Young children learn languages better. While older brains may be more efficient, younger brains are increasingly malleable. Like spoken languages, it’s an excellent idea for kids to foray into programming languages. BBC’s micro:bit hardware teaches kids coding and the Kano is a DIY computer for kids to learn programming.
But just as old and young brains differ in retention, so too do learning methods. Coding apps offer ample opportunities to teach children programming. It’s a fun, controlled environment. Rather than send children to a coding boot camp, check out these five best coding apps for kids to learn programming.
You might want to preface these apps by providing your kids with an introduction to what coding is.
Why it’s great: Kodable is free and web-based, and introduces basic programming concepts like looping and branching.
2. Daisy the Dinosaur (Free, iOS)
Fact: dinosaurs are awesome. As a kid, my favorite chicken nuggets were the dinosaur-shaped ones. Adding dinosaurs is a recipe for excellence. Further proving this point, Daisy the Dino is one of the best coding apps for kids. Mini-games teach children programming basics. For instance, a loop-deloop challenge encourages kids to use word commands to make Daisy perform various moves. But there’s a catch: you’re limited to using the spin command once. A hint suggests nesting the spin command inside the repeat five command.
Daisy the Dinosaur isn’t just one of the best coding apps for kids to learn programming because there’s a dinosaur. Although the dino protagonist certainly helps, it’s more the spectacular focus on coding and its challenges. Furthermore, Daisy the Dinosaur doesn’t seem tech-oriented. On the surface it’s a simple word and puzzle solving game. While Daisy the Dinosaur might be a bit short, it’s free and fundamentally sound.
Why it’s great: Daisy the Dinosaur is free, simple, and appeals to even non-techie kids.
The Think and Learn Code-a-Pillar by Fisher-Price offers a unique bonus: an app and an offline toy. While it’s an excellent idea to start kids off with hands-on tech and programming edification, too much screen time yields detrimental results. Therefore, the Think and Learn Code-a-Pillar app and its corresponding toy work in conjunction.
With the app, kids solve puzzles which present basic computer programming and coding concepts. It’s aimed at younger children, ages 3–6. While there is a Code-a-Pillar toy, the app is standalone. Some of the directions might be slightly challenging for the kiddos. Therefore it’s best if an adult supervises. Though the same can be said about a young age group deciphering the directions to “Candy Land.” Sound effects and the soundtrack may both be turned off. This remains a pleasant touch as it limits possible distractions.
Why it’s great: There’s a corresponding physical toy in addition to the standalone app. Plus, music and effects can be turned off for a distraction-free experience.
4. Gamestar Mechanic (Paid, Web)
Gamestar Mechanic is a web-based app that teaches kids to make their own videos games. Playing games is enticing, so the promise of game design is appealing to children, moreso than web development or app development. Thus, game design is an excellent foray with a huge payoff: getting to play a game. But since Gamestar Mechanic focuses on game design, it’s decidedly more advanced. Don’t expect simplistic matching games as seen in apps such as Think and Learn Code-a-Pillar.
For kids around 7–14, Gamestar Mechanic is perfect. The app boasts courses, game creation, and a play and learn feature with gamification. Quests build game design, and you gain items which you can use to make games. A robust community rounds out Gamestar Mechanic, making it a spectacular coding app for teens and pre-teens.
There are also plenty of free game development software options for adults too.
Why it’s great: Gamestar Mechanic aims at a slightly older age group. Game design is a promising and budding sector, so there’s a perfect segue into more advanced programming.
5. Minecraft (Paid)
Minecraft is a massively popular game. Its sandbox style makes it highly adaptable. While it’s not necessarily aimed at kids, Minecraft and its all-ages content prominently offers a safe environment for programming. Some mods specifically target children with coding games, such as the child-centric LearnToMod mod.
You might use Minecraft as an opportunity to teach your children about servers and set up a Linux game server.
However, Minecraft is not pre-configured for younger audiences. Adults may need perform a bit of initial set up. But once it’s created, LearnToMod offers a bevy of programming knowledge that’s digestible. There’s a thriving online community. As most of these apps go, Minecraft is pricier. Yet it holds loads of promise with its tutorials which foster real-world programming skills. Minecraft Pi is an awesome medium to get kids modding in Minecraft. The Minecraft Hour of Code is another great way to teach kids the basics of programming.
Why it’s great: Mods such as the LearnToMod mod teach kids actual coding skills with lessons and instructions.
6. Tynker (Free/Paid, Web)
Tynker is a solid app. Its name suggests tinkering, which connotes getting hands on. As such, Tynker teaches programming brilliantly. Like many apps for kids to learn programming, Tynker infuses coding with excitement. As a platform, it boasts a smattering of choices. Kids can code robots and drones, mod Minecraft, build apps and games, or explore STEM.
Why it’s great: It’s free, and offers paid tiers. Tynker allows kids to make neat projects and grows as kids do.
7. Nancy Drew: Codes & Clues – Mystery Coding Game (Paid, iOS/Android)
If there was anything that motivated me to type, it was Mavis Beacon. However, had my mother allowed me a copy of Typing of the Dead, I would likely have preferred that. Perhaps a Coding of the Dead game is in order though maybe not for kids. Similarly, Nancy Drew: Codes & Clues – Mystery Coding Game presents learning with games. Moreover, the Nancy Drew: Codes & Clues game includes a subtle STEM theme with its protagonist.
The premise is simple yet effective. There’s a narrative about a tech fair and a mystery to solve. Along the way, kids drag and drop visual code blocks into their proper places. Certain mini-games involve selecting costumes. Goldieblox: Adventures in Coding – The Rocket Cupcake Co. is another stupendous entry-level coding app with a STEM concentration. Because of its balanced gameplay, Nancy Drew is one of the best coding apps for kids to learn programming.
Why it’s great: Intuitive, entertain gameplay and STEM themes. For more like this, have a look at the best STEM toys for toddlers.
The Best Coding Apps for Kids to Learn Programming
Although programming might sound incredibly advanced, it’s an excellent idea to get kids started early. These five best coding apps for kids provide a spectacular opportunity for kids to learn programming. Microsoft remains at the forefront of tech, and its Kodu GameLab stands as a solid foray into programming. As a child, I mostly played Oregon Trail II and Math Blaster. There are also plenty of easy coding projects for kids using Microsoft Small Basic.
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Explore more about: Programming.