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Learning To Code With Your Kids

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Fun Ways Kids Can Learn to Code

Most agree that all children need to be able to read, write, and do arithmetic. But should coding be added to the core curriculum? Maybe. It's a great way to:

  • Teach problem-solving skills
  • Build digital confidence
  • Understand the digital world that we live in
  • Think like a computer 'thinks', to make advanced coding easier

We're constantly surrounded by technology, whether we're working in a kitchen in New York City or programming servers in a datacenter in Chicago. Everywhere we turn there are digital solutions to existing problems. And powering all of this?

Code. Lots and lots of code.

But for most people, coding is an abstract thing, something that people do deep in the recesses of their basement or in the bowels of faceless organizations. This couldn't be further from the truth. Everyday people can and are learning to code, and are better positioned for jobs, more capable of complex problem solving, and better equipped to engage in our digital world. And as more and more entrepreneurs and computer science
graduates recognize the importance of coding in their lifetime, they want to pass that on to their kids.

Linus Torvalds, the Finnish software engineer who built Linux, said that people don't program for money or because someone's telling them to. Good programmers write "because it's fun to program." We need to shift the impression of coding and programming away from the basement-dwelling geek and towards what it really is - smart people getting together and creating amazing things for others.

And it starts with our kids.

While you're waiting for the school curriculum to get on board, there are lots of things that you can do show your kids how much fun digital creation can be. We've put together our favorite websites, apps, robots, and board games you can get to teach kids that coding's fun.

Hope you like 'em.

Fun Ways Kids Can Learn to Code

Transcript: Fun Ways Kids Can Learn to Code

Everyone can agree that children need to learn reading, writing, and arithmetic, but should computer coding be a "must learn" skill now? A number of computer science experts and entrepreneurs think so. There are plenty of toys, games, and other ways for parents to help their children learn how to code in a way that's fun.

Why Kids Should Code

Teaches problem-solving skills

  • Learning how to create programs (or fix the mistakes in them) teaches children to find innovative solutions to problems

Builds digital confidence

  • Digital literacy makes children feel more empowered about technology

Better understanding of the world around them

  • Almost every facet of life is becoming digital, and children that can code will be better able to adapt and interact with these changes

Learn how to think computationally

  • Coding requires children to think differently than normal
  • Children that code learn how to break big problems into smaller ones
  • Learn how to turn specific solutions into general ones

Changes them from consumers to producers

  • By learning to code, children actually create digital things
    • They no longer just passively consume what others have made

Head start on the job market

  • By 2020, computer-related employment will rise by 22%

Computer science-related fields pay well

  • Average annual salaries for some CS careers:
    • Systems Administrator: $75,000
    • Software QA Engineer: $91,000
    • Mobile Application Developer: $102,000

Different Ways for Kids to Learn

While some schools are starting to integrate computer programming into the curriculum, parents can give their kids a jump start. There are a number of ways you can help your kids learn to code, depending on how old they are and how much you want to invest.

Websites and Downloadable Programs

Kids can access these websites and downloadable programs and learn to code on their computers:


  • Cost: Free
  • Age level: Elementary
  • A downloadable program designed to teach kids the Ruby programming language
    • Create simple programs using Ruby code
    • KidsRuby has a dual-screen interface with code on the left and what that code does on the right
      • This allows users to try out their code at any time


  • Cost: Free
  • Age level: Middle school
  • Drag-and-drop interface
    • Allows kids to create 3D movies and simple games
    • College-level CS courses Saint Joseph's University and Ithaca College that used Alice with students who had no programming experience:
      • Saw their average grade increase from C to B
      • Retention levels rose from 47% to 88%

Scratch (scratch.mit.edu)

  • Cost: Free
  • Age level: Elementary
  • Drag-and-drop interface
    • Color-coded blocks snap together like Legos
    • A social aspect makes it easy to share projects kids have created
      • They can also look at the inner workings of any other shared project to see how it functions


