“Everyone should learn how to program a computer, because it teaches you how to think” said Apple co-founder Steve Jobs in an interview released two years after his death in 2010. The idea that learning and mastering code at a young age has quickly taken hold of parents who believe that this skill will give their children a better start in life.
This movement to promote digital literacy is being driven by companies who have developed games for children as young as 5 with the idea that their sponge-like minds will find it much easier to soak up the information needed to master all aspects of coding theory. The argument is that teaching your kids to code will help them improve their creativity, communication and problem-solving skills not to mention the fact that you’ll be learning along the way, too. MIT professor Mitchel Resnick writes that by introducing your child to programming he/she is not only learning to code, but coding to learn. Very wise.
No time is better than the present so here is a list of programming apps and games that will give your kids a head start in what has been dubbed the literacy of the 21st century:
Hopscotch (iPad, Free)
Hopscotch is an app aimed at children between the ages of 8-12. Like many coding apps on the market, it allows kids to learn through creative play by having them select a character or create text objects and manipulate them via the drag and drop method. There are only very limited controls, so kids who are just starting out don’t feel too overwhelmed by what they can and can’t do but it does let them get to grips with the basics.
Scratch (Web, Free)
Scratch is an online project developed by MIT and aimed at 8-16 years. It shares a lot of similarities with Hopscotch but there is a bigger gallery of objects that kids can choose from to manipulate, again via drag and drop. It has been praised for how user-friendly it is and the feature that allows creations, whether a game, animation or an interactive story, to be saved and shared onto the site.
Move the Turtle (iPhone/iPad, $2.99)
Move the Turtle adapts basic programming concepts through a game of moving a cartoon turtle through different challenges. This one is more suited to younger learners who won’t be disappointed with the lack of available controls that they can do with the character. It is primarily a single task based app that prompts the learning of simple and intuitive commands. This is undoubtedly one of the best apps to get your little ones started.
Daisy the Dinosaur (iPad, Free)
Sharing a lot of similarities with Move the Turtle, younger kids can instead move Daisy (the dinosaur) through various challenges, events and loops. Again, the app promotes the basic principles of programming but the fact that it is stripped-down gives it a big tick for youngsters. Kids can make Daisy jump and walk backwards although this may soon become a novelty once they discover more robust concepts.
Cargo-Bot (iPad, Free)
This app brings to life challenges that involve moving coloured crates by programming a moveable crane to move
left, right or pick up. It uses a touch-based coding app named Codea that is based on the programming language Lua. Through this, your children will learn to think logically, something required to get to grips with”real-life” Lua. Although it may seem like a simple concept, this one is probably best suited to kids of elementary school age.