Fun coding projects to learn with kids

More and more children are learning to code at school, and more and more parents are trying to support them with coding projects at home. From board games and playing cards, to robots and apps, there are so many amazing options out there. 

Here are a few of our favorites. They’re all educational, with plenty of coding and computer concepts, but they’re also lots of fun. Not just for your kids, but for you as well. What’s the point in doing a project together if neither of you is enjoying it?

We’ve divided the list into age groups: preschool, elementary, middle school and teen. But these are only general guidelines. Have a look through all the different options, and see if anything catches your eye.

Preschool

Robot Turtles

Robot Turtles is a coding-themed board game, which just so happens to be the best-backed board game in Kickstarter history. It’s aimed at preschoolers, but grownups can play it with them. It’s the perfect way for a family to spend a rainy afternoon.

The game is built around instruction cards (turn left, turn right, move forward). Players use these cards to direct a turtle through a winding maze. The entire game uses pictures and symbols in place of written words, making it perfect for kids who haven’t learned to read yet. While playing the game, they’ll pick up plenty of important coding principles, including sequencing, algorithms and abstraction.

There’s also a secret Galapagos rule set which makes the game a whole lot harder. This version is just for grownups — fast, fun and competitive.

Hopster Coding Safari

This wildlife-themed coding app is all about getting different animals to the places they’re meant to be. Help a fox find its way to the mouth of a den. Help a penguin slide towards a hole in the ice. Help a monkey reach a bulbous bunch of bananas. 

All of these puzzles are cute, fun, and very rewarding. They’re educational too. Kids will learn about decomposition, pattern recognition, abstraction, sequencing and algorithms.

Just like Robot Turtles, Hopster Coding Safari uses pictures and symbols instead of text-based instructions, making it perfect for children as young as two. Sit down together with a tablet or phone, load up the app, and see how many animals you can help.

Coding with chalk

This unplugged activity can be played by anyone. It’s especially great during summer months, when you’re looking for a project which gets you out in the sun. All you need is a piece of chalk and a stretch of ground. Simple, right?

Use the chalk to draw an 8×8 grid, with each square large enough to stand in. Color a few of the squares, maybe five or six, at random. Next, it’s time to become a robot. Put down the chalk, enter the grid, and let your kid start calling instructions: turn left, turn right, step forwards. It’s really similar to Robot Turtles, but using a person instead of a turtle.

Remember: as a robot, you can’t ignore instructions. You have to do exactly as you’re told. And if your kid manages to direct you to stand on a colored square? They get to blast you with a water pistol (that’s why this one is best to play in the summer).

Elementary

Minecraft: hour of code

Everyone’s heard of Minecraft. It might just be the best-known game on the planet. But not everyone knows about Minecraft: Education Edition. It’s an official spin-off from the main game, which can be used to teach all kinds of subjects, from biology to coding.

The coding lessons are really excellent, and don’t feel like lessons at all. They take the shape of adventures instead: escape a mysterious mansion, travel back in time, take a voyage to the bottom of the sea. 

This is hands-on, stealthy learning. We couldn’t recommend it more. After watching your kid play through these adventures, you’ll probably be itching to try the game yourself.

Google logo

Just like Minecraft, everyone has heard of Google. But also like Minecraft, not everyone has heard of their educational spin-off: CS First. This is an easy-to-use and free-of-charge computer science curriculum. It can be used in the classroom, at home, or anywhere else you have the internet.

CS First has plenty of brilliant coding projects, but one of our favorites is this one: create your own Google logo. Using Scratch’s block-based interface, children can program every letter in the Google logo, using colors and animations and other special effects.

Give it a go alongside them. Turn it into a competition. Which one of you can make the most beautiful version of the Google logo? Who knows: maybe your kid has the makings of a graphic designer.

Deck of cards

This is another unplugged project, just like the chalk game we mentioned earlier. It’s always great to try an unplugged activity here and there, and to remind yourself that a coding project doesn’t always require a screen.

Lay the cards on the floor in a 7×7 grid. Place some obstacles on the cards to create a mini-maze: lego bricks do well, or anything else you have lying around. Put a toy at one side of the maze — maybe a car — then get your child to think of an algorithm that would send the car to a specific space on the grid.

