Teaching kids to code in 2016

Teaching kids to code in 2016

It’s a great time to teach kids how to code.

In recent years there has been an explosion of games and tools designed to teach kids computer science and coding skills. The only challenge now is finding the ones that are worth your time.

At my company (Westpac Bank) there are a lot of parents who work in technology and have primary school aged kids. We often discuss and share the best websites and apps to teach our kids about software. In fact we’re so keen that for the past year my work-mate Tony Fitzpatrick and I have been volunteering our time at some Perth primary schools to teach kids how to code.

Here are the best tools and techniques that I’ve found.

Build a simple website

My favourite thing to do with kids is to build a simple website. If you have basic web development skills you can create a HTML file and put some words and pictures on the screen.

Kids have spent years passively consuming websites and apps. Showing them how to actively create technology is a revelation.

And remember, it doesn’t have to be anything fancy, kids will love it simply because they experienced making it. Don’t worry about how it looks. Fortunately for us, kids are surprisingly tolerant of poor user interface design.

I generally vary how much of the typing the kids do depending on their age and comfort with computers . My kids are 6 and 7 so when we made a site together they did the design and I did 99% of the typing.

Click here to try it yourself and make your pirate name (sorry it doesn’t work well on small screens because my kids are terrible at responsive design…)

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And I just saw on Twitter that Natasha Martin ran a really cool session using CodePen for older kids where the kids did all of the typing.

I think I forgot to turn the light on

Making a website can also be a great way to introduce kids to internet safety. When kids experience how easy it is to make a webpage, it’s a little bit easier to convince them that not everything they read on the internet is true.


Lightbot is an addictive puzzle game that teaches kids programming fundamentals. It teaches kids to solve problems using analytical skills and procedural thinking.

It’s like the first 6 months of a computer science degree, but for 7 year olds.

It also gives kids an intuitive understanding of how robots and computers think differently from people.

I couldn’t tear my kids away from it. Because it’s a game, it had all those gamification elements that get kids so addicted. Except the people at Lightbot decided to use their gamification powers for good rather than just selling in-app purchases.

Click here to check it out

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Code.org has a huge range of learning experiences using a simple visual programming language called Scratch. Kids can write code to solve puzzles, make games, tell stories and draw pictures. Starting is easy with guided lessons that take you through the basics. And when you’re ready for more advanced stuff there is a blank canvas mode to let you build anything you want.

And the best is that it uses characters from popular kids movies like Frozen and Star Wars.

Any kid would want to program BB-8 to avoid storm troopers, even I want to.

Code.org have a fantastic movement called ‘Hour of Code’ which encourages kids to start learning to code. In fact it’s so popular that even people like US President Obama and Facebook COO Cheryl Sandberg have completed the on-line challenges.

Click here to check it out

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Warning: You’ll need to setup and mod a Minecraft server

ScriptCraft is a Minecraft mod that lets you extend Minecraft using the JavaScript Programming Language.

The best description of software development that I’ve ever heard is that software developers build castles in the sky. That’s how I feel when I’m building a complex software system with my team. In my opinion ScriptCraft is best way of showing kids what that means.

It’s great because it takes a game most kids already know and love and gives them super powers when they write code. It’s like you’re a Minecraft wizard and your magic is JavaScript.

I can’t think of any better way to show kids the creative expression and power of developing software than letting them hack Minecraft.

If kids can make a 10 x 10 x 10 cube of dynamite blocks in Minecraft using JavaScript, they WILL learn JavaScript.

Click here to check it out

There is also a great version of Minecraft made specifically for the Rasberry Pi with a Python interface. Check it out here

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Try some of the stuff above with your kids/class and let me know how it goes. If you’ve tried something that you think deserves to be on the list, let me know in the comments below.