It’s no secret that kids love screen time. And it’s also no secret that parents are a little skeptical about what kids gain from all those hours of Shopkins videos. But when kids learn to code, they can move beyond simply interacting with technology to actually creating it.
It might seem daunting, but learning to code with your kids is as simple as learning a new language and unlocks a world of creative potential and problem-solving skills. Here are eleven ways to begin teaching your kids to code.
Parents strive to treat their families to amazing experiences. Catapult, in partnership with Intel, is the field guide for the modern mom, offering tech-based at-home activities that will build lasting memories.
1. All savvy coder moms recommend starting with Code.org. The nonprofit organization sponsors the “Hour of Code” program, in which teachers and students in over 180 countries commit to at least one hour of learning about coding. The program is also devoted to being inclusive of students of all genders and backgrounds, by providing free online courses for kids from kindergarten through college.
3. For the parents who wants to say things like “My child studies at MIT,” Scratch might be just the thing. This MIT media lab creation is free, and teaches kids to program interactive stories, games, and animations. It even provides its own online community. Not the flashiest site of the bunch, but it’s simple and easy to use.
5. Here’s something even the least-tech-savvy parent can handle: a book. Hello Ruby bills itself as “the world’s most whimsical way to learn about programming, computers and technology.” The super-cute book (which stars, a spunky redhead named Ruby) introduces basic concepts of coding and computer programming, and encourages computational thinking for the four-to-10 year-old set.
6. Here’s a mind-boggler for you: A coding game that does not involve any screens at all. What? I know. But for the preschooler in your life, Robot Turtles is a board game that promotes an understanding of computer programming. It has an interesting backstory too — invented by a software entrepreneur for his kids, the creation of the game was backed by Kickstarter.
7. Put a DIY computer under the Christmas tree. Kano is a simple, relatively inexpensive computer kit that kids can build themselves. Once they’ve put together the physical machine, your kids will have a working computer powered by Raspberry Pi 3 that they can use to create their own games, make music, movies, and design animations. The website reads “Turn screen time into creative time,” a sentence sure to cheer any parent who has had a hard time reviving a child from a serious screen-starting glaze
8. As with most parenting, there’s something to be said for good old-fashion trickery. This LEGO Boost Creative Toolbox seems like just a super fun way to use LEGOs to build a robot, AKA, live out every child’s dream. But — surprise — it’s also teaching them to code. Take that, kids! (Word of warning: You do need a compatible tablet to be able to use the kit.)
9. Here’s another STEM-friendly toy kit that makes for an exciting present: the Gizmos & Gadgets Kid from littleBits. Kids can use and reuse the kit’s various bits — each of which represents some specific function — in countless ways to create their own inventions, which can then be monitored and controlled from a tablet or smart phone.
10. Some organizations host Hackathons that get kids all coding together, like a really futuristic scouts meeting or something. Black Girls Code is an organization with the aim of “empowering girls of color ages seven to 17 to become innovators in STEM fields,” and among other projects, they host a couple of hackathons a year in various cities.
11. CoderDojo is another organization devoted to getting kids together to make coding fun and social. They offer free community-based, volunteer-led clubs in cities all across the world. Usually all kids need to do is register ahead of time and bring a laptop, and together the group will do a project like building their own websites with visual programming tools.
Amy Shearn is a novelist, essayist, and editor. She lives in Brooklyn.
Intel, Intel Core and the Intel logo are trademarks of Intel Corporation or its subsidiaries in the U.S. and/or other countries.