Get your children into tech with these excellent coding apps for kids. (Even better: Many of these are free!)
With our increasing dependence on technology, coding has moved from a niche pursuit to a much-needed skill. Since computer programming is essentially learning (a) foreign language(s), it requires a vast amount of learning and practice. While a great many universities offer computer science degree tracks, too often the students who enroll in these programs are experiencing coding for the first time — at the collegiate level. This means that, in all likelihood, students who would’ve otherwise excelled in the field may be too wary to take the plunge during the ever-important college years. Or they may flounder from a lack of a foundation. The sad truth is only approximately 25% of middle schools and high schools offer computer science courses. While that percentage will surely continue to grow, as of now a majority of K-12 students don’t experience coding in the classroom.
Thankfully, a number of companies and institutions have taken it upon themselves to create coding apps for kids.
It’s almost never too early to introduce kids to coding, and the following avenues make learning the discipline not only informative but entertaining. Want your kids to learn the fundamentals of programming? Here are 10 of the very best coding apps for kids.
2. MIT’s Scratch
In 2002 the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab released a test version of Scratch, a visual programming language dedicated to teaching children ages eight through 16 the principles of programming before wading into more advanced commercial computer languages. In the 15 years since its initial release, Scratch has remained free of charge and available for use on Mac OS, PC and Linux. Scratch uses event-based and block-building mechanics to let children define actions for sprites (objects that display on-screen). Users can draw sprites by using bitmap or vector graphics, or they can import personal images to manipulate in the program. The simplistic program can create a wide variety of applications, including games, visual stories, informative texts and even tools to teach other disciplines such as math and history. To date, more than 23 million user-created projects have been shared on Scratch’s website. Scratch remains one of the most accessible and widely used coding apps for kids.
3. Microsoft’s MakeCode
4. Google’s Made with Code
As part of Google’s initiative to instill a passion for computer science in young women, Made with Code is tailored to ushering in girls from middle school through high school into the industry. In general, Made with Code offers scenarios for young women (or men) to work through to grasp the possibilities afforded by a foundation in coding. For instance, a project centered on the film Wonder Woman teaches the art of coding sequences by directing Diana to take out her enemies using block-based coding techniques (the Blockly programming language) and actions. On Made with Code’s website, there are many templates and exercises to work through, each designed to appeal to young women and other marginalized people. The goal of Made with Code is to diversify the tech industry, and its influence has already been invaluable.
Many kids spend time playing addictive iPhone games on their phones, and while some of them are complex, many were simple to create. That’s where Hopscotch comes in. With Hopscotch, young kids can create their own iOS games for iPhone and iPad with an incredibly simple drag-and-drop interface. From mini games to top-down shooters, Minecraft-like experiences, pixel art, multiplayer games, automatic runners and even personal websites, Hopscotch gives kids a bevy of tools to work with. If you want to use external images and assets, Hopscotch offers a subscription fee starting at under seven dollars per month. Hopscotch provides a basic foundation for coding logic without bogging your child down with proper programming syntax or complicated rules. Hopscotch is targeted toward kids aged nine through 11.
6. Daisy the Dinosaur
Hopscotch may be of interest to kids ages six through eight, but the creators of Hopscotch also have an app specifically designed for them called Daisy the Dinosaur. The drag-and-drop interface remains, but Daisy the Dinosaur offers more freedom and even fewer barriers for younger children with its free-play mode. The app is free and teaches children the foundations of programming, including integral concepts such as objects, loops, sequencing and events.
7. Move the Turtle
Move the Turtle, an iOS app available for the bargain price of $3.99, is inspired by the 1967 educational programming language Logo. Move the Turtle teaches the ever-important concepts of variables, procedures, loops and conditional instructions, all in a cute and colorful top-down interface. The app comes with a library of examples to get your child going and features missions that task children with developing strategies using logic. The robust app also lets children implement sound along with graphics and create fully playable projects from scratch. Move the Turtle is recommended for children ages nine through 11 but can be used by younger kids with the assistance of parents, and it offers enough depth to provide a challenging learning experience for teenagers as well.
8. Swift Playgrounds
Apple’s relatively new programming language Swift streamlined the process for iOS development. With Swift Playgrounds preteens and teens can learn Swift with interactive puzzles and tutorials specifically designed for those with no programming background. Best of all, Swift Playgrounds is free and teaches a powerful and incredibly relevant programming language in an engaging manner. If your teenager is deeply invested in playing games on the iPad, chances are they will love to tinker and create their own games in Swift Playgrounds.
code.org is a nonprofit on a mission to create more diversity in tech. The website itself has a nearly endless number of resources to help get children interested in computer science. But if you want to get your little ones started with coding, one excellent place to start is the foundation’s Code Studio. The most beneficial aspect of code.org is that it caters to kids of all ages. The online course library lets kids as young as four learn the principles of coding. Code Studio courses range from preschool to 12th grade. While you should pick and choose among the coding apps for kids listed in this article, code.org should be bookmarked for every kid who has even a remote interest in programming.
10. Minecraft: Education Edition
Only Tetris has sold more copies than the sandbox creation builder Minecraft. To this day, Minecraft has been enjoyed by well over 100 million people, many of whom are young kids. With that level of success and the nature of the game itself, Microsoft seized the opportunity to get kids interested in computer science. With Minecraft: Education Edition, they added a Classroom Mode that teaches kids the fundamentals of building a game world in a logical, programming-oriented style. Earlier this year, Microsoft added a Code Builder feature that allows Education Edition users to program inside Minecraft using some of the tools mentioned above, including Tynker, MakeCode and Scratch. (Code Studio support is also in the works.) If your child is enamored with Minecraft, Education Edition will allow them to code inside its wondrous world while enjoying the game.