The algorithm should sound something like this: “Go two cards forward. Turn left. Go one card forward. Turn right. Go three cards forward. Stop.” Together, you can put the code into action, moving the toy step-by-step until it lands (hopefully) in the right position.

Dash

Dash is a robot. A very cute one: three wheels and a big, round eye. Kids can link Dash to a phone or tablet, and write code that tells this little blue robot what to do. It’s fun and rewarding — a chance to see your code come to life through a real machine.

This project isn’t cheap. At more than $150, Dash is a bit of a luxury. For some people, it’s worth the price, but for others, it’s better to stick with the free alternatives we’ve included elsewhere on this list.

Dash also has an older sibling: a robot named Cue. It’s a similar principle, but this time for slightly older learners. With some clever coding, both Dash and Cue are capable of performing some really impressive tricks.

coding project with kids

Middle school

Mindstorms

Mindstorms is a set of robotic toys that look like something from a science fiction movie. They’re a Lego products, but you wouldn’t know it. The Mindstorms robots have a really distinctive look.

The set comes with five unique robots that kids need to build from the electrical components provided. Once the robots are ready, it’s time to link them to the Robot Inventor App. This app lets children code instructions for each of the robots, then watch the instructions play out.

It’s a great resource, but very expensive, just like Dash and Cue. That’s the problem with home robotics. They’re a lot of fun, but really don’t come cheap.

Swift Playgrounds

A quick heads up: Swift Playgrounds is only available on Apple devices. If you have one, great. If not, you should probably skip this suggestion, and continue down the list.

Swift is a really excellent app. It’s jam-packed full of puzzles and lessons which teach all kinds of vital coding principles, including functions, loops, variables, conditionals, and parameters. These are next-level skills, as children move up from elementary coding to something more advanced.

Your kid can really get creative here. They can even build their first app. Swift has sharing capabilities too, allowing your kid to share their project via message, email or AirDrop. Believe it or not, they can even upload their designs to the App Store, rubbing shoulders with the greats: Angry Birds, Candy Crush and more.

Kodu Game Lab

To compensate for the Apple-only Swift Playgrounds, this one’s only available on Windows. Does that even things out? Hopefully. Apologies if you’re using Linux.

With Kodu, children create vibrant video games using a simple visual coding language. It’s a really fantastic resource, with plenty of scope for creativity once you start to get the hang of it. You can program the terrain, change the behavior of characters, and do all other kinds of interesting stuff.

Maybe you and your kid could use Kodu to build a game together. Alternatively, you could leave them to work independently, then play the game when they’re done. Just hope they don’t make it too difficult. You don’t want to end up stuck.

Build a webpage

At younger ages, coding projects are usually based on experimentation and problem-solving. But middle school students are ready to get creative. Swift Playgrounds (app making) and Kodu Game Lab (game making) are great examples, and here’s another one: designing a real-life webpage. 

Web design is easier than you think, especially if you and your child are willing to work on the project together. Khan Academy has a good guide on the subject, and with a bit of work, the two of you could make a sparkling webpage about anything you wanted.

You can share the webpage with family and friends. Or maybe you’d prefer to keep it secret. A private project between you and your kid. The website you built as a team.

Teens

Raspberry pi

Last, but not least: a Raspberry Pi is a lightweight computer, about the size and shape of a credit card. Older kids, with coding know-how, can use them to achieve some really cool effects. They can literally use a Raspberry Pi to automate their bedroom. Play music with a voice command, play an alarm at sunrise, turn on the lights with a clap.

Maybe it’s wrong to call a Raspberry Pi a coding project. Instead, it’s a key that allows other projects to unfold. Hundreds of projects are possible here, maybe even thousands. You’ll notice this is the only project we’ve suggested for teenage coders. That’s because a Raspberry Pi is so versatile — they won’t be needing anything else.

You’ll be pleased to know that these mini-computers are affordable. Raspberry Pi is a charity foundation, and they’re fully committed to providing products at a fair and reasonable price. 

Final words

That completes our list of coding projects for kids. Hopefully one of them caught your eye — or maybe even several of them. If you’re looking to support your child’s coding, we also recommend our post about the best online coding classes for kids. Combine those classes with a few of these projects, and you really can’t go wrong.

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