As technology becomes ever more present in our daily lives, mastering basic computer programming no longer represents just a smart, forward-thinking exercise idea for progressive families, but rather a necessity for grown-ups and kids alike.
As a child, I was extremely interested in computers. I always wanted to know how they worked and how to use them for more than just basic fun. My early experiences with computers gave me the confidence that I could accomplish miraculous things if I just learned how to fully utilize the power of the machines, i.e. write code.
Unlike my era (when I learned to program the hard way), basic coding is now fairly simple to learn, and there are many free resources out there that can help you get started. In a few hours, anyone can pick up the fundamentals, and within a week or two, use that knowledge to build functioning apps, games, and websites.
Today, even kindergarteners can be taught the basics of writing code. Acquiring these skills at such a young age will greatly influence their overall development, and studies have shown that coding strengthens other academic areas such as reading, spelling, and math.
Kids who master coding and programming logic will blossom into better problem solvers, and will also develop better analytical reasoning skills and deeper thirst for knowledge.
Software is the language of our time, and teaching kids how to use it correctly will certainly come in handy later on in life.
However, not all programming languages are the same. There are so many languages available, and it can be tricky to decide which one is best for the beginner.
1. Scratch 3.0
Primarily developed for children between the ages of 8 and 16, Scratch is a free educational programming language developed by Mitch Resnick and patented by the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Teaching kids to code with Scratch is easy, as the platform provides an intuitive, easy-to-use visual block interface that eliminates the frustration of typing for young learners.
Scratch is one of the most visually appealing of all the kids programming languages on the list, but the real reason it really shines is in the freedom of expression that it allows its students. The whole idea behind it was to simplify the process of creating animations, designing games, and building interactive stories, so that literally anyone could do it from the ground up. Kids feel like real game designers using Scratch, and even complete novices can create simple, completely custom games in minutes.
Scratch also has a big online community with over 15 million registered users from every corner of the world. Anyone can become a member, as long as they comply with the friendly and respectful rules that the MIT Scratch Team has set.
The other great thing about the Scratch platform and its community is that you are required to store your projects and their code on the Scratch server, which allows young learners to study how more advanced users have created complex games.
If Scratch sounds like it might be right for you, you can introduce your child to it with this step-by-step guide. The cards will provide your kids with a fun new way to learn to code with one of the best kids coding languages on the planet.
Blockly is a visual block programming language for kids that is widely viewed as Google’s response to Scratch. Metaphorically speaking, it uses the same building blocks to help children master code. The only real difference lies in the following: Blockly is actually a programming language made out of several pre-existing programming languages.
Blockly has a specific UI that resembles a child’s box of multi-shaped, multi-colored blocks. In addition to that, there is also a toolbox that holds the blocks, a bin, and space to actually write code.
It’s very simple to operate. Users take the blocks out of the toolbox (one at a time) and arrange them in sequences until they solve their problem. Once they finish, the program runs a check up, looks at what has been done, and if the solution isn’t correct – it goes back and analyzes the code again until it finds an error. Easy peasy.
Blockly makes it possible for anyone to develop an actual working Android app. This makes this language more than just a kids toy. Children can code along the side of their screen by linking different blocks together. They can also switch languages with ease, making it possible for them to see different types of code at any time for the same basic program.
Even though this is a great program, in comparison to Scratch – Blockly is still not there yet. It is not as developed as its biggest competitor and there are not as many good tutorials, which makes it harder for children to learn Blockly on their own.
Blocky has been used by some excellent designers at Sphero, and we are seeing a number of other companies utilizing the technology. We expect great things in the future.
Quite different than the first two entries on the list, Python is a powerful, text-based computer programming language that children as young as age 8 can easily use to express themselves. This specific type of code acts both as a jumping off point for mastering other languages, and a strong enough tool for serious game, web, and app development.
There are numerous game-based and self-directed courses online that make learning Python (especially Python 3) a unique, fun, and highly engaging experience for kids. In fact, our company CodaKid recently introduced a Game Development with Python track which teaches kids how to create popular game genres from the ground up using Python code. We have since followed up with Python 2 Attack of the RoboZombies and will be introducing Python 3: CodaKid Smash in late 2018.
Python is a great choice for introducing children to coding, because this programming language insists upon using good code layouts. It also encourages users to use online support and extensive Python libraries.
As they start to play more and more with Python, your children will learn how to properly use fundamental data structures like lists, tuples, and maps. Mastering variables, loops and other functions in Python will give them a great foundation for tackling more advanced programming in the future.
