Ultimate Kids Guide to Coding

When computer programmers code, they tell computers, mobile devices, and software programs how to run. Depending on the application, coders may use different programming languages. For websites, a computer programmer might use HTML or CSS. When creating a video game, the coder might script in Python or Java.

While it might come as a surprise, kids can start learning basic programming as early as 5 years old, and sometimes even younger. Even before they can read, kids can engage in image-based games and puzzles that present coding principles. Older students can jump in at any time, beginning with simple languages or advancing to more complex ideas.

In this kid’s coding guide, parents and teachers can find information on the immediate and future benefits of computer programming. This guide explores various programming languages and their applications. It also offers a list of games and resources for kids to start coding.

What Is Coding?

Coding tells a computer program how to function. Using programming languages like JavaScript, Python, C++, and HTML, computer scientists build games and websites. They can even tell robots what to do. Every time people purchase items online, check a weather app, or start a favorite video game, they can thank coders for teaching the device how to do its job.

Because programming concepts are easy to present in the form of a game, kids can learn basic coding as early as five years old. The earliest coding games for pre-readers might start with block-based puzzles and sequencing. From ages 5-7, young learners might drag and drop images to learn the basic concepts behind coding.

Websites like Code.org organize computer programming lessons by age, making it easy to find the right activities for each child.

Older kids can start with text-based coding, which allows them to learn real programming languages in a fun way. Some activities involve a finished product, where kids can actually play a game, watch an animation, or use a basic app that they designed.

Websites like Code.org organize computer programming lessons by age, making it easy to find the right activities for each child. Activities start for kindergarten learners and move up by grade level.

Why Kids Should Learn How to Code

By pursuing coding activities, kids can build academic foundations to help them throughout their schooling. Coding also develops soft skills like teamwork and flexibility. By encouraging kids to learn basic programming concepts, parents equip them to succeed in a variety of areas. Some of the reasons for learning how to code include:

Creative Expression
Creativity goes hand in hand with computer programming. Kids can follow their interests, telling stories through games and videos, or sharing their passions by building websites. With coding, kids can make music and artwork, present science projects, study math, and apply creative solutions to problems.
Fun Activity
More than a set of rules and formulas, computer programming is a hands-on task where kids can see immediate results. Coding games often cater to kids’ interests, enticing them to learn along with their favorite cartoon characters.
Builds Academic Foundations
Coding requires problem-solving skills and logic, making it a good foundation for academic achievement. Kids can also engage in teamwork and patience, important skills for success.
May Lead to Good Careers
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for all computer and technology occupations was $91,250 as of May 2020. The BLS projects that employment in this sector will grow by 11% between 2019 and 2029.
Useful Skill
Whether or not students pursue a career in technology, the ability to code websites is a helpful skill. Understanding computers will only become more important as technology continues to advance.

Basic Programming Languages That Are Kid-Friendly

Programming languages have different functions. For example, websites use different programming languages than robotics, video games, and mobile apps. Parents can help kids to choose a great starting point depending on their age, reading proficiency, and interests.

Early and pre-readers can begin learning block and image-based coding languages. Some scripting, like Python, uses simple lines of text that young readers can follow. Others, such as HTML, require proficient literacy and reasoning skills.

The table below presents a kids coding guide to programming languages, including uses, difficulty level, and ideal age ranges for each.

Programming Language Where It’s Used Level of Difficulty Ideal Student
Scratch Interactive animations, 2D videos, and games Easiest. As a visual-based block platform, Scratch is a great starting point. Kids ages 5 and up, especially those with an interest in storytelling and animation.
Python Robotics, artificial intelligence, video games, social media apps Easy. It uses limited lines of text-based coding. Reading-age kids who want to start creating games or program robots.
Java Operating systems, Android devices, apps Easy. Java teaches basic text-based coding. Reading-age kids who want to create mobile apps.
Lua Robotics, video games Medium. A good step up from Python for kids who want to learn more. Kids ages 9 and up who want to develop games.
HTML Websites Advanced. Uses complex tags to show websites how to display content. Kids ages 10 and up who want to build websites.
CSS Websites Advanced. Works as an add-on to HTML. Kids ages 10 and up who want to build websites.

Where to Find Lessons on Coding Basics for Kids

Parents can find a wealth of coding resources online for kids. Free and low-cost websites offer programming tutorials in the form of games and challenges. Parents can also find apps, online and offline games, and take-home kits to keep kids engaged. The list below offers an introduction to some of these resources.

Beginner

  • Code.org A free website with hour-long coding tutorials, games, and local classes for young coders. The site divides classes by age group and includes app building, website design, and career options. The site also provides resources for parents and educators.
  • Swift Playgrounds This free app for Apple devices uses puzzles to teach basic coding concepts. Kids use programming concepts to navigate a 3D world. As kids learn, they can also connect devices like drones to the app and use it to control them.
  • Algorithm City A free app for Android devices that uses animals to guide kids through the basics of coding and algorithms. Users can advance from the instructional “educational” level to the final “hard” chapter of the game.
  • Tynker With activities for kids that begin at age 5, Tynker also offers coding games, courses, and activities for students up to age 18. Parents can try the site for free. After that, subscriptions cost $7.50-$25 per month.
  • Coding Safari Kids as young as three can guide cute creatures using the kinds of problem-solving and functional thinking coders use on a regular basis. Coding Safari is free to download but includes some in-app purchases.

