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Can kids learn to code before they can read or write? Absolutely! Does that sound crazy, or even a bit unnecessary to you? I admit, at first I thought it did. Then I started exploring the world of coding with my kids, instead of just dabbling around on my computer alone, and wow! We’re totally hooked.
Learning coding starts the same way learning any new skill or language does, with the basics. Am I saying that my 4 and 6 year old can make their own, commercial quality video game by coding? Absolutely not. Honestly, they don’t even play them yet.
I wholeheartedly believe that in order to appreciate today’s high definition, advanced technology, they must first play Duck Hunt or Mario Brothers￼ on the 8-bit Nintendo￼. (Yes, I still have one. Don’t be jealous, you can buy your own on Amazon.)
Just because the latest greatest technology IS available, doesn’t mean they have to have immediate access to it at age 4 or 5. Instead, I believe in giving them a strong foundation in the basics first, so they never take what they have for granted.
Even better, they can learn the basics of programming logic in many fun, exciting ways, even without a tablet or computer. In fact, many of the concepts can also be taken “offline” so you don’t necessarily need anything special at first.
How to introduce learning code for preschoolers and early elementary students without a computer
Most apps and learning tools for coding start with a recommended age of 4. For us, that felt appropriate. I first introduced my oldest to tablets around age 4.5, but even my youngest, at 3, could still do some of the offline applications of the basics. I also think it’s important to learn and practice skills in a variety of ways, and kids can learn these basic concepts even without a computer. So where do you begin as a parent?
We began with a game called Robot Turtles, by Thinkfun￼. Robot Turtles is a cooperative game, which means that players work together toward a common goal, instead of competing. Some of my absolute favorite board games for preschoolers fall into this category, because they make games fun for everyone and foster family teamwork and togetherness. (More about that in an upcoming post).
In the game, children learn general concepts of coding by using directional cards to move their turtle to a gem. The game gets increasingly difficult as you add obstacles to the game board, like ice castles that you can blast by placing laser cards into your program.
The best part? The child acts as the Turtle Master, while the parent acts as the Turtle Mover. Kids absolutely LOVE this role reversal. The game also requires parents to make beeping noises as they move the turtle to follow the child’s instruction cards (the program). As the game gets more advanced, children (and parents), learn the basic logic of functions.
What are functions?
Writing a program using the least amount of commands as possible makes it more efficient. So, Turtle Masters replace patterns of directional cards that repeat with function cards and get the same result from the Turtle Mover as they did at first, only using fewer cards. If you mess up, the game also teaches the concept of debugging in a fun, silly way.
My son zoomed through the basic levels and soon started creating his own mazes of obstacles on the game board. We still haven’t fully explored functions yet, but he absolutely loves the game.
What do my kids learn while playing Robot Turtles?
• The Programmer/Computer Connection
• How to Write a Code
• Mistakes are Ok
• Code is a Language
• How Functions Work
• How to Solve Problems
• Other life skills like:
• breaking big problems into small steps,
• working backward from goal to solution,
• visualizing multiple solutions,
• perseverance and experimentation,
• and patience.
More ways to explore learning code for preschoolers and early elementary students without a computer
Warning, once you try out Robot Turtles￼, your kids may be hooked and you’ll find yourself making a lot of beeping and bopping noises as you fulfill your role of Turtle Mover.
To give you a parental break from all of that beeping and zapping, I created this fun printable game that use the same concept of directional cards, one per space on the grid, to move the pirate to his treasure.
Click Here to Download my Free Printable Game! Also, check out this similar Super Hero Coding Game using materials you probably already have on hand over on Little Bins for Little Hands. I love her blog- it seems like our kids are into the same things.