By Tracey Dowdy
The odds of you teaching your kids to write computer programming may rank up there with the odds of you capturing Bigfoot, but in reality it’s not nearly as far-fetched as it sounds. The last few years have seen a dramatic increase in the number of apps, software guides and tools that can help even the most inexperienced of novice coders.
In addition to transforming your kids from mere consumers of technology into designers and innovators, writing code is increasingly becoming an essential 21st century skill. Children absorb information at an extraordinary rate and coding offers the opportunity to learn invaluable problem solving and communication skills at ages where integrating new information is as natural as breathing.
Kids are drawn in by the challenge; their curiosity drives them forward and every success encourages them. Learning feels like play, which drives them to reach for the next level.
The best apps and sites for young coders focus on graphics and animation over writing actual code. Generally these apps have users drag and drop pieces of visual code into place.
Kodable focuses on logic and basic coding concepts. Step by step instructions, if/then statements and looping are the focus of the initial lessons, and a separate section for parents offers us a teaching curriculum, help on unlocking levels and clear instructions so we don’t get left behind. (Ages 6+; iOS, Android, Windows; free with limited in-app purchases)
Scratch Jr allows kids to program their own stories and games by snapping together geometric blocks. Kids use their creativity while developing problem-solving and design skills, which in turn reinforce numeracy and literacy skills. “With Scratch Jr, children don’t just learn to code, they code to learn.” The Scratch website is a free resource of Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab and allows kids to share their creations online. (Ages 7+; iOS, Android; free)
Intermediate coders are ready for kid-friendly programming languages with elements that are designed to reinforce creativity and problem-solving skills.
Hopscotch offers easy to follow videos to help you create games and pixel art. The app offers over 40 challenges to keep young coders engaged and was the winner of the Children’s Technology Review: Best Educational Technology Award and Parents’ Choice Gold Award. (Ages 9+; iOS; free with limited in-app purchases)
Alice teaches users to create animation, play interactive games, or create videos to share online. Kids write code that animates 3D objects such as people, animals, and cars inside their environment. www.alice.org (Windows, Mac, Linux; free download)
Advanced coders can start working with more complex programming languages.
Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.