Coding for Kids – without a computer

Computer code is everywhere, it’s in electronic games, this website, tills at the supermarket. Even though you can’t see it, computer code is a huge part of our world, which is why introducing children to the key principles of  computer science from a young age is really important.

The actual concepts involved in computer coding aim to be very straight forward and can be broken down into the following things:

  • Take some input and do something with it. (e.g. press a button and make a doorbell ring, or take a number and multiply it by itself)
  • Do a sequence of tasks to achieve a more complicated objective
  • Repeat a sequence of tasks many times on a schedule or until a condition is met

Coding gets more complicated when we have to handle situations where things don’t go right or if something unexpected happens.

Our brand new coding for kids series is full of fun, screen-free activities to introduce children to computational, logical thinking and the most basic of programming concepts.

What is coding?

Coding is when a computer is given commands to which it responds, computer programmers use many different languages to write computer programs.  I’m not suggesting you teach your preschooler to write in Java, but the fundamental principles of coding are the same for every language and we can do activities to encourage the type of thinking programmers need from an early age.

How to encourage logical thinking

  • Encourage children to ask questions and foster their creativity.
  • Explain the reasoning behind your answers to their questions rather than expecting simple acceptance of fact.
  • Consider bias, are there reasons why some people would think one way and others a different way?
  • Ask children to consider alternative explanations and solutions to problems considering advantages and disadvantages of each.
  • Encourage children to explain solutions and answers in their own words.

Designing and carrying out scientific experiments is a great way to practice all the above.

Activities for 2-4 year olds

Building blocks are a great learning toy. Stack them up and encourage counting. Build a towers using blocks of different heights and ask which tower has the most blocks. Ask lots of questions and encourage children to use past experience and logic to arrive at their answers as well as direct observations.

Practice making patterns, you could use building blocks, DUPLO, small toys, shapes or make a coloured pasta necklace.

Try some weighing and measuring, perhaps ask the child to make predictions first as to which object they think is heavier or which people are taller.

Have a go at making and testing predictions with a simple sink and float activity.

LEGO Science

Try building small DUPLO models and asking the child to copy exactly what you’ve made.

Activities 5-7 year olds

Practice sorting and classifying objects, we’ve got a candy sorting activity you could try, or how about collecting and organising data on a LEGO bar chart?

LEgo Bar chart

Designing and decoding codes is a fun logic based activity. Try replacing letters for numbers, shifting the alphabet along or using symbols. This spy decoder from Frugal Fun for Boys is just brilliant for helping with the decoding.

Try following instructions using LEGO or other construction toys.

Practice making patterns, again you can use LEGO to make it more fun.

LEGO

Have a go at testing hypotheses, these experiments are a good starting point.

Loom band bouncy balls

Growing dirty potatoes

Predict which materials are the most absorbent or most waterproof.

Outdoor Ideas

Have a game of pooh sticks, each choose a stick, drop into a moving stream and guess which will move the fastest. Are there any obstacles in the way?

Compare sticks, leaves or pinecones for size, can you make a pattern? Which weigh the most?

Try some science with scooters by estimating which will travel the furthest down a hill.

Microscooters

Board games to encourage planning and reasoning skills

Tic Tac Toe

Dominoes

Draughts

Monopoly

Cluedo

Rummikub

Mastermind

Extension tasks for older children

Practice writing instructions.

I haven’t spent much time on any of these yet, but take a look at Scratch, Kodu or Kids Ruby to get started. Barclays are also offering free coding sessions for kids and have a code playground online for children to try their hand at coding.

I’m going to keep adding to this post, so do pop back and I’ve got a full week of activities planned, all aimed at helping children develop the skills needed to code.

coding for kids

There are 5 comments

  1. Craig Smith

    I’m a software developer and father to two boys, aged 3 and 5. I introduced the eldest to Scratch a couple of weeks ago but I’ve been looking for ideas for introducing coding principles away from a computer, so we’ll definitely be trying some of your suggestions out.

    I particularly like the ‘How to encourage logical thinking’ section. In the younger years it’s so important to foster that desire to question everything and to never accept “Because it just is…” as an answer to their questions.

    I’m currently working with my sons’ school to build up coding skills amongst the teachers. To help, I’m building up a list of resources that teachers and parents can use to help them introduce children to coding and computing. I’d like to add your article to that list, if that’s OK?

    The list is here: https://gist.github.com/craigsssmith/9c6528ae485aec09f292

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