If you want to give your child a head start in life, teach them how to code.
Even better, download a free app or two that will explain to them (and you!) the basic principles of programming because, when I think about it, almost every job description I read these days has a sentence that says something along the lines of “basic html skills not necessary but could come in use.” Coding is really a new sort of literacy.
And just because I used Turbo Pascal in high school (don’t laugh now) and make my way around things like WordPress and Joomla daily, it doesn’t mean I actually know how to code… but I sure wish I did.
Here are a handful of awesome apps and sites that teach basic coding principles in a fun way. You won’t even know realise they’re educational before it’s too late. Repeat after me: I can code, yes I can.
Tynker (iOS, Android, Web)
If you’ve played Angry Birds, Amazing Alex or Tiny Thief, you’ll immediately be familiar with the game format of Tynker. There are different themed challenges (like Puppy Adventure, Lost in Space and Sketch Racer) and within each, 12 levels where can strive to achieve a three-star rating. The actual gameplay works with visual code blocks – you have to tell the character on-screen what to do by placing the corrrect code block down.
So in Puppy Adventure, for example, you see a cutscene of a family leaving… but they forget their sweet dog behind. Your job is to help the puppy find its way home by making it bark, jump, run and pick up the scent of different objects, etc. It’s simple at first but gets tougher as you go along. Tynker is all about logical thinking and what works, but it’s also quite reading intensive which means your child will have to also have some literacy skills (grade one and up) to get started. But if your kid loves everything-Tynker, there is a fantastic accompanying website that will lead you to all sorts of online and self-paced courses that cost $50 each. Tynker is also part of Hour of Code which means there are some fun, free activities you can try your hand at on the site.
Find out more about Tynker here.
The first time I heard about Hopscotch was when actress and author Mindy Kaling said it was her favourite app in an issue of InStyle. Like Tynker, Hopscotch is all about drag-and-drop commands. But instead of being able to create your own character, you have to choose one. Luckily, Hopscotch’s selection of colourful animals and monsters are pretty appealing. Hopscotch also doesn’t follow the same rigid structure as Tynker. Instead, your child will be able to decide specifics using rules (or scripts) that tell the character what to do. You give the character abilities, like moving or growing when you tap it, for example, then hit play to see how your rule works.
What’s interesting is that because Hopscotch works exclusively with iPads (you can view and share projects from your iPhone, but that’s about it), there are “abilities” that tie into that, like getting the character to do something when the device is tilted, or shaken, and so on. The only thing missing is audio. If anything, Hopscotch will get your kid interested in computer science and (more importantly) more confident that they can do it.
Hopscotch is free for the most part, but there are in-app purchases to buy extra characters.
If you’ve been looking at coding apps and websites but your child is too young to read, ScratchJR is the answer. ScratchJR is a more child-friendly version of Scratch, MIT Media Lab’s creative and collaborative programming phenomenon. The original Scratch is amazing – it’s a full-on, international community of coding kids filled with interactive stories, games and animation… but it’s also pretty tough. ScratchJR, on the other hand, is a simplified and redesigned version of Scratch, one where kids (they suggest ages 5-7) can learn to programme by snapping together graphical programming blocks that make characters move, jump, dance and sing. What’s really nice about ScratchJR (and quite different to Hopscotch) is that your child can completely customise their character, even adding in their own voice or picture, before bringing it to life. The most sucsessful thing about ScratchJr for me, is that it teaches kids to be expressive but also interactive and sets a good academic grounding. It’s a cognitive win!
ScratchJr is free but only available on iPad. Rumour has it that it’s coming to Android at the end of March.
Write code. Catch bananas. Save the world. Oh, and don’t touch the green banana. This is CodeMonkey, a monkey-filled educational coding website for kids from the ages 9 and up to learn a real (!) programming language called CoffeeScript.
In the game, you control a monkey and help him catch bananas by writing lines of code. Not comfortable about writing? You can also use the buttons at the bottom of the screen for easy access. CodeMonkey uses a star system like Tynkey so one star is given if you’ve got all the bananas, two if you’ve learned something and three if your code is short. There’s also a cool jungle-inspired soundtrack complete with monkey noises to code to. It’s fun and teaches actual html which is quite cool. I also now feel like eating some freshly-baked banana bread, can’t think why.
Try CodeMonkey here – the first 30 challenges are free, after that you’ll need to subscribe.