and meet kids where they are at.

7. Take a free coding class

A free class is the best option if you want to get your kids to begin programming. A course offers a constructive environment run by a trained professional, and with Create & Learn’s courses, you can begin a free trial to allow your kid to test the waters before taking the plunge. Showing a young child that they can create their own games, animations, and apps is priceless in its potential to engender a lifelong love of learning. Create & Learn's classes use real-world applications so kids understand the impact of their work, learn lifelong logic, and are equipped for success with a curriculum designed by professionals from Google, Stanford, and MIT.

Top resources and apps to teach kids to write code

These are just a few of the amazing resources available to parents who want to get their kids started coding. If you need more ideas, see even more resources here.

  1. Create & Learn: Offers a huge variety of free and paid classes, all guided by professional coding instructors with backgrounds at tech companies like Google, Netflix, and Apple.
  2. This website offers a large range of free articles, tutorials, and games to learn coding. They also have an excellent and very popular Youtube channel with hundreds of great videos.
  3. Kids Ruby and Hackety Hack: These two platforms are designed to teach young and old kids how to code in Ruby, one of the most popular programming languages today.
  4. Robot Turtles: This board game is a great, fun, low-tech way of introducing kids to coding concepts. Fun for the whole family, this game is a great way of reinforcing what kids learn in coding classes.
  5. Made with Code by Google: Made with Code was started by Google to overcome the gender gap in the tech industry. It is a priority of many tech companies to get more girls to start coding earlier to give them skills to thrive in the labor force of the future.

What is the right age to start coding?

There’s no perfect answer to this question. But with the resources available today it’s rarely too early to start coding. While most kids who want to learn coding should have a good understanding of English and basic math, they can also develop these skills more in programs like Scratch, Minecraft, and Roblox. The key is to find something that is welcoming, but still challenging.

Get started teaching kids to write code

We hope that you have a better understanding of how to get started with coding for your child. Up next, learn more about the basics of coding for kids. And join our live online beginner-friendly coding classes for kids: Scratch Junior (Grades K-2), Scratch Ninja (Grades 2-5), and Accelerated Scratch (Grades 5-9). We are sure your novice computer scientist will love them!

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.