Let’s admit it, coding is the language of the future. The current industrial revolution has its roots in information technology, computing and STEM skills. Artificial intelligence, robots, mind mapping are no longer fancy alien terms! They are right here, influencing and changing our lives like never before.
It’s no coincidence when your social media feeds show up items from your latest Google search. Rather its a very subtle reminder of how information technology is influencing (or controlling!) our lives.
The future is unfathomable without computers! And coding is the vocabulary these machines understand. Thus, making coding almost a language.
Coding for kids needs to be introduced in early years in a subtle manner so it doesn’t fetch them off their inherent skills and curiosity.
We are not saying your child needs to be a whizkid! But we are most definitely saying that children today need to understand coding programs like a second language. A basic coding acumen is imperative.
Table of Contents:
- What is Coding
- Why Should Children Learn to Code?
- Programming and Coding Apps for Kids
- Screen Free Indoor Coding Activities for kids
- Offline Outdoor Coding Activities for Kids
- Coding Games & Toys for Kids
- Coding Books for Kids
What is Coding?
Coding is a process through which you can direct a computer to perform the tasks you want. Simply put, coding is like setting instructions for the computer to follow commands.
These instructions need to be given in a language that the machine (computer in this case) understands. You possibly cannot talk in your native language and expect a machine to follow it unless there is already some code to decipher your native language.
Coding involves writing a series of instructions to perform a task in one of the programming languages – the language computers understand. These languages could be visual blocks, C, Java or Python.
Interestingly, for kids, coding can be gamified to make it interesting and appealing to young minds. Most of the coding for kids is done through visual drag and drop blocks, which do not require children to write codes.
What children need to understand is the logic behind the blocks and not be bothered with the syntaxes. Once they have mastered the visual drag and drop programming, transition to core programming languages like C, Java or Python becomes easier for children.
Why Should Children Learn to Code?
1. Our Future Depends on it!
Think of self driving cars, automated refrigerators ordering groceries, robotic hands performing surgeries, AI robots drafting legal briefs…technology is all around us.
With such amelioration in technology, STEM skills are going to take precedence in the future. Learning the basics of coding will help children lay a strong foundation for STEM skills, as most technologies are going to converge or use computing in one way or another.
2. Coding is Great for Academic Skills
Wondering how to build skills like critical thinking, logical analysis and problem solving? Try coding!
Coding is the language of machines, which do not understand implicit meaning and emotions. So, to communicate you have to be precise, logical and clear in your thoughts. All these build critical and logical thinking skills.
3. Coding Helps Build Soft Skills
Soft skills like cooperation, teamwork, adaptability and active listening can be easily developed fun way through coding. Coding offers children the opportunity to collaborate and work together in teams, helping them to build essential soft skills (often disappearing!).
4. Coding Fosters Creativity
When it comes to coding, there is no one-way! You can code the same program using an array of languages, applying different operations and logic. Another important aspect of coding is that it is process oriented and not necessarily product oriented.
This builds creativity and provides the necessary impetus to imagination and divergent thinking.
5. Coding Strengthens Math Skills
Math skills are a critical component of the future. We all need basic math skills to survive in our daily routine. One of the most important aspects of coding is to organise, analyse and manipulate data to achieve the desired outcome.
These are key math skills and coding works on them the fun, hands-on way. Coding is just one of the ways to make math hands-on and cultivate a genuine interest in math.
6. Builds Resilience and Growth Mindset
Debugging and testing is an important part of coding. These two things are inherent to coding and teach children to be resilient, not give up and work on their mistakes consequently, building resilience and growth mindset.
Coding Activities for Kids
Kids of all ages can learn to code. There is a gamut of activities specially designed for children to help them understand and learn the basics of coding.
You can choose from offline coding activities or online coding platforms depending on your screen time policy and your child’s learning style.
Online Coding Activities for Kids
Plenty of apps are now available to help your children learn to code. These apps are highly engaging and so easy to use that children as young as 3years can learn to code using these apps.
Programming Apps and Coding Apps for Kids
Designed for young children, this coding app focuses on pre-computation and pre-coding skills like logical thinking, problem solving and computational skills. Perfect for kids as young as 3year old.
Suited for kids 5 years and above, this coding app focuses on algorithm design, sequencing, looping along with basic coding concepts. The downside is that it is only available for android users.
3. Code Karts
Got a car crazy kid at home? Help your vehicle obsessed kid learn the basics of coding while building race tracks and racing cars. Suitable for children 3 to 5years of age.
