Coding for Kids

By Kim Moldofsky

Subject Areas
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During the first week of first grade, my son’s teacher asked what her students wanted to learn in first grade. Reading and math were popular answers, but my son chimed in that he wanted to learn how to make websites. His teacher focused on the more popular topics that year. Back then computer programming, or coding, was not taught in most elementary schools.

As the jobs of tomorrow change, programming skills will be not only valued but also necessary. While coding is still not part of the curriculum for most children in the U.S., there are many resources to help young students start building. Many of these resources are free and allow for sharing of projects. And many of them even have active communities to answer questions and help troubleshoot.

Here are a few that I’m familiar with:

The folks at Code.org want to change the coding climate. This nonprofit organization is dedicated to growing computer programming education. Its site offers a course locator and provides overviews of popular programs and websites that get kids coding. I only wish it had been around back in the day.

While free resources are great, I’m still a fan of real-life classes and tutoring. The encouragement of a helpful adult is invaluable, and I was thrilled when an actual graded, for-credit course (AP Computer Science class in coding) was offered at my son’s high school.

Scratch, developed by the folks at MIT, is a free beginner visual language software designed for kids eight and up. Using Scratch’s colorful drag-and-drop interface, kids of all ages can create games, stories or virtual greeting cards with adult help. Sometimes even without. My younger son has used Scratch to create school presentations.

Mozilla, the organization that brings us the Firefox Web browser, also provides free tools to help kids learn and play with code.

Coding for kids is a hot topic, and it seems that new resources appear weekly. Some of the newer options include Code Spells, where kids create magical spells using code, and Craft Studio, a cooperative game-making platform that allows users to work collaboratively online in real time.

One of many great apps for kids is a recently released app for Apple products called Hopscotch. It uses a drop-and-drag system like Scratch, but has the additional benefit of being hosted on portable devices. It offers limited functionality at this point, but it’s robust enough to provide a sense of coding logic and engaging enough that children will enjoy changing variables to create different scenarios.

Codecademy is a free resource for learning to code. Kids (and adults) can work at their own pace, learning a variety of programming languages.

Python has a reputation as a good starter programming language. The book, Python for Kids, can help your child dive in.

Does your child have an interest in coding, or does his school provide instruction? If so, please tell me about it in the comments section.

Video from Code.org: “What most schools don’t teach.”

Compensation was provided by Sylvan Learning. The opinions expressed herein are those of the author and are not indicative of the opinions or positions of Sylvan.

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