If you’re like most of us, you probably spent countless hours in school wondering when you will ever use any of the stuff you’re learning, all while trying not to nod off. These days, more and more parents are purchasing coding apps for their kids, to get them started at a young age learning a skill that could be essential in a world that is becoming more digitized and automated with each passing day.
In some way or another, coding games for kids have been around since the 1970s. These games teach kids how to code, which is basically just using written instructions to tell a computer, or app, phone, or website what to do. The basics of coding are easy enough for children to pick up as young as age 4 or 5, even before they know how to write or spell words.
Coding is a great mental exercise that helps train young minds to grasp complex ideas and principles, and build problem solving skills. It can help them gain a greater understanding of the world around them, as well as a skill that they will definitely use someday long after they’re out of school.
So go ahead and take a look at what coding games have to offer, if your kids are going to have their faces glued to a screen anyway, they might as well be learning a skill that will be beneficial in today’s tech-heavy market.
Coding games run the gamut from simple puzzle-solving games, to platforms on which kids can design and build their own computer games. Part of the point is for them to be educational, without the kid realizing. Put simply, the kids are so busy having fun they don’t notice that they’ve actually learned something.
Features of coding apps for kids:
Allow kids to design and program their own video games
Teaches object-oriented programming (dragging objects to make icons/characters move)
Teaches basic programming syntax
Provides introduction to coding languages including HTML, Python, Ruby, PHP, and more
Board games that use cards, figurines, and so on, and do not need an electric device of any sort
Scratch was designed by programmers from MIT for users aged 8-16, and it is currently used by millions of kids in countries across the world. With Scratch you can create your own art projects, and then share them with a community of users. Users just drag and drop blocks that have instructions on them (move 10 paces, turn left, etc.) in order to animate small cartoon icons on the screen. It’s intuitive and easy enough that even a middle-aged parent can learn it.
Tynker is a children’s’ coding app that has a drag and drop function which is very similar to that of scratch. You don’t have to worry about writing complex code or that you’ll make a typo which would throw off the whole code. The company refers to it as a “Lego-like visual language.”
“Lightbot” has gone all-in on the argument that coding can be a sort of subversive, accidental learning experience while one is having a good time. The company says LightBot “secretly teaches you programming logic as you play.” Available for all ages, Lightbot is a great app for beginners.
It’s a simple puzzle solving game, where you have a small robot on the screen that has to solve a number of problems, using the instructions available to the users on the dashboard. By arranging symbols on the screen you are able to get the robot to follow your commands. With great power comes great responsibility, but there’s only so far the robot can go anyway.
Things to keep in mind when looking at coding apps:
Does it teach logical thinking and problem solving?
Can the game facilitate open-ended play, or is it too rigid?
Will the child need too much instruction or can it be mastered by the child on their own?
Will it keep the child entertained?
Is it appropriate to their age level?
Hopscotch (only on Apple)
If somebody told you that Hopscotch is a skill they could use in the future, you probably didn’t think of the jump rope game. Available only on the Apple iPad, “Hopscotch” is designed to help beginner programmers develop very easy projects. It has the same drag and drop interface for creating scripts that can be activated by the user when done. While it’s a free app, if you pay more you can share your Hopscotch creations widely on social media.
Daisy the Dinosaur
Perhaps the simplest app of all those mentioned here is Daisy the Dinosaur. Designed for the very youngest of coders, it has possibly the easiest interface of all of the brands mentioned here. With Daisy the Dinosaur, the user sends our reptilian friend Daisy through a series of simple moves such as spinning and jumping. Built by the makers of Hopscotch, it’s a bit simpler so as to appeal to the youngest of coders.
For the classroom, the best bet may be Kodable.
Kodable creates custom-made curriculums which are great for teachers who are trying to plan out how and where to incorporate computer science into their classroom. For the most part the games include the same sort of problem solving steps, where you give instructions to a character about what to do.
The program includes tutorials about the game, which should not be hard for most kids to master.
In addition, the game includes extensive tracking for teachers looking to keep up with the progress of students.
Alice uses block-based programming like many others on this list, but the template corresponds very closely to how Java is written, so that students can perhaps learn a bit of both.
Alice is meant to be used for teachers from middle school and up, in all types of fields ranging from visual arts to language arts.
The name comes from Lewis Carroll, author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. According to Alice, Carroll realized that “the most powerful thing was to be able to communicate clearly and in an entertaining way.”
Using Alice you can make videos and video games of your own using their drag and drop interface.
This iPad-based game teaches kids code while they solve puzzles moving a series of colored crates around the screen with a claw crane.
It’s meant more for elementary age students, who should enjoy bossing around the robot crane, giving it, and coded instructions to tell it where to put the blocks.
Robot Turtles uses an old school technology – board games – to teach coding to kids who are growing up in a digital age.
Players – known as “Turtle Master” – take a turtle and a deck of cards. They build a maze and then navigate the turtles through it using cards which correspond to different directions (turn left, turn right, etc.).
Robot Turtles Creator and father of 2 Dan Shapiro said that he made it a board game because he figured his kids already spend enough time staring at screens anyway and that when he first opened the box to play with them, their eyes lit up and they knew it was something special.
There is no way our parents could have predicted today’s technology when we were children and the same goes for parents of today. There are few tools we can give our kids today that are more important than those that will prepare them for an uncertain future, especially one in which technology will take an ever more central role in our lives. Coding is a great way for children to build the mental skills needed for coding, as well as problem solving skills that can apply in countless places in life. In addition, for those of us who have daughters, coding games are a great way for them to build the skills and experience that could help them break into the tech world – which is known for having disproportionately fewer women than men.
Which program you go for depends on your children’s interests and their age. A board game like Robot Turtles could be a good change of pace for kids stuck to iPads already throughout the day, though there is no shortage of digital “drag and drop” interface coding games listed above that can help kids develop the skills they’ll need down the road.