Learn the fundamentals of coding like sequencing skills with this caterpillar game app. You can even pair it with its physical counterpart Code-a-Pillar toy for more engagement. Suitable for kids up to 6years-old.
Who wouldn’t love to code when there is a dinosaur to teach you. This lovely coding app for kids teaches them sequencing and conditionals. It is apt for kids between 5 and 7 years.
6. Run Marco
Suitable for kids 6 years and above, this is a great coding app to teach kids drag and drop coding skills. Advance levels even allow children to design their own levels as well.
This coding app is challenging and is the next step forward after your child has mastered the basics. It is suitable for children in the age bracket of 4 to 13 years.
8. Nancy Drew – Mystery Coding Game
Nothing is more exciting than solving a mystery. This narrative based coding game involves unlocking a mystery based on the clues. Besides building coding skills, this coding app also works at honing critical reasoning and logical skills.
This coding app allows children to bring their drawings to life and make games. It uses drag and drop coding blocks and is great for building some real coding skills.
Indoor Screen-Free Coding Activities for Kids
If you are concerned about the increased screen time, then offline coding activities for kids are for you. Simple and easy, these activities are not a challenge to set up and can be done with common household items.
1. Muffin Tin Coding
This is one of the simplest coding activities and a great activity to start coding for kids. What you need is:
- Muffin Tin Tray
- Small Figurines/Pom-poms
Step 1: Draw circles on the paper corresponding to the number of muffin tins on the tray.
Step 2: Cut out the circles and draw arrows on each circle cutout. These are your direction cards.
Step 3: Decide a starting point and end point on the muffin tin. Place your figurines (pom-pom or any other prop) on starting and end points.
Step 4: Using the cutout, trace a path from the starting point to the finish point.
This path finding coding activity for kids is a great way to introduce them to algorithm design.
What is an Algorithm?
An algorithm is a series of instructions given to a computer to accomplish a task.
The paths you make using direction cards in the above activity together form an algorithm to reach to the end point beginning from the starting point.
You can make the activity trickier by placing obstacles in between on the muffin tin. Further adding constraints or conditions like “only 2 left turns allowed” will further raise the difficulty level of the activity.
This open-ended unplugged coding activity for kids sparks creativity and works on critical and logical thinking while teaching your children how to code.
2. Name Code Bracelet
This is a creative, hands-on crafty coding activity that allows your kids to make their name bracelets using ASCII codes. ASCII stands for American Standard Code for Information exchange. These codes are a sequence of 1s and 0s (binary coding) that computers understand.
What you will need is:
White, Blue and Red Beads
Step 1: Using the ASCII Code sheet , write the ASCII codes corresponding to letters of your name.
Step 2: Use blue beads to denote 0 and red to denote 1. White beads denote space.
Step 3: Lace the beads into the string according to the letters of your name. Mark space between two letters using white bead.
This activity helps children learn how to code (and decode!) letters into binary. It enlarges their view and understanding of computers and language that it comprehends.
3. Three Little Pigs
This coding activity is inspired from the classical tale of “Three Little Pigs”. What you need is a grid sheet (math notebook works just fine) and a pen.
Step 1: Read out “Three Little Pigs” to your child.
Step 2: On the grid paper, draw three houses resembling straw, stick and brick house as per the story.
Step 3: At the bottom corner of the grid sheet, draw the wolf.
The task for your child is to follow the story and trace the shortest path for the wolf to follow. They can use directional arrows for mapping the path.
This activity helps children think and problem solve. They need to find the shortest route and yet satisfy the constraints (story sequence), thus, building problem solving and critical reasoning skills.
4. Draw With Me Coding Activity
This is fun offline coding activity for kids that not only is wonderful for building algorithm design skills but also concentration and analytical skills.
All you need for this coding activity is paper and pens.
Step 1: Draw a simple picture like a dog or a cat on a paper and give it to your child. Your child is the coder and you are the computer.
Step 2: Sit back to back from each other.
Step 3: The task for the coder (your child) is to give sequential instructions to the computer (you!) to help it draw the picture.
Step 4: Compare the picture you drew following your child’s instructions only (no cheating here!) with the original picture.
Now as easy as it may seem, it is a task to give sequential instructions so as to arrive at the correct picture. This gives your child an idea how specific and exact computer algorithms need to be to accomplish the desired task. Programmers have to account for smallest details, as computer will blindly follow their instructions.
