The popularity of Minecraft, a video game that puts kids in the role of creator, has sparked an interest in coding (computer programming). By learning to code, kids can create their own games, websites, apps, pictures and stories while also learning how to think logically and solve problems.
There are apps, websites and even a new board game that turn coding into child’s play. Here are some of my favorites:
Best for ages 8-14, Free, iPad
Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 4)
Kids learn the basics by going on an adventure with Pixel the dog. After a day in the park, Pixel’s family forgot him; you help him get home by programming his path down a sidewalk full of obstacles.
Presented as 20 puzzles, each with a different, progressively-harder goal, the app offers an easy interface for learning and experimenting. Kids build programs to control the dog by dragging and dropping code blocks into the programming workspace. The puzzles start out easy by teaching kids to program the dog to run when touched. To do so, kids drag the code block “run” into the “build-your-program” area and position it below the “when touched” block. The “run” command snaps into place as if it were a puzzle piece. Then kids press the play button to see if what they programmed actually works to meet the specific goal of that puzzle.
Kids will learn to recognize repeating patterns and to program the repetition using loops. The app also introduces conditional logic, so that kids learn to build programs that contain “if…then” codes. For example, kids can program the dog to jump “if” the dog sees a log.
By teaching coding inside a fun story environment, this app isn’t intimidating. Kids learn by experimenting and failing. While the failure means they don’t earn the maximum three possible stars, they can also hit redo and try it again. The app builds in hints; and it rewards programming that contains the fewest possible code blocks.
If your kids like the Puppy Adventure, two other adventures can be purchased inside the app for $1.99 each or $2.99 for both.
SurfScore, best for ages 6-up, Free or $6.99, iPad
Rating: 4 stars
This app comes in two versions: the free Kodable, which offers 30 puzzles and Kodable Pro, which has the exact same 30 puzzles, but then offers 30 more complex puzzles and a set of debugging challenges.
Both start with a spaceship full of fuzzy ball-like creatures crash-landing on the planet of Smeeborg, which is full of Technomazes. To help the family of Fuzzes, you need to program them to move through a series of mazes. As they roll through, the Fuzzes collect coins, earn stars for completing maze levels and unlock new Fuzzes to program.
Kids program the Fuzzes to move through the mazes by dragging arrows from the top right of the screen into ordered boxes in the top left. The arrows indicate the direction in which the Fuzz should move to get through the maze. There are coins scattered throughout; so programming the Fuzz to roll over the money is the key to earning the most stars at the end of the maze.
In addition to directional programming, this first world of puzzles also introduces kids to “if this, then that” programming as well as loops, so that they can group commands together for repetition.
The Fuzzes are adorable balls of energy, and their rolling is accompanied by upbeat music, making the programming fun. While equally as fun to play as Tynker, Kodable distinguishes itself by providing better interactive tutorials that are fully voiced and a Learning Guide that explains programming concepts to parents, teachers and players. This guide also offers the solutions to all of the puzzles.
Here’s my advice: start with the free Kodable app; and if your child gets hooked, then purchase Kodable Pro for $6.99.
WEBSITES AND BOARD GAME
If you don’t have an iPad, but still want to explore coding for kids, here are some other resources.
Best for ages 8-16, Free
Rating 3.5 stars
On this website, kids can learn an easy programming language that is based on dragging blocks of code to a workspace. Scratch is the source of inspiration for the apps Tynker and Kodable. Users can create their own animations or games on the site or download the programming language to their computer. Scratch also hosts many projects created by others so that their community of coders can learn from one another.
Best for ages 13-up, Free
Rating: 3.5 stars
Teens can take interactive courses in six different programming languages and complete structured projects to build their own website using HTML, animate their name, and program their own moving galaxy.
Best for ages 10-16, Free
Rating: 4 stars
This site teaches kids how to program video games by having them play through a variety of game genres while earning items to use in building their own games. Aspiring game designers can then build games on the site and share their creations with each other.
ThinkFun, best for ages 4-up, $24.99, available in June
Coming out in June, this new board game for preschoolers and older kids uses programming directives as game pieces. Parents set up maze-like quests on the playing board for their children to navigate by laying down programming directions to make their tokens move. The parent becomes the computer, and kids boss the computer around by laying out code. It’s clever and fun.