Intermediate

  • Scratch Created by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Scratch website and mobile app provide tools for kids to create animations and games, engage in code-related activities, and share their creations for others to use.
  • Lightbot Available for Apple and Android devices, the free Lightbot app features a 20-level world. Kids guide a robot character through these levels using programming concepts like conditionals and loops.
  • Khan Academy With free courses that span subjects including math, science, and the humanities, Khan Academy offers a robust suite of programming options. Kids can engage in an hour of code or learn JavaScript drawing and animation, plus HTML for websites.
  • CodeMonkey A game-based way for kids to learn coding, CodeMonkey features activities for grades K-8. The site also highlights resources for teachers and parents. Individual plans start at $6 per month.
  • Nancy Drew Mystery Coding Game Available for Apple and Android devices, this game combines coding basics with reading and critical thinking skills. Aimed at encouraging girls to pursue computer science, the game involves solving a mystery using computer programming concepts. The game is free, but includes in-app purchases.

Advanced

  • Codewars Codewars is a free website where kids can build their coding skills in a variety of programming languages, including Python, Java, Scala, Swift, and Lua. The site requires some baseline knowledge of coding and provides a collaborative environment for creation.
  • Codecademy Codecademy hosts courses that span computer science subjects. Students can dive into programming languages like HTML and CSS, Python, Java, and PHP, and engage in an online community. Kids can try out courses for free. Individual pricing starts at $16 per month, but some students may access the program for less.
  • App Inventor Designed for high school students, App Inventor guides learners through the process of developing their own Android applications. Through basic programming concepts and an introduction to Java scripting, students can use their creativity to make games, quizzes, and other apps.
  • Glitch Through its engaged online community, Glitch encourages users to collaborate and share the apps they create. Students can make websites, code in JavaScript, and play programming games. The site provides free access to basic levels. Pro rates start at $8 per month.
  • Gameblox With Gameblox, kids use coding to create their own games or build on games in the site's library. A free tool available in the browser or through Android and Apple apps, Gameblox also features user forums.

Getting Kids Interested in Programming Concepts

Parents and teachers can present kids with coding basics outside of screen time. For example, parents can use a muffin tin tray, paper, scissors, a marker, and small toys to mimic algorithm development. Educators can also engage in make believe with kids, playing the parts of robot and coder, or teaching more advanced conditional programming concepts through games.

Parents can also modify outdoor games like hopscotch, treasure hunts, and follow the leader to get kids excited about coding. These activities can also demonstrate the diverse and interesting uses for computer programming.

In-person classes and clubs can also inspire kids when it comes to learning about coding. Some of the resources listed above, such as Code.org, offer tools for finding local classes. Parents can talk with school administrators or librarians to discuss the possibility of starting a coding club.

Kids might also seek out STEM-based activities that use programming, such as a school’s robotics team.

Learning to Write Code Now Can Pay Off Later

Kids of all ages can set the stage for exciting careers by learning basic computer programming concepts. Many jobs require or prefer some coding experience. Kids and parents might be surprised to learn that graphic designers, animators, and film and video editors all use computer science principles in their jobs.

With technology increasingly prevalent across so many industries, even basic coding knowledge can help kids no matter what career they ultimately decide to pursue.

Students can hone their coding skills without pursuing a degree in computer science. Coding bootcamps give learners a boost, helping to bulk up resumes or prepare enrollees for coding jobs in software development and computer programming. The BLS reports that many computer and information technology jobs make median salaries above $100,000, including computer and information research scientists and software developers.

With technology increasingly prevalent across so many industries, even basic coding knowledge can help kids no matter what career they ultimately decide to pursue. Below are several jobs that require coding skills.

Special Effects Artists and Animators

Special Effects Artists and Animators

According to the BLS, special effects artists and animators made a median salary of $77,700 as of May 2020. The BLS also projects growth of 4% from 2019-2029. Special effects artists and animators combine artistic talent and computer skills to animate characters for movies, television, and video games. They write code in languages like Python and Lua.

Web Developers and Digital Designers

Web Developers and Digital Designers

The BLS reported that web developers and digital designers earned a median pay of $77,200 as of May 2020. The site projects 8% job growth from 2019-2029, much faster than the national average. Web developers create websites and keep them running. Web designers focus more on the user end, making sure the site looks good and functions well. Both jobs use programming languages like HTML.

Software Developers

Software Developers

Software developers earned a median wage of $110,140 as of May 2020, according to the BLS. The BLS foresees high demand in the next decade, projecting 22% growth from 2019-2029. Software developers create programs like mobile and web applications or operating systems. Using languages like Java and Python, they plan the software systems and often code the programs.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is a good age to start coding?

    Kids can start learning the basics of coding around age 5, and sometimes even earlier. Image-based games allow pre-readers to grasp early programming concepts without writing actual lines of code.

  • Are there activities for kindergarten-aged children that teach coding concepts?

    Yes. Parents can modify screen-free games like mazes, treasure hunts, Simon Says, and follow the leader to teach basic concepts. Websites and apps like Scratch, Tynker, and Coding Safari also teach coding through games.

  • How difficult is basic coding?

    Kids can learn basic coding relatively easily. Block-based programs allow students to engage at an early age. From there, reading-age children can advance to simple text-based coding languages like Python and Java.

  • Does coding require math?

    Depending on the programming language, coding can require some basic math concepts. More often, programmers use principles that coincide with mathematics when building algorithms.


Feature Image: vgajic / E+ / Getty Images

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