5. Blindfold Bubble Wrap Maze Challenge
This is super fun programming activity for kids who love silly games. Certainly one of the most fun unplugged coding games for kids, this one will turn your little one into a robot and you into a programmer.
This simple STEM activity works at building sequencing and algorithm design skills. Sequencing refers to the sequence of steps in the algorithm.
What you need for this coding game is:
Plenty of space,
Bubble Wrap (Or Painter’s tape)
Step 1: Using bubble wrap, make a maze on the floor. Be generous in spacing your maze, as your robot needs to walk through it.
Step 2: Blindfold your child and lead her to the start of the maze.
Step 3: Now give instructions to your child to help her out through the maze without stepping on the bubble wrap. Every time your robot steps on the bubble wrap, he/she has to go back two instructions. The reason we have chosen bubble wrap is because it makes popping sound every time the robots errs. Funny, right!
You could give instruction like:
Move one step forward;
Once your robot has reached the end point, the challenge is completed. Now, you turn into the robot and follow your child’s instructions to get your way out through the maze.
6. Peanut Butter Jelly Sandwich Coding Activity
The task at hand here is to code a robot to make a peanut butter jelly sandwich for you. This unplugged coding activity can be played as a fun coding game as well.
To play the game, you will first need two players to pretend as a robot and a programmer. Next, comes the hard part…designing the algorithm. Algorithms must be precise and follow sequential steps to help your robot (you!) accomplish the task.
It is a super silly way to teach children how to code, design algorithms and sequencing. Your children will make loads of errors while making the peanut butter jelly sandwich algorithm. The tricky part for you (the robot) is to precisely follow the instructions and not assume anything (not even common sense!).
7. Treasure Hunt Coding Activity
Turn coding into an adventurous treasure hunt. This hands-on, offline coding activity works on logic building and algorithm design.
What you need for this activity is counters (we used Connect4 counters) or bottle caps.
Step 1: Make a 6X6 grid with the counters.
Step 2: Mark a counter ’S’ to denote the starting point and draw a treasure chest on another to represent treasure. Alternatively, you can use different coloured counters to mark starting point and treasure chest.
Step 3: To make the treasure hunt challenging, draw obstacles ‘O’ on some of the counters and energy bars ‘E’ on others. All obstacles have to be avoided and the player has to eat all energy bars before reaching the treasure.
Step 4: Challenge is to design the algorithm to reach the treasure while satisfying the conditional statement in step 3.
8. If Then Else Coding Activity
This is a great offline coding activity for children who have grasped the basics of coding and are ready to go to the next step – conditional statements.
If-Then-Else is a conditional statement used in coding to perform certain tasks when a specific condition is fulfilled. This STEM activity is best played in groups.
What you need is coloured paper and three bowls.
Step 1: Cut strips of coloured paper. You need three colours. We used blue for If, green for Then and pink for Else.
Step 2: Write If conditions on blue, Then statements on green and Else statements on pink.
Example for If-Then-Else statements:
If statements: If you are wearing <blue>
If you have <long/brown> hair
If you like <banana>
Then statements: Then name a <blue> object
Then <clap> three times
Then <sing a song>
Else Statements: Else <dance> like a <monkey>
Else make <rabbit ears>
Else do <10 jumping jacks>
Step 3: Keep the coded strips into different bowls and ask children to start picking the chits.
The child should first pick from the ‘IF’ bowl and depending on the condition he meets, he needs to pick either of the other two bowls.
This coding activity helps children understand how conditional statements work and where these conditional statements can be put to use while coding. It also helps children decipher the logic & understand cause and effect relationship between various variables.
9. Simon Says Coding Activity
Imagine turning a popular game into a coding game. Sounds fun, right! Just with a few tweaks, you can turn this classical game into a group coding activity.
Like the original version of Simon Says, one person needs to give instructions and children need to follow. But here we tweak it to call the instructor ‘programmer’ and children as ‘computers’.
Computers have to follow exactly what the programmer says and what is followed by ‘Simon says…’. Any instruction that does not follow ‘Simon says…’ has to be ignored. Now this is not as easy as it may sound once this coding game gets started. Slip an instruction or two without prefixing it with Simon says to see how your mini computers react.
Also, the computers need to check for the conditional statements and keep doing the task as per the instruction. For example, the programmer says ‘ Simon says jump’. Your computers need to continue jumping till the programmer provides the next valid instruction. Children who stop before the next valid instruction will have to stand out of the game and wait for the next instruction to rejoin the game.