They’ll also overcome the complexity that comes with controlling different structures in Python. Drawing shapes and patterns with Python turtle module will help your kids overcome their first barriers with animation and game design. In no time, they’ll be able code their own apps for Mac, PC, or Linux.
Java Script is essentially the language of the web, and it is an excellent kids coding language for students who are ready for text-based coding.
5. Lua (Roblox)
Lua is a scripting language that is perfect for introducing children to text-based coding. It’s easy to learn, use, and embed into applications. Lua is a free, elegant, powerful, portable, embeddable, and beginner-friendly coding language.
This type of language introduces simple concepts that have the potential of becoming smooth products, while still staying true to their simplicity, readability, and efficiency. One of the best things about Lua is that it takes care of low-level things like memory management for the user.
6. Java (Minecraft)
Java is not our favorite kids coding language, and quite frankly the only reason it is on the list is that it is the language of Minecraft. As such, the allure of Minecraft creates such an effective “carrot on stick” experience for students that it has become a very popular way to teach kids coding.
Since its release back in 2011, Minecraft has become the center of attention of many children across the globe. Even though a lot of adults still believe it is just another game, Minecraft has proven itself to be much more than that. It is an extremely powerful tool for teaching kids how to use logic, solve problems, and strengthen a number of core academic skills.
And that’s just when they’re in the basic user phase. Once your children start to really look beyond the start operations, it will become transparent to them that Minecraft is an highly adaptive playground, open for customization. When kids start to really like the game, you can introduce them to “mods.” Short for modifications, mods basically all the changes that kids can introduce to the game. They can change everything – the characters’ objects, landscapes, specific characteristics, etc. The possibilities are endless.
In order to introduce a particular mod to the game, the player needs to write a bit of code. This is where things get interesting. Minecraft runs on Java, and the game’s open architecture allows the users to access Minecraft’s Java source code and play around. While modding with Java, kids will start to learn how to create both simple and complicated things, which will certainly keep them focused and engaged in learning more about this coding language.
7. C# (Unity)
Unity is a popular game engine that can teach kids how to code while creating professional quality games. It is a closed-source, cross-platform game dev app, in which users can play around with objects in 3D and add various elements to them. The scripts can be written in C# which is a language quite similar to Java.
C# is a powerful program and it can be used for almost anything. Of course, it has its own special strengths – one of them being Windows app development. Thanks to its .NET support, C# is now every developer’s first choice for creating Windows desktop applications.
Learning how to use such a language can be more than useful outside of the game. With Unity, your children will acquire great programming skills that they can later on easily use in their future coding adventures. It’s a great starting point, from which future class-A coders can be born.
Unity has a free version, accessible to everyone in every location. On the official site, users can find a lot of free tutorials and lessons that can help them learn how to import, evaluate, and manage their game resources to create whatever they want.
The material is divided into two groups:
- Lessons for learning about the Engine;
- Lessons for learning about the Services and Production.
Each section comes with its own set of step-by-step tutorials and topics that are divided by additional lessons and filled with a lot of valuable, detail-oriented content. With this information-rich library, your kid can start building games and deploying them on various platforms.
Honorable Mention: Swift (Swift Playgrounds)
Apple’s Swift Playgrounds was first introduced in 2016 as a tool to teach kids to code. Swift Playgrounds features a number of basic coding lessons and gamified challenges, and comes with a tight interface with graphically pleasing backgrounds. As an iPad app, Swift Playground is good for schools where iPads are used in the classroom.
Our beef with Swift Playgrounds has less to do with the language, and more to do with its overly restrictive lessons, which, like so many other run-of-the-mill kids coding resources, does not give students any freedom of expression, such as that provided by the Scratch platform. Students are forced to proceed through levels following a rigid pathway defined by course designers. We’ve found that this “on-rails” experience gets old quickly for creative kids.
With recent news that Apple plans to teach a younger generation of iOS developers how to build AR-enabled apps with Swift Playgrounds, our opinion may change. We will update this post as soon as we have taken a deep dive into the Swift Playgrounds AR project.
Kids Coding Languages: Recap
Every child is different, and there is no one size fits all solution to kids coding languages.
The languages we have evaluated here are all excellent, and you might consider starting with a visual block language first and then see if your child is ready for some of the text-based options once she has demonstrated proficiency in it.
Thank you for taking the time to read this article from beginning to the end. I hope it helped you see that in this day and age, there are an increasing number of kids coding options which can help children as young as pre-schoolers learn computer science concepts.
Do you think we missed something? Did you have any questions, comments, or suggestions? If so, we’d love to hear from you! Please leave them in the comments below!