As a middle school computer science teacher, I tell my 8th graders learning how to code helps them prepare for a world of work that doesn’t exist yet. Some students had experience using free coding activities for kids before stepping into my classroom while others were brand new to programming.
Throughout the year, I loved watching my students troubleshoot code to make their ideas become reality on the screen. They created websites and built innovative games with multiple interactions between characters and different levels. It was a pleasure to watch them be creative and use problem solving skills, individually and collaboratively, in the classroom each and every day.
We know computer science drives innovation and discovery and teaches students how to think critically to solve problems but it’s not always easy to teach this at home. In honor of this week being Computer Science Education Week, I’ve compiled some of my favorite free coding activities for kids of all ages that don’t require you to have a knowledge of coding.
Keep reading for a great list of free age-appropriate programming activities for preschoolers, early elementary ages, and tweens!
How to Encourage Your Kids to Code Even if You Don’t Know How
It’s easy for us parents to get stuck on the fact that we don’t know how to code and can’t help our kids. Please know you don’t need to know how to code to be helpful. I always told my students that making mistakes was part of the learning process.
Programming encourages learning by doing and learning from mistakes. Just encourage your child to jump in and experiment. You can work together on projects to show them it’s ok not to know everything if they’re willing to try.
Know that anyone can learn to code! There is no particular “type” of person who codes. One of my students told me she didn’t sign up for my computer science class. She was placed in the elective but by the end, she found herself loving it more than she thought she would!
By reading this blog post, you’re supporting your child’s desire to learn. Keep encouraging their interests by praising their efforts to learn. Help them locate more coding resources, either online or in your local community, to further develop their skills and interests to help them find a place for coding in their future.
Free Coding Activities for Kids of All Ages
Activities for preschoolers and early elementary ages can be done at home using a laptop or tablet. There is no shortage of great activities for tweens, including a new coding session — Coding Lab for Kids: Code Your First App. Offered by Apple Store locations around the world, sign up for this new class and they’ll set your tween up with equipment to use in the store and knowledge they need to create an app for free!
Free Coding Activities for Preschoolers
While you may not love letting your preschooler have screen time, having them actively engaging through a screen to create something is far better than just consuming content. I like to distinguish between productive and passive screentime, always preferring productive screentime where they’re actively learning.
PBS KIDS Scratch Jr
There are no shortage of age-appropriate interactive activities that can introduce preschoolers to coding concepts through PBS KIDS Scratch Junior.
Scratch is the world’s largest coding community for children. Through this language, young kids can learn how to program using a simple visual block-based interface to create digital stories, games, and animations.
PBS KIDS Scratch Jr provides a way young kids can learn how to program their own interactive stories and games through programming games and lessons using Scratch with favorite characters from PBS shows they love.
- Ready Jet Go!— Excelsior!, inspired by READY JET GO!, uses PBS KIDS Scratch Jr to create projects where they blast off to explore our solar system.
- Peg + Cat— Preschoolers familiar with Peg and Cat will not be surprised that this coding challenge revolves Cat being stuck in a tree. Again! Using PBS KIDS Scratch Jr app, kids will help Peg rescue her friend, Cat.
- Odd Squad— In this Odd Squad inspired activity, children will be challenged to solve odd problems using their creative coding skills to create their own odd projects that utilize patterns.
- Wild Kratts— In Activate Creature Powers!, inspired by the WILD KRATTS, children will be challenged to projects that explore different animals and their unique behaviors and traits.
- Nature Cat— Called Tally Ho!, this activity requires kids to explore cause and effect relationships and what plants need to grow and thrive to make their own plants and trees grow in PBS KIDS Scratch Jr.
- WordGirl— Decision-making skills are required for this activity where kids will have to help WordGirl makes a tough choice between saving the day and going to her friend’s birthday party.
Free Coding Activities for Early Elementary Ages
Code.org’s Hour of Code
Code.org allows kids of all ages to get started with fun coding activities through If Hour of Code. This grassroots effort is designed to inspire 100 million young people worldwide to try coding through engaging hour-long tutorials. The wide variety of projects (sports, space, favorite characters, and more) ensure there is something for everyone.
Hour of Code can serve as a great family bonding activity when you sit down to tackle coding together. Chances are it will be a fun experience that you and your child will both learn something from. Doing it together increases the chances that it will be something that you’ll do again.
Kids love to play and talk about Minecraft because this open-ended game is a world of endless possibilities. There are no instructions about how to play which is why kids tend to watch tons of YouTube videos to learn how to use available resources as part of the exploration and experimentation process, building as they go.
Minecraft features three different modes of play (Adventure, Creative, and Survival) in their paid version but they also re-released Minecraft Classic that can be played on any browser for free.
This original version built in 2009 features “just 32 blocks to build with, all the original bugs, and an (inter)face only a mother could love.”
Minecraft Classic is a great way to dip a toe into the world of Minecraft. The single player mode of web-version play is a safe way for younger kids to start because it requires critical thinking, problem solving, and logic skills, all of which are helpful in programming. For additional information about Minecraft, visit Common Sense Media’s Parents’ Ultimate Guide to Minecraft.
Free Coding Activities for Tweens
Coding Lab for Kids: Code Your First App at Apple Stores
In celebration of Computer Science Education Week, Apple just introduced a brand-new coding session, Coding Lab for Kids: Code Your First App, available for free at Apple Store locations around the world. This new coding class is designed for participants ages 10 and teaches app development to introduce more kids to the field of computer science.
Coding Lab for Kids: Code Your First App can be found through the Today at Apple program, which offers free, daily in-store sessions. Anyone, regardless of experience level can register. To register, go to apple.co/coding-sessions and locate your nearest Apple Store to find session dates and times. You can also schedule a special lesson for a group (do it with some friends!) or organization.
Once you’re signed up, all you have to do is show up! If you have your own iPad, you can bring it but if not, Apple will provide you with one to use.
During the hour-long session, Apple Creative Pros will lead aspiring coders and guardians in an interactive activity using iPad and Swift Playgrounds, Apple’s fun and easy-to-use app that takes learners from their first line of code to their first app. Working in the About Me playground, participants will use SwiftUI and a new, real-time app preview to customize and bring their app to life with fun fonts, background colors, Memoji, and more.
Coding Lab for Kids: Code Your First App is highly engaging and easy to learn. Tweens will love being able to program their own Memoji and watching it come to life as they code. It’s a great introductory activity for those new to coding or for tweens who have never programmed using SwiftUI.
Coding Lab for Kids: Code Your First App is just one of many free computer science opportunities offered by Apple Stores in your area. To find more free coding activities for kids, visit https://www.apple.com/today/.
Apple provided me with hardware to preview Coding Lab for Kids: Code Your First App but no compensation was received for this post and all opinions are my own.