Teaching Kids to Code: Preschool and Kindergarten

Code=Create!

Talking about teaching kids to code has become trendy.  It’s moving toward the mainstream. Creating opportunities to teach kids coding has become the “cool” thing to do in education. And I couldn’t be happier. This is a bandwagon that I’m excited to jump on!

This morning I was looking at the Scratch Jr. Kickstarter page. I loved what they had to say about why we should teach kids to code:

Coding (or computer programming) is a new type of literacy. Just as writing helps you organize your thinking and express your ideas, the same is true for coding. In the past, coding was seen as too difficult for most people. But we think coding should be for everyone, just like writing…With ScratchJr, children aren’t just learning to code, they are coding to learn.” (Read the full piece here.)

I think this sums things up perfectly. Coding really is a new type of literacy. As computers continue to become a more integral part of our daily lives, it’s going to become just as important to teach our children to code as it is to teach them to read.   It’s a skill that I really wish I had learned when I was younger, and it’s one that I want my own children and students to learn.  I think the thing that many people don’t realize is that coding is a creative endeavor.  We think of writing code as Computer Science. Science is logical and has a method. Coding is also logical, and it also has a method, but when we code, we can use the logic and method to create. We can create games, videos, websites, art and really almost anything imaginable.  What’s more, we can teach this new kind of creative literacy to our youngest children.  In the same way that there are developmentally appropriate ways to expose young children to reading and writing, there are developmentally appropriate ways to introduce young children to coding. Below are some of the coding apps that my Pre Kindergarten students have explored and are enjoying. I’ve also included couple of learn to code opportunities for preschoolers that are on the horizon.

 

KodableKodable Screen Shot rz

Kodable: This app is ideal for teaching our youngest students to code. The best part about it is that it requires absolutely no reading skills.  Kids propel the little fuzz balls through the maze using various commands that the app introduces over the course of the game.  My students love this game. Many of them have worked their way through each of the levels available on the the free version. There’s a paid version with more levels called Kodable Pro for $6.99.

 

light bot

Light Bot: The programming skills that Light Bot teaches are very manageable for my most eager students.  The kids that maxed out the free version of Kodable have loved having Light Bot as a next step. The only downside to this app is the fact that it does require students to read, or have an adult on hand to periodically read basic instructions to them. Truthfully,  if the developers could add just a tiny bit of code to this app which would read the directions aloud,  it would be perfect for my students to use independently. The Hour of Code version of Light Bot is free and has 18 levels. If you max out those levels (which it’s likely my students will!) you can buy a paid version of Light Bot with 40 levels for $2.99.

ScratchScratch screen shot

Scratch Jr.  & Scratch   I’m so excited that to see that between starting to write this post, and finishing it,  Scratch Jr. received all of its funding for its Kickstarter Campaign.  The site is now up and running.   You can read a New York Times article about how young children are already using Scratch Jr. in the classroom here.   Basically, kids organize blocks that contain commands. Those blocks, when combined appropriately, create the code for whatever it is that the child wants to create.  Scratch has been around for awhile, but is a little sophisticated for preschoolers.  Scratch Jr. looks like it could be just perfect for this younger group.

Bo and Yana

Bo  and Yana: I haven’t seen this device in person, but it looks pretty neat. Apparently a lot of other people thought it looked pretty neat too, because they sold almost 11,000 of their learn to code robots in a single month. Based on what I could glean from the website,  children use an app to write the code to control a robot.  How fun is that? It’s recommended for children as young as 5, which would be perfect for some of my older students.

Join me on the learn to code bandwagon! It looks to be a pretty exciting ride!

Find all of our articles about learning and teaching code on our Learning Code page.

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Comments

  1. says

    There is no reason to have children learn how to code. What percent of adults code things on a daily basis, or even ever?

    Let children read real books and play. Computers can wait.

  2. says

    Matt, thanks for your thoughts. Actually, for the kids in my class, learning to code *is* play. They love it. They like the challenge of creating and then executing a plan. They like the sense of accomplishment they feel when they’ve guided a little computer creature through a maze or over an obstacle. They love solving these coding puzzles with their friends and then cheering for one another as they master increasingly difficult challenges.

    I’m all about hands on play and learning in an early childhood classroom. In fact, the vast majority of our classroom time is devoted to open ended, non digital play. We also have enough books in our classroom to rival the children’s section of a small town library and those books are explored daily by all of the children in our class. I don’t think the 20 minutes we spend each week letting children play with logical thinking and sequencing by learning the basic thought processes that are important in programming is doing them any harm. In fact, I think it’s doing them a great deal of good.

    My answer to your question about how many adults write code is: Not enough. Those adults who don’t know how to write code are finding themselves at a disadvantage in a job market that is more and more often demanding that people know how to program computers. People are graduating from college and being turned down for positions that they are otherwise qualified for because they lack programming skills. Are we all cut out to program for a career? Probably not. Could we all benefit from learning to think more flexibly and creatively while at the same time functioning within the confines of a programming language? I think so. I think we all want to “think well,” as it were. Teaching programming is about teaching thinking, and I think that’s appropriate at any age.