Coding for Kids and Teens: A Guide to Online Tools and Resources

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A teenage girl sitting in a library working on a laptop.

In 2015, the U.S. was home to nearly 8.6 million STEM jobs, representing 6.2% of employment. Most of the largest STEM occupations are related to computer and information systems, with computer systems analysts accounting for over half a million jobs. With the rise in automation and artificial intelligence, it’s no wonder coding is becoming increasingly popular in today’s education system.

Coding allows developers and engineers to build computer software, apps, and websites. It is the process of creating instructions for computers using programming languages. Sometimes called computer programming, coding is a way for individuals to interact with technology and benefit from it. By learning to write code, people can tell computers how to behave in a much faster way.

Although educators and parents may understand the benefits of coding, there is not much drive to incorporate this into most curricula for teens and young kids. For instance, 90% of parents want their child to study computer science, but only 25% of schools teach computer programming. Additionally, only 11% of STEM bachelor’s degrees are in computer science, while 67% of all new STEM jobs are in computing. It seems that despite the growing need for coders, the curriculum in much of the education system is behind.

However, many industry professionals have seen the learning gap and created resources to help parents and educators teach their children and students how to code. This guide details education and training resources, as well as scholarship opportunities for kids and teens who want to be successful in the coding industry.

Why Kids Should Learn to Code

This field teaches many skills that not only pertain to computer science, but also to adult life. Coding opens up an array of job opportunities, as it is increasingly used in today’s professional sphere. Children who learn to code are prepared for a world that is increasingly dependent on technology and run by computer programs.

Skills That Coding Teaches

Many people often assume that coding imparts only technical skills to those who learn it. However, coding can teach children so much more. Some skills that coding can teach young children and teens are:

  • Critical thinking
  • Persistence
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Computational thinking
  • Logic
  • Structural thinking
  • Meaningful context
  • Processing skills
  • Math skills
  • Creativity
  • Determination
  • Overcoming gender barriers

Not only will kids learn to appreciate technology and how to work with it, they will also learn lifelong skills that will help them be successful.

Where Coding Can Take You

If you have an interest in coding, college applicants should consider a computer science degree. This type of degree focuses on building good general technology skills, including writing and implementation of customized programs to drive operating systems.

Computer science can help prepare students to work in software design, programming, and software maintenance, as well as for advanced study of more specialized coding and programming functions. Students who pursue advanced study of coding often translate code, craft operating systems and software applications, and protect important data from cyber criminals.

Because of the growing use of computer networks and data in businesses around the globe, fewer jobs are in greater demand than those in cybersecurity. A career in cybersecurity not only can lead to a larger paycheck, but also better job outlook for those with the right skills and training.

Cybercrime and data breaches are growing more prevalent, which means that cybersecurity professionals are vital to business health. Additionally, those looking to enter into the cybersecurity field can anticipate an average salary of $99,730 — and those who enter cybersecurity with a master’s degree can earn higher pay in the right positions.

However, it’s not only cybersecurity professionals who have the chance to earn high pay. Other career opportunities include:

  • Software application developer
  • Web developer
  • Computