Cool Tools to Help Kids Learn to Code

These far-from-drab programming apps teach kids how to tell the computer what to do. By Christine Elgersma
Cool Tools to Help Kids Learn to Code

When your kid starts talking about loops, go-to commands, and branches, it probably means she's learning to code, and that's a very good thing. In a technology-fueled world, coding is quickly becoming a prized, 21st-century skill. Plus, it encourages kids to become creators, not just consumers, of the technology they use.

Coding apps come in a range of formats designed for different ages and abilities. They often incorporate bright colors, cute characters, and elements of game design to appeal to kids. Beginners typically learn to create programs by dragging and dropping visual blocks of code. Intermediate users are ready for kid-friendly programming languages, specially designed to train newbies. Advanced coders can start working with real programming languages that have a more gradual learning curve than what the pros use -- but still produce sophisticated results. 

Whatever your kid's level, there's a tool that will get her behind the computer curtain to actually create content.

Younger Kids

The Foos: Code for an Hour FREE. 5+
Story-based coding game has kids play through increasingly challenging levels.

Kodable Pro. 6+
Solid beginner game that introduces coding concepts and has lots of parent resources.

ScratchJr. 6+
Kids drag and drop blocks of code, snap them together, and watch them work.

Tynker. 7+
Use either the website or app to let your kids learn coding logic through games.

Cato's Hike. 8+
Through it's a story-based adventure, kids learn basic coding concepts.

Scratch. 8+
After creating scripts through coding blocks, kids can share their creations online.

Older Kids

Hopscotch. 10+
Appealing interface draws in boys and girls who can share creations with online community.

Lightbot. 10+
By meeting programming goals, kids unlock new levels and learn more advanced concepts.

Mozilla Thimble. 12+
Advanced, side-by-side coder lets kids see what programming codes do as they create.

Codecademy. 13+
Interactive lessons for several programming languages offer several skill-level tracks.

CodeHS. 15+
Membership service offers instruction and examples for more advanced coders.

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About Christine Elgersma

Christine Elgersma works on learning and social media app reviews and parent talks as Senior Editor, Parent Education. Before coming to Common Sense, she helped cultivate and create ELA curriculum for a K-12 app and... Read more

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Comments (19)

Adult written by Ricardo J.

I need something for my child to be learn for more. thanks for share http://uangpinjam.com/ajukan-kredit-uangteman/ 
Kid, 12 years old

Alright, being a huge Python (a programming language) geek, I found this article just a little bit pedantic/patronizing. For starters: Hopscotch for a 10 year old? Excuse me?!? Hopscotch is a visual programming language for 7 year-olds! While, not only do we need to get more kids coding, but we also need to keep us coding. Do you really expect a 10 year old to be using a block language? I think that we need to also implement ways for us kids to do more complex programming projects, such as coding text-based games or tools from scratch, learning object orientated programming, and conquering the more complicated paradigms of coding, and not being bound to inflexible block languages like Scratch and Hopscotch.
Adult written by MavoTV

I personally found this writing quite interesting, in which the author discusses regarding code based studies where color, images are epic helps to make children learn while they play. Well, in this technology driven world such methods of learning are quite stimulating. Here have a learning number 1 to 5 educational video for kids ... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3vjzu3ctQuc
Adult written by Jason_Rukman

Also; check out Itch (http://ucodemy.com/itch/) from Ucodemy; great resource for teachers looking to use Scratch in their classroom.
Parent written by Tara B.

When I recently researched coding apps for kids, I was overwhelmed with the number of online coding sites and apps available. I think there are more added every day. Your list is great, there's a couple in there that I don't have on my pinterest board. With so many to choose from, many parents and educators, including myself, are ready for more support in choosing which apps are of high quality before they spend the time and money to download it or get their kid situated in front of the computer only to be frustrated or worse because the parent is as confused as they are. That's why I really appreciate that Common Sense has taken the time to review some of these programming sites. It's difficult to keep up! Here's my pinterest board that has over 60 programming sites and apps for kids listed. https://www.pinterest.com/KitHub/programming-for-kids/ I wanted to make a point about ScratchJr. My son started using the app at age 4 and the ScratchJr site suggested age is 5-7.
Adult written by Erica W.

Code.org and Khan Academy both have great programs. Using Code.org to teach basic JavaScript using block coding, and Khan Academy for HTML/CSS. Both have easy to use interfaces, teacher dashboards, and progress reports. My 7th and 8th grades are having a great time!
Teen, 13 years old written by RoboBro

I personally enjoy using write-box.appspot.com, htmledit.squarefree.com, w3schools.com, and tinypic.com for learning HTML. Write Box is a local-saving text editor so it saves to your device while also being able to upload to Dropbox and Google Drive! Htmledit is exactly what it says! W3schools is HTML reference site! And tinypic I use for getting raw images for my HTML
Teen, 13 years old written by RoboBro

Also Stack Overflow is awesome cause it's basically a forums where people ask coding question and professionals answer and help you learn and get out of coders block!
Adult written by maxmag8

Be sure to check out CodeHS.com! Great site for beginners to learn Javascript (and soon Java and HTML/CSS). Fun and engaging content for kids, awesome free trial to get you started and options for support and feedback from real people.
Teen, 15 years old written by Bionic Reviewer

Reading the comments, there seems to be some confusion: this isn't teaching kids to hack, it is creating them to create games and websites. Huge difference. On the article itself: Very informative. I'd like to learn to code myself, I think I'll look some of these up!
Teen, 14 years old written by munoru

The term "hacker" was originally positive, but in the 80s, it became a term for a "cracker" (someone who illegally breaks code. Search Wikipedia for hacker.
Adult written by Mistylentz

I think a big issue today is that children and parents aren't fully informed of how open their identity is whether they are on a computer or a smart phone. True, many people have virus protection online but that does not stop their computer from giving out their personal information. What I just learned in my class this week, whenever we visit a site online our computer gives out our IP allowing that site to access our information. Another thing is people tend to make poor decisions with their phones because they are trying to access on the go, while eating, walking, having a conversation and thus not putting much concentration or caution on the fact that they may be giving out their information to a harmful site. Always being conscious of what you're doing. Sometimes identity isn't just stolen from a device being hacked, it could also be due to leaving a mobile device unattended. Some may see this at not important but there have been many a times I could easily look over a persons shoulder and get their password to an account because they are so openly handling their phone. Also, most people don't log out of an email, and Facebook site while on their phones. I know I could pick up my husbands phone and go right into his Facebook that has personal information hidden to people besides his friends. With that being said, Its important for parents to inform their children how important it is to be identity conscious while parents also doing the same. I like the idea of children learning to code for educational purposes. I believe that kids can do amazing things when taught properly and taught right from wrong. This is a great way for them to learn solving skills that will benefit them now and later. Some people fear this will encourage them to be hackers, but I think it goes back to teaching them right from wrong.
Adult written by jgardenee

I think this article is timely and really good--title and all. We are adults reading the article and discerning these matters for our children. Stop worrying about the term "hackers" and take the meat of the article for what it's worth! I recently read that some states are considering adding coding to Common Core Curriculum! Also, I don't think this should necessarily be seen as taking anything away from what is currently taught--constant testing has already taken care of that! I see the offerings in this article as opportunities for exploration in our children's spare time on the weekends or even weeknights in place of television. In our area we are anticipating several snow days...what better way to spend an hour or two a day than in exploration of something so current and exciting, rather than typical gaming, once they've come in from the cold?! Preschoolers are utilizing iPads...this technology is right around the corner. Let's look for positive and appropriate ways to incorporate great information when it's presented (and we didn't have to research it!), rather than picking at it!! Thank you, Ingrid Simone, for your time and thoughtfulness in preparing this article for Common Sense Media and it's subscribers.
Adult written by Seonlady

Great article. Very helpful information. While I was attracted by the title, it did bother me. I am involved with young people and know how important it is for them to learn to code and be able to program as well as play with technology. I feel that I would not want them to want to be "hackers" because of what that brings to my mind..someone who illegally breaks code.
Adult written by ffigueroa

Great list and something to be mindful about. Kids do develop problem solving and critical thinking when coding. The title of this piece bothers me, because of my own personal definition of what a hacker is. That is my own problem. On the other hand, when looking at the piece, problem solving and critical thinking are skills that are developed and sharpened with: "tan, tan tan!": reading. I find it unusual for a "fluffly" piece like this appear on Common Sense Media. Students do become creators when they read and write, when they explain their process of thinking whether it is reflecting on their goal with the code, troubleshooting it or its connection with a piece of media (inspiration from literature, video or audio?) It concerns me that "the hour of code" although exposing kids to coding...even though I acknowledge its importance...it does take away an hour of literacy in the classroom which in my opinion it is more useful for instructional purposes than an hour of coding. I'm not hating on it, just pointing the reality of what happens in the average classroom: a constant lack of instructional time that the teacher is constantly trying to manage. Moreover, the emphasis on coding, unintentionally, (at the moment), makes the digital divide between schools that have the tech and those that don't. Yet, all schools will have to move toward a more equitable technology based instruction, unfortunately we are not there yet. By the time those "have not" school reach a level of tech saturation in order to make an hour of coding an truly enriching experience, those students that are in the schools that are tech sufficient are waaaay ahead of their counterparts.
Parent of a 9 and 11 year old written by Westside4430

Super helpful list. Thank you! We can't under estimate how important it will be for our kids to be comfortable with technology and the way it is built around simple logical building blocks. They need to be able to use the tech around them at home and at work, not the other way around.

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