The Best Interactive Tools to Help Kids Learn to Code (While Having Fun)

Here are some apps, online programs and camps to help your future coders get started.
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Here are some apps, online programs and camps to help your future coders get started.
Teaching Kids How to Code

By Melissa Phipps for General Assembly 

As a mother of two boys under age 10, I know how hungry to learn children can be. My kids could teach themselves to read literature in Russian if they thought it would be fun. I kept that in mind while researching the best resources to teach kids to code. What children need is something that makes coding engaging, exciting, and (the word that parents cannot utter without turning whatever they are talking about into anything but) cool. Here are some apps, online programs and camps to help your future coders get started.

AGES 0 – 4

Codebabies.com

Photo credit: Codebabies.com

1. Code Babies

Babies and toddlers should probably stay off the keyboard, but if you want to introduce coding concepts, the Code Babies series of books offer a cute way to do it. The HTML for Babies book and the ABCs of the Web presents concepts far more simply than I ever could.

AGES 5 – 9

Image source: Kodable

Photo credit: Kodable

2. Kodable

This free app is designed for kids 5 and older. Kids can engage in self-directed learning through a character that looks like a fuzzball. There’s also a learning guide for parents to play along and understand the concepts behind the game.

3. Daisy the Dinosaur

Another free app, this one is appropriate for kids starting around age 6 or 7. The program is iPad based and lets kids use drag and drop commands to make Daisy the Dinosaur move around the screen and do tricks. If this sparks children’s imaginations and makes them interested in doing more, they can download a kit to create a video game.

4. Tynker

Tynker offers a series of online courses for kids beginning around age 8. Each course is $50. Tutorials guide kids as they use drag and connect blocks to create sequences and create animated stories and games. There are tests at the end of each lesson and kids can collect badges as well as projects. There’s also an area where parents can track children’s learning. Tynker also offers after-school clubs in some areas of the country.

5. Scratch

Image source: MIT Media Lab

Photo credit: MIT Media Lab

Designed by MIT, this free program was created to help kids ages 8 to 16 to “think creatively, work collaboratively, and reason systematically.” The online community is one where kids can share ideas, and display and get feedback their projects.

AGES 10 – 15

6. Thinkersmith My Robotic Friends

Programming without computers. This free lesson (download a copy) helps kids think using programming logic but with low-tech tools (e.g. pens, notecards, and plastic cups). The course can be adapted for younger grades or fourth grade and up.

6. Hopscotch

A New York startup that received venture -backed funds to design version 2 of its free app, Hopscotch is a programming language designed for the iPad. It’s drag-and-drop programming (Hopscotch is also the creator of Daisy the Dinosaur for younger kids) that lets kids build games, graphics, and apps. Kids can share projects online and follow the Hopscotch blog.

7. Dash

Dash

General Assembly’s online learning tool can help young people learn to build websites with basic HTML, CSS, and JavaScript instruction. The lessons are project based, so kids can create their very first website one step at a time, right in the browser. With simple tasks, fun graphics, and clear direction older kids will become coding pros in no time.

8. Hackety Hack

This program teaches Ruby to kids with no previous programming experience. Using tools called Shoes http://shoesrb.com/, kids can create interactive graphics and games.

9. Girls Who Code

Girls Who Code

Photo credit: Girls Who Code

Your kids may think it’s silly to make a gender distinction (that’s so 20th Century), but if your daughter is more apt to learn in the company of other women, Girls Who Code is a great option. This group is helping young women learn robotics, web design, and mobile development through clubs currently offered in schools and libraries throughout the US. A summer immersion program is offered in five cities.

10. IDTech Programming Camps for Kids

For kids in the 13 to 18 age range, a camp provides a fun and immersive way to learn a coding skill. IDTech offers two-week camps in a handful of states, with topics on everything from programming to engineering to robotics using a variety of coding languages.

Not a kid? There's still time to learn to code. Learn more about the part-time or full-time web development courses at General Assembly.

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