One thing I noticed in 2014 was an overall push to “learn to code”. Today computers are everywhere and we are only getting more reliant on them every day. It makes sense that more people and kids in particular are being exposed to programming. Here are some resources that I have found very easy to set up if you want to teach your kids about programming. Since I mainly use Windows this will be mainly a Windows centric post. Also because this is a list of resources for kids I am focusing on things that focus on at least programming concepts and don’t put emphasis on the actual typing of code or syntax.
First of all code.org is one of the best places to go to learn the basics of coding. It contains simple and fun videos, games and online workshops as well as links to other apps and resources. Their “Code with Anna and Elsa” (from Frozen) is a really cool tool for kids to learn about coding. You’ll see many of the below resources have been featured on code.org.
Scratch is probably one of the more well-known and popular tools for teaching kids to code. Multimedia (images, sounds) are imported into the “stage”. The coding is done using blocks that can be dragged to the “Scripts” area. One of the more compelling elements of Scratch is that it is easy to copy someone else’s work and build on it. Work can also be easily displayed online for all to see.
Parent friendliness: Scratch is free and everything is done in the browser so there is no application you need to install, although it does require the Flash plugin for your browser.
Lightbot is a programming puzzle game that is available on various platforms. It teaches programming concepts rather than actual coding. If your kid likes games more than he/she like creating then this app could be a good place to start.
Parent friendliness: Lightbot ranges from around $2.99 - $4.99 on the various app stores. There is a Lightbot Jr. app for younger kids (under 9). There is also a free limited Flash version that can be tried out in a browser. Aside from the small purchase price there is nothing parents need to do to set things up for their kids.
Kodu Game Lab
Kodu is a Windows app made specifically to create games. It focuses on game design and programming using visual commands.
Parent friendliness: Kodu is free, but only for Windows. There is an XBox version for $5. The XBox and Windows Store versions are simply install and play. Anyone can set it up. The main Kodu app that runs on Windows desktop requires some prerequisite installs which most Windows computers should already have.
Project Spark is another Windows app where kids can create worlds and games. It’s like a more refined and advanced Kodu specifically targeted toward the XBox crowd. Like Kodu it emphasises game design, but also includes ample programming concepts. Users can create games and then share them online with others. The big draw I think is the potential to create games that look and play like modern PC games and then share them with others or play others creations.
Parent friendliness: It’s free on XBox and Windows. The catch is there are packs up for purchase that offer additional content and premade games. It also has fairly high requirements on Windows as the graphics it uses are similar to a modern PC game.
Parent friendliness: It is all browser based, free and nothing needs to be installed. Creating apps using TouchDevelop is far more complicated than the options above, but it’s also much closer to the type of coding your kids will start to see if they move on from visual tools into more advanced programming tools.