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9 Ways For Busy Parents To Make Coding Fun For Young Children

June 12, 2016

June 12, 2016


Portrait of cute little african girl coding on computer with friends at desk. Isolated on light background.

Kindergartners Code

#1. Root is a robot designed to teach children how to code. Coding involves using languages like Java, JavaScript, RubyRails, SQL and Phython, to tell a computer what to do in response to a series of letters, numbers, and other symbols. Coding is related to programming. Programming is designing the logics and coding is translating those logics into code. Dr. Radhika Nagpal, one of the Harvard researchers that developed Root, says children understand the idea of consequences, an idea that helps in coding and programming. “If this, then that” is a core command for a robot, and Root is designed in a way that Kindergartners can tell it what to do.  Of course, Kindergartners are good at that anyway but the point here is that although we’re all convinced that our children are geniuses, you don’t have to be a genius to learn how to code! Coding languages can be learned in a fun and engaging way.

African youngster sitting with hands on keyboard.

Learning By Doing

#2. Bee-bot by TTS is a small floor robot designed to introduce very young children to the basic principles of coding and programming. The bee moves around the floor or a special mat based on the instructions it receives through buttons that indicate forward and backward movements and left and right turns. By multiple presses of the button, the Bee-bot knows just how many steps to take. This learning through doing approach to learning about coding and programming can also be used to learn about numeracy and literacy. In a UK classroom, we see very young children working on early literacy with the help of Bee-bot. Apple also has an app for home or school use on an iPad.














#3. iGame Mom has 11 fun activities to connect your child straight to the principles of coding in an engaging and concrete way. The cool thing about these is that you don’t even need a computer! Instead, iGame Mom uses concrete hands-on activities to teach abstract thinking needed for coding by doing tasks such as code your name using beads.

#4. Computer Science Unplugged, another great website, has several activities that can be adapted for the classroom or the home. There’s a section called, Procedures: Telling Computers What to Do that features several great activities. Harold the Robot and Marching Orders are for children who can follow instructions and can be modified for different ages. Check out Harold the Robot followed by a game from Left Brain, Right Brain.

…the point here is that although we’re all convinced that our children are geniuses, you don’t have to be a genius to learn how to code!


#5. Harold the Robot was developed by Richard Nelson, Jason Clutterbuck, Sebastian Höhna, Stefan Marks, and Wilson Siringoringo.

A child and someone else, either an adult or another child who will be Harold the Robot, can play. One child is asked to give instructions to Harold the Robot to build a tower out of 6-8 blocks of various shapes and sizes. Sometimes, Harold will understand perfectly, and other times not because he has been taught instructions that the child does not know. This can result in some frustration but will also reveal to the players that coding and programming have to be very specific in order for computers and robots to be able to carry out commands. Before you start, tell the person playing Harold that Harold can only follow simple commands that are specific, such as “Pick up the block beside you.” Harold cannot follow instructions that are too complex like, “Put three blocks on top of each other.” Ask Harold to express confusion by burying his head in his hands. Make sure that the child giving the instructions does not hear the directions you have given Harold.

  1. Place 4-6 blocks of various shapes on the table or floor.
  2. Explain to the child that s/he has to give Harold instructions, such as “Move your hand to the left,” “Pick up the block beside you,” and so on.
  3. Ask the players, “What other commands do you think Harold might understand?”
  4. Have the players begin.
  5. The game ends when the tower is built.
  6. Talk about what made the game difficult.

Arrow 01

#6. If-Then Backyard Coding is a great game for a children’s party or just backyard fun! Several rounds can be played, and for each round, one child is the “Programmer” and the other children are the “Computers.” Explain that computers follow instructions only under certain conditions. The “Programmer” must first state the condition, and then complete the command so the “Computers” know what to do. For example, the Programmer might say, “If I jump when I say “Jump!,” then you have to jump, too.”Cute african girl jumping

  1. The Programmer stands in front of the Computers.
  2. The Programmer begins, “If [fill in the blank]” and concludes with “then, [fill in the blank].”
  3. Let the Programmer have three rounds, and then another child gets to be the Programmer and so on. To add an element of competition, Computers that don’t understand the commands “break down” and have to sit out the game. The last Computer standing wins!

Modifications for a more challenging game:

  1. Command Computers to carry out an action different from what the Programmer is doing, “IF I hop, THEN you sit” or “IF I fold my arms, THEN you hop.”
  2. Command Computers to carry out IF-Then-Else statements, “IF I raise my right arm, THEN you raise your left arm, ELSE you raise your right foot.”

#7. Robot Turtles is a ready-made game for children, ages four and up, and for up to five players, look no further than Robot Turtles. Players have to follow code cards to get to the robot jewel. Children learn to carefully follow the instructions on the code cards in order to win!















Arrow 03#8. Scratch is for children (grades 6 and above) who show growing interest in coding and programming, consider buying Learn to Program with Scratch: A Visual Introduction to Programming with Games, Art, Science, and Math.

#9. Connecting Art And Technology is one way to get children interested in coding at a young age. We are inspired by the thoughtful research of professors Nicola W. Sochacka, Kelly W. Guyotte, and Joachim Walther, who focus on the integration of the Arts into Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM). These educators point to the vital role art can play in promoting change and achieving social justice. Art reveals the “…deeply human side of the “technical” problems…students might someday be tasked to solve” (Sochacka, Guyotte, & Walther, 2016, p.43). With this in mind, we offer this STEAM art connection to coding.

  1. Together with your child, watch the short video about Google’s Talking Shoe.
  2. After viewing, explain to your child that the talking shoes are able to talk because someone programmed them with codes that command the shoes to talk.
  3. After viewing, ask your child what they think of the talking shoes. Ask if they think talking shoes are needed.
  4. Ask, “If you were programming the talking shoes, what would you have them say?” You can help your child with prompts, like, “Would you want the talking shoes to help you remember something during the day?” “Would you want them to help others?”
  5. If your child cannot yet write, jot down some of the things she/he says. If she/he can write, then have her/him write the ideas on paper.
  6. Have her/him design her/his own talking shoes, creating a drawing of what they would look like.
  7. Add speech bubbles and have your child write what their shoes should say.
  8. Encourage your child to share his drawing at school or hang it in the family gallery on your fridge!














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