By Ingrid Simone, Common Sense Media apps editor
If you've got school-age kids, you know when they're working on reading and math. But if their homework includes loops, goto commands and branches, don't be alarmed. They're probably learning to code, and that's a very good thing. From Code.org's Hour of Code to coding camps and after school classes, computer programming is hot -- and, in a technology-fueled world that's only going to grow, coding is an invaluable 21st-century skill.
Some forecasters are calling coding the new literacy because of what kids learn in the process. Coding helps kids develop essential skills such as problem solving and critical thinking. Plus, it encourages them to become creators, not just consumers, of the technology they use.
Even kids who don't go on to become computer scientists will benefit from learning to speak and understand the language of coding. Here are some of our favorite tools to make learning coding basics fun, accessible, and age-appropriate.
- Kodable Pro. Kids can learn programming concepts and develop the logical thinking required. They'll learn to use sequential steps, if/then conditional concepts and loops to repeat steps. On some levels, they'll learn to maximize efficiency by using functions to debug code. At more advanced levels, they'll synthesize the new concepts, using them all just like programmers do. Kodable also offers great resources for parents.
- Cato's Hike: A Programming and Logic Odyssey. The adventure story will appeal to kids who might not usually enjoy programming or logic games, so this is a great way to introduce those concepts. Kids can learn the basics of writing a computer program using the command cards. They also can learn more advanced programming concepts such as loops, goto commands, if/then commands, branches, and chaining.
- Scratch. Kids can make their own animations, video games, art and music videos with Scratch's visual, block-based form. Scratch also encourages collaboration, and fellow Scratch users can give helpful comments on each other's projects. It's a clever introduction to computer-programming concepts.
- My Robot Friend. This is a fun, easy way for kids to start thinking and acting like programmers. Kids can learn to think critically and strategically to solve problems and write or code programs. They program their robot's moves by moving the right cards into place to direct him where he needs to go (or not to go).
- Hopscotch. Using visual blocks that represent programming concepts, kids create whatever program they want, including games, animations and fun messages. They're exposed to the ideas they'll use in programming with more sophisticated languages without worrying about the minute details just yet. They'll think like programmers, from coming up with their own ideas to implementing and troubleshooting them.
- Light-bot. Kids can learn programming concepts and terminology such as procedures, loops and conditionals. Settings can be customized for seven languages, making the app accessible to students worldwide, with programming as the universal language. Kids will learn that even though there's often more than one way to solve a problem (or write a program), cleaner and more efficient solutions are preferable. Light-bot best suits kids already drawn to programming and logic who also thrive on puzzles and challenges.
- Mozilla Thimble. Mozilla Thimble is an excellent free and open resource for teaching kids to code their own web pages. Kids can learn the basics of HTML and CSS. With starter projects, the advanced tutorials and the Thimble editor, kids also can remix and create their own web projects.
For more tools, check out our Cool Coding Apps and Websites for Kids.
About Common Sense Media
Common Sense Media is dedicated to improving the lives of kids and families by providing the trustworthy information, education, and independent voice they need to thrive in a world of media and technology. We exist because our kids are growing up in a culture that profoundly impacts their physical, social, and emotional well-being. We provide families with the advice and media reviews they need in order to make the best choices for their children. Through our education programs and policy efforts, Common Sense Media empowers parents, educators, and young people to become knowledgeable and responsible digital citizens. For more information, go to:www.commonsense.org.