Coding for children – sounds like something very advanced and a little bit scary. But, actually it is something we have been doing in many ways for years. So, don’t panic – as ever, toys are often the answer to the problem! Here is our take on what you can be doing at home, where everyone can join in.
So what is coding?
Coding is telling a computer, a phone, an app or some piece of technology what to do.
Think about coding for children as creating a sequence, following it through to ensure it works and communicating it to someone else. If you need to give someone directions, you have to think about how to get from A to B, tell them how to turn around and make sure that you give them the information in the correct sequence – they would be lost without it.
Why should children be involved in coding?
Coding is a new word for something that we have always encouraged children to do – it is about interacting with the world around them and putting themselves in charge. Yes, it may involve them using a computer more, but then we are all doing that.
Coding can help children to solve problems – “How do I make it do that?”
Coding can help children be creative – “What would happen if I put this sequence of actions together?”
Coding can help children follow instructions and identify where they have gone wrong.
These sound very similar to the types of outcomes that we expect to see when children are involved in great craft activities, logic and thinking games or just when they are getting to grips with something new.
Coding skills therefore do not just live on a computer!
You may well have heard of Scratch, Python and a host of other cleverly developed tools that children are using at school and home to make codes.
We’ve been looking at the toys and craft projects that we love that will introduce skills that are complimentary to these coding projects, but that happen away from the screen.
See what you think…
Problem Solving for Beginners
Bunny Boo is a beautiful wooden rabbit – but can you make him look like the card?
With 60 levels to work through, this wonderful game is all about space, shape and colour – just manipulate the four pieces to make them look like the cards – this sounds easy, and at 2+, is a great challenge for younger problem solving. However, as you move through the levels, the combinations become more complex.
Coding is central here – you need to decide if bunny is on top, underneath, left or right. Now think about combining two or more cards – how will bunny get from here to there? He will have to jump up, remove, go around, hide behind – these are all instructions – you are telling bunny where to go – this is coding for children!
Make a Map
Busy Builders is a whole world in a box. Unfold the road pieces and add the end before building the simple models of vehicles and people who are controlling the construction site and building the new school. Everything goes back in the box when you are finished playing.
But think about how the people and vehicles move around the environment. Do they need to go left, right, forward or back? Do they need to pick up materials or people before they can do their job for the day? What needs to happen next to get the school finished?
By creating a world that you move around, children are creating a sequence of activities and telling a story – talk to them about what is happening to reveal the code they are already using!
Fold a Paper Model
A traditional and lovely activity that we have done forever. Just fold and slot the pieces together to make the model – no glue or cutting out is required, just a lovely unicorn to make your room magical.
But, there are instructions to follow and a sequence to be observed. You cannot put the horn in the right place unless the head is securely constructed.
Coding for children also involves observing the rules of a sequence. Do you need to change the sequence to improve the outcome? If you were doing it again, would you use the same sequence? What if we wanted to create a bear instead of a unicorn – how would the sequence change?
Create a sequence
You will find that you can talk about sequences in almost anything.
This is Aquarellum – a wonderful painting technique with wax-covered papers that repel the inks from the areas you don’t want to paint on, giving children confidence and success with painting.
What has this go to do with coding for children? As the inks dry, they can be over painted and blended with different colours. What colours do you want to achieve? Which sequence will give the best results? Where does the painting want to start and how will you get different effects?
Crafting for children involves them establishing a code and discovering the best way to finish something – it is all about getting the children to think about their process.
Play a game
Jump In is a logic and thinking game from Smart Games. A step up from Bunny Boo mentioned earlier, this is aimed at 8-adult (and we can’t finish it!)
With 60 puzzles to solve, just find the way of jumping the rabbits around the grid to find their way home to the burrows. This game, however, relies on you recognising patterns and building on your skills – as the levels progress, you will need to use your previous experience to recognise how the moves could be combined to make a more complex series of movements.
This is just one of many games we love in this style. They involve children creating a sequence and then remembering it before adjusting it to solve the next level. A wonderful travel game.
Build a Model
As we get more confidence, we take on more complex instructions and attempt more impressive model making. Timberkits are the experts here, with a great range of models and automata that you not only build, but also make work.
What we love here is that children not only identify how to build the model but also how it works. Coding for children is about taking an idea and adapting it so that it will do other actions in the future. Once you have built a Timberkit model, you’ll understand the mechanism and hopefully want to invent your own model – this is coding in action!
Create a code
Since coding for children came into the curriculum, coding games have also arrived and we love this range. Code does not always have to look like a computer code – it may be a series of instructions that you have to put together to solve the problem, a series of clues to get to an answer or a range of actions that cause a reaction.
This Genius Square game has so much mathematical detail, but there is a code working behind it if you can crack it. Roll the dice and place the markers in the grid to block locations and then race against a partner to find how to place the blocks into the grid – it will always work, but how?
Instruct a robot
Once you understand the rules, it’s time to get things moving. This is done really well online through the programmes, but much more fun to actually make happen in reality where everyone can watch.
Tobbie is a simple to build robot that will react to the surroundings – it will follow, avoid and scuttle around the floor as you tell it to.
Try building an obstacle course and see if you can create the code to make it move around successfully!
Play a family game
With the success of the Escape Room games that are springing up around the country, spys and mysteries are very popular again.
Kryptos is a game of tension, requiring each person to deduce what might be in the other player’s hands by asking questions and looking for their mistakes…
Coding for children
We hope that we’ve shown you some ways to get into what many people see as a scary subject.
Our top tips:
- Look out for toys that get children talking about what they are doing – they will have a surprising ability to tell you a story about a sequence they are planning
- Get children to repeat what they have done – a code is a set of instructions – let them be the teacher and tell you how to do it
- Introduce instructions gradually – start small and build up – children will be much happier when they can complete something rather than having to get you to finish it for them
- The code doesn’t have to be explicit – it can be hidden in a story, a picture, a game
- When you are using the computer together, mention the skills that they used when making the model of playing the game – let children see that coding is not just about computers
- Learn the language that they are using – there are some new words and phrases that we haven’t used before that children are becoming familiar with – time to do a little bit of homework.
We hope this helps.
If you want to know more, we highly recommend the excellent series of books that Usborne are publishing, such as this one that covers the subject widely, and others that look at particular programmes like Scratch – great information for both children and parents with some fun activities to get you started.
There is also a whole network of afterschool clubs out there organised by Code Club – we have had many recommendations from parents about how their children have had fun at these and the website shows you how to get involved.
We’d love to hear about your successes with coding for children as well!