This group coding activity is particularly good in building understanding of how a computer works and how algorithms need to be designed to help these super machines work.
10. Coding Art Activity
This STEM coding activity adds an arts dimension to coding to make it more hands-on and build logical thinking. This is essentially a decoding activity wherein your child is required to draw according to a given code.
What you need is a dice, paper, pencil and colours.
Step 1: Make a code sheet for shapes corresponding to the number on the dice.
1 = Circle; 2 = Square; 3 = Oval
4 = Rectangle; 5 = Triangle; 6 = Diamond
Step 2: Hand over paper, pencil and dice to your child. The task is to draw an animal using shapes.
Step 3: Roll the dice and draw according to the shape code. Repeat this step till your shape animal is complete.
Step 4: This step is to colour your shape animal. But first you need to make a colour code just like shape code. Here is an example:
1 = Red; 2 = Purple; 3 = Green
4 = Orange; 5 = Blue; 6 = Yellow
Step 5: Roll the dice and colour the animal according to the colour code till your animal is complete.
11. Encrypted Messages
Electronics use ASCII code to understand our language. Just like you use English or your native language to communicate, machines depend on ASCII code. Whatever is communicated to the machines is first converted into its corresponding ASCII code, the language of machines, and then the instructions are followed.
This is an exciting and fun unplugged coding activity for kids that challenge them to make their own secret messages, which could be interpreted only using the code key. For this activity, you need pen and paper.
Step 1: Write all the letters from A to Z.
Step 2: Write numbers, below the letters, starting from 1. We choose Hindi numerals to make it more interesting.
Step 3: To write the code, simply replace each alphabet with its corresponding number code. Each alphabet will be separated from the next using a dot.
12. Origami Coding Activity
Origami is a Japanese art of paper folding. It allows you to make paper shapes (objects) by following a sequence of steps. This age old art is quite similar to how an algorithm works. Thus, making it a perfect STEAM activity for kids who are keen on learning coding.
Step 1: Make a simple origami that you think your child can make by following your instructions.
Step 2: Sit facing away from each other.
Step 3: Start making your origami. Give instruction for every fold you make. The key is to not look at each other’s work.
Step 4: Compare the origami designs at the end to see if your child got your instructions right.
This method of teaching coding offline works on sequencing and algorithm design skills. Your instructions (algorithm) need to be clear, precise and follow the correct order of steps.
Outdoor Unplugged Coding Activities
13. Backyard Coding Hopscotch
Outdoor activities have a definite appeal and are great for children who like to move a lot. Movement is not only great for the body but also helps children learn better.
This version of coding activity for kids transforms the classical game of hopscotch into a STEM game to help children understand how a computer works.
Draw a regular hopscotch using chalk in your driveway or backyard. The goal is to get through the hopscotch by following the code. You will need at least two players. One will be the coder and the other a programmer.
Coder’s task is to determine the landing box on the hopscotch and design an algorithm for the computer to reach the landing box (goal).
Step1: The coder decides the goal box and draws the instructions using arrows next to the hopscotch to help the computer reach the goal box. Do not disclose the goal box number though.
Step 2: The computer (second player) follows the instructions to reach the goal post. The coder confirms if the computer reached the right goal. If not, ask the computer to debug that is, to follow the steps backwards to reach the starting point. Can they do that following the instructions backward?
This step will help the computer to locate the error (wrong step) thus building the critical programming skill of debugging.
Take turns, playing coder and computer to build algorithm design, sequencing and debugging skills.
14. Outdoor Treasure Hunt Coding Activity
This outdoor treasure hunt activity is an extension of the classical treasure hunt. The rules of the game remain the same. There is a treasure (small prize like a chocolate) that is to be unearthed.
But instead of giving standard clues like in the classical game, give coding instructions like:
Red flower is to your left
Take 5 steps forward
If conditional statements are too much for you, use simple instructions like:
Jump 5 steps forwards
Take 6 steps to the right
Crab crawl 10 steps backward
This outdoor coding activity is extremely fun and gets children physically active while teaching them sequencing and algorithm design.
15. Follow Me Coding Activity
This outdoor coding activity is a great way to teach children conditional statements. All you need is some props like hula-hoop, skipping rope, cones or a ball. It can be totally played without these props but it is surely more fun with these outdoor props.
