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4 Ways to Get Your Child Started with Coding

Computer programming isn’t just for college students and hackers. Here are four engaging ways to get your kids started with coding.

By Ashley Wang

It’s pretty clear by now that technology is a force to be reckoned with. Tech companies are ever-growing and demand for programmers has never been higher. Computers dominate our lives right now, and they will dominate the lives of our children, as well.

So it’s not unexpected that many parents are interested in coding for kids. But getting them started can be rather tricky, especially if you don’t have too much experience with programming, yourself. Here, we highlight four ways to introduce your child to code.

1. Scratch

Used by millions of children around the world, Scratch is considered by educators to be the gold standard for teaching beginner coders the basics of programming. The reason? It uses blocks-based grammar that has users drag and drop commands rather than typing code. Because Scratch doesn’t require learning any complicated programming languages, even eight-year-old kids can use it.

Using the website, you can create everything from short animations to simple games. It’s intuitive, logical, and familiarizes kids with the computational thinking behind programming without overwhelming them with abstract ideas.

And if you want to get your child started even earlier, say at five-years-old, ScratchJr is the perfect learning tool. It doesn’t even require the ability to read; instead, children only need to connect together icon-based blocks to animate their characters.

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2. Lego Robotics

Looking for a more hands-on experience for your child? Lego robotics might just be the perfect fit. Lego Mindstorms, a hardware-software platform produced by Lego for children aged 10 and up, combines the fun of Lego-building with the intellectual challenge of programming robots to walk, talk, and even think.

Calvin Grewal, a Palo Alto High School senior who interned at a startup as a web developer over the summer, thinks it’s especially great for keeping kids motivated because of the immediate results it lets them see.

“It’s a good way to make coding not so dry,” Grewal says. “Building a physical robot is definitely a lot more interesting, especially for younger kids.”

Grewal does, however, warn against having children learn robotics and coding without the proper assistance that is provided at robotics camps and classes.

“If you’re in high school then you may be able to study code on your own and be properly self-motivated,” Grewal says. “But for kids, camps are definitely better to help facilitate learning and engagement.”

Find Lego Robotics camps & classes>>

3. Game Design

Camps that teach video game design are another great option for children. Because if your kids can’t seem to peel their eyes away from their screens — be it iPads, laptops, or TV — then why not have them learn how to make a video game, themselves?

Grewal is a major proponent of game design camps, citing them as the reason for his initial interest in coding. He started over the summer in elementary school, where he was taught basic Python to develop a simple computer game. Because he was doing something he was already interested in, Grewal viewed learning something as complicated as coding as more of a fun activity rather than a school-related task.

Game design is also becoming a rapidly-growing industry. Especially with eSports on the rise, specialized software developers are needed now more than ever to help create the next bestselling video game.

Find Game Design camps & classes>>

4. School or Online Clubs

For kids that love interacting with their peers, joining a school or online coding club may offer additional benefits. While programming is often viewed as an individual activity done in solidarity, clubs encourage students with like-minded interests in coding to help each other out with tips and advice. Students often find it beneficial to have others help them troubleshoot their issues.

“It’s a good way to talk with other people who are interested,” Grewal says. “You learn from other people, who then learn from you.”

However you plan to approach coding for kids, it’s important to always keep an open mind. Because no matter how much they may like legos or game design, it’s still possible that coding just isn’t the right activity for them. But starting by gauging your child’s interest with some of these tips wouldn’t hurt, and perhaps they might just become the next tech founder.

>> Find more coding camps & classes on ActivityHero
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Lego

Everything is Awesome: Lego Activities

indoor kids activities obstacle courseIf you have a Lego lover, or even if you don’t, you can have some fun and creative activities with these everlasting bricks. These Lego activity ideas require minimal prep time and as long as you have Legos (or Duplos for the younger crowd) somewhere in your house, you are already halfway prepared. I pull out these ideas when my son is looking for something to do on a snow day or when I need a few minutes of quiet to take a deep breath or read a few chapters of my library book.

While these activities work great for kiddos alone, they really start to break the imagination barrier when you get the kids working in groups. You can try a few of these out for your next play date, Scout meeting, or even a Lego themed birthday party. Compete in teams or work in groups and then share the creations. No matter how you use these activities, you are sure to find some meaningful (and educational) time together. Let’s get started!

Problem Solving Situations
Lego 1
This one is my preschooler’s favorite and I love that it works his imagination and critical thinking. Before your group arrives (or while they are having a snack or playing in the other room), set up Lego figures in situations that require intervention. For example, figures trying to cross a shark infested river (like the photo), figures trying to climb a bookcase to retrieve a treasure, or figures trying to open a drawer. It doesn’t have to be a major production, so don’t worry if you can’t come up with a major storyline and situation. Instead, you are just giving your group the starting point.

Lego 2Let the kids know that they can create anything with their Legos to help the figures solve their problem. You’ll be surprised and impressed when you see them create creations from ladders to spaceships to help their figures solve the problem. Once they have created, give them time to talk about their ideas with the rest of the group.

Color Puzzles

The great thing about Legos is that you don’t need a lot of direction to get kids thinking differently or creatively. Try out a color puzzle with your group and see how they use the colors to make a new creation.

Lego 3Simply grab some crayons (make sure you only use colors that match your Lego stash) and make a pattern on a piece of paper. Then, ask your group to use the Legos to create something that matches the color instructions. They might have lots of questions at first, but simply let them build whatever they want. It just has to match the color puzzle that you laid out for them.

Lego Races

Pre-build a few creations to put at the end of the room. Tuck the pre-built creation into a shoebox so that it is not visible from anywhere else in the room. At the other side of the room, or the starting line, put a pile of Legos that includes pieces and colors that match the shoebox creations. Group children into teams, and let them know that their objective is to work together to build the project that is completed at the other side of the room. When you start the race, each child runs to the end of the room to look at the creation and comes back to the start line to start to create the finished product that he just saw. Once he places a few pieces, it is the next child’s turn to run down, take a look, and return to build on what they have started. Continue with this until the team thinks that they have built the exact replica of item in the shoebox.

When they think that they have it, I like to have them yell something silly like “Legopalooza” or “Happy birthday Johnny!”. Once they yell that they have it, you can inspect their creation. If it matches, they win and if it doesn’t match, they have to keep racing to figure it out.

Depending on the age and skill of your group, you can make the shoebox creations easy or more difficult to replicate. It is fun to watch the kids form a strategy and then adapt that course of action as the race continues. I love Lego races because it gives the brain and the body a good workout.

Start with a Book

indoor kids activities obstacle courseI’m always looking for ways to incorporate books into our home activities. I am an avid reader and, so far, so is my son. I think that the more we can get good literature into our day, the better and more imaginative our day is.

For this activity, you only need a good read-aloud book and a pile of Legos. Read the book to your group and then have them build something (individually or in groups) that is inspired by the book. Try not to give them ideas or any further direction and just watch where their imagination leads them. After they build, give them a chance to explain their creation to the group and how the book inspired it. Not only is this activity excellent for imagination, it is also great for comprehension, which is a major reading readiness skill.

These are just a few ways that you can breathe some life into your Lego activity sets. If you have Lego lovers that still can’t get enough, you might want to check out these awesome Lego Camps or Classes!