  • Cost: Variable
    • Many tutorials on the site are free
    • Some follow-up courses cost around $5
  • Age level: 4+
  • Nonprofit website dedicated to teaching children how to code
    • Features a number of tutorials that teach:
      • How to write a program
      • Conditionals (If/Then), repeat loops, and basic algorithms
      • How to make simple games


Move the Turtle

  • Available on:
    • iPad/iPhone
  • Cost: $3
  • Age level: 5+
  • Children give instructions to a turtle
    • In each lesson, the goal is to finish a task and collect diamonds
      • The lessons incrementally increase in complexity
    • As kids complete each lesson, they're saved as programs so that they can be used later
    • Kids can also compose their own programs in free play


  • Available on:
    • iPad/iPhone
  • Cost: Free
  • Age level: 10+
  • Drag-and-drop interface makes creating games and movies very simple
    • Bright and colorful with a social sharing feature

Daisy the Dinosaur

  • Available on:
    • iPad
  • Cost: Free
  • Age level: 4+
  • Children give instructions to Daisy the Dinosaur using a drag-and-drop interface
    • Teaches:
      • Procedures
      • Loops
      • Conditionals


  • Available on:
    • Apple
    • Android
    • Windows phones
  • Cost: $3
  • Age level: 8+
  • Kids give a robot instructions, and use it to light up dark spaces
    • To do so, they'll have to master queueing instructions
    • They'll also learn about:
      • Procedures
      • Loops
      • Conditionals


  • Available on:
    • iPad
  • Cost: Free
  • Age level: 5+
  • Created by the same MIT team that created Scratch
    • Designed to be easier for younger children to understand and use
    • Teaches:
      • Algorithmic thinking
      • Problem-solving strategies
      • How to design projects
      • How to communicate ideas

Physical Games and Toys


  • Cost: $282
  • Age level: Preschool/Kindergarten
  • Contains a little wooden robot named Cubetto who is controlled by a colorful instruction board and colored shapes
    • Kids place the shapes into the board to give Cubetto instructions
      • Even children who don't know how to read can use the Primo kit
    • Teaches kids:
      • How to make a simple sub-routine (one consisting of 1-4 steps)

Robot Turtles

  • Cost: $24.99
  • Age level: 4+
  • Children pick their turtle, set up a maze, and try to collect a gem
    • They play by placing instruction cards that tell their turtle where to go
    • There's nothing digital about the game
      • Some parents like this, as it teaches programming while still requiring imagination
    • Instructions are very simple:
      • Go forward
      • Turn left
      • Turn right
      • Shoot laser
      • Function frog (create and use a sub-routine)
    • Each instruction card is color-coded, making them simple even for young players to use


  • Cost: $200
  • Age level: 5+
  • Dash is a robot kids can program to do almost anything
    • Younger children can learn the basics of coding with a built-in touch-based programming app
      • Note: Dash can only be controlled with these apps
    • Older kids can also use the Blockly and Scratch programming languages
    • Over time, children can learn to program Dash using Objective C and Java

Code Monkey Island

  • Cost: $40
  • Age level: 8+
  • The aim of this board game is to get your group of monkeys to the banana grove before anyone else gets there
    • Features colorful cards and simple rules
    • Teaches:
      • Conditional statements
      • Basic looping
      • Boolean logic
      • Assignment operation

"Most good programmers do programming not because they expect to get paid or get adulation by the public, but because it is fun to program." — Linus Torvalds


Spencer Grover

About Spencer Grover

Spencer studied politics and psychology at university in New Zealand, which sparked his interest in efficient communication. His interest in technology just developed along the way. When he's not writing, he's usually attempting to bake sourdough while listening to "This American Life."


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Grant Hosford

August 17, 2015

We think you are missing one of the more incredible kids coding resources. It’s a self-directed award winning game called The Foos (http://thefoos.com). Of course we may be biased since we are the creators but it’s been played in over 150 countries in just six months.


August 2015 Portfolio Roundup | KeriLynn Engel, freelance writer

September 4, 2015

[…] Fun Ways Kids Can Learn to Code […]