Your child has to follow your instructions and perform the task accordingly. Start with simple, easy instructions like ‘If I jump, you jump’, ‘I take 5 steps, you take 5 steps’. Once your little computer is in the groove, notch the level up giving conditional instructions like ‘ If I skip 5 times, then you jump, else you clap’.
Super fun and silly way to practise algorithms, this outdoor coding activity is a laughter riot.
16. Water Splash Coding Activity
This is by far the most fun outdoor coding activity. Like the name suggests, it involves water splashing. Another fun part of this outdoor programming game is that here parents get to be the robots and children are the programmers.
For this outdoor STEM activity, you will need:
Water balloon/ Water Gun
Using chalk, draw a 6X6 grid (or any other size) in your driveway or any open space. This grid is your coding ground. Shade some squares of the grid using chalk. These shaded squares are splash pods.
Robot stands on the first square and the goal for the programmer is to lead the robot to the splash pod. As soon as the robot reaches the splash pod, the programmers squirts water or throws a water balloon at the robot.
The sticky part is that the robot follows only computer instructions. So the programmer has to be very specific and precise in giving instructions. Use instructions like:
Move 2 steps forwards
Move 1 step left
Move 3 steps backwards
We can guarantee your child will have loads of fun programming her robot (you!) to the splash pods.
Coding Games & Coding Toys for Kids
1. Code-a-Pillar Toy
This is a great toy to help your children learn to code. It comes with a cute, colourful caterpillar for children to code while implementing sequencing.
This is an award winning coding game that will bring your child’s code to life. Though pricey, it is a great coding game for kids 6years and above.
It cannot get more exciting than this. This game brings the magic of Harry Potter alive through a coding wand! We cannot think of something more engaging and fun than this. This coding toy lets you create your own spells and then bring them to life. Simply WOW!
This unplugged coding toy for kids allows children to build their own robots by stacking coding cubes onto each other. Great for young kids!
Botley, the coding robot for kids, is a great screen-free coding toy for kids. Suitable for kids 5years and above, it teaches young children to code their own robot, thus, learning algorithm and sequencing skills.
6. Code Piano
This is a great STEM coding toy for older kids (8+ years) that teaches them advanced coding skills. It comes with 14 online coding projects and is a great combination of hands-on electronics with coding. Highly recommended!
7. Dash Robot
This coding robot for kids will surely spike your child’s interest in coding. Learn to give voice commands, master command statements, loops and conditionals with this easy to code robot toy. Suitable for kids 8years and above.
Wondering how to introduce your kindergartener to coding without adding on screen-time? Try this off-screen coding toy to delve into the world of coding while learning kindergarten skills.
This screen-free coding game will challenge your child to learn coding through gameplay. Highly recommend this way of learning to code. It is suitable for children 8years and above.
Pitched as the first artificial intelligence coding game, CoderMindz introduces children as young as 6years to AI concepts and coding fundamentals like looping and algorithm design. Created by a 9year old girl, this game has been featured by all major media and news agencies.
Coding Books for Kids
Coding books are a great off-screen way to help your children grasp coding concepts. This traditional way of learning, however, has evolved to make learning more fun and engaging. So instead of boring text, you will find coding games and puzzles in these books that will help your child learn how to code, without screens.
Like the name suggests, this book is for young readers primarily kindergarteners. It introduces children to coding through activities and paper manipulative.
Packed with colourful illustrations, this book challenges young readers, 4-7year olds, to solve games using coding fundamentals.
This is a great humorous story to pique your children’s interest in coding. It takes children on a coding ride, introducing them to coding terms in a fun way.
This is a great book to introduce children to the world of computation. It exposes children to coding principles through storytelling and activities.
This book is targeted for serious coding skills for children aged between 8-14 years. It is a great start for Scratch and Python programming.
Get your tech geek started on Python with this book. This book unravels the mysteries of Python and makes it easy to understand.
8. Get Coding
This is a wonderful, activity packed book target for kids 7years and above. This STEM book for kids will equip them with a coding mindset and what all it takes to become a coder.
Get hands-on in coding by practising writing algorithms for none other than the Disney characters! This book helps children learn coding while having serious fun.
Suitable for children 7years and above, this book as its title says is a step-by-step guide to coding and learning fundamentals of computation. Includes online resources.
Over to You
When kids learn programming and coding fundamentals at a young age, they gain the versatility, flexibility, and linear and critical thinking skills that are necessary in every industry now. This gives them an edge not only in academics but also their careers in any industry. Why delay the inevitable by not introducing them to a computer language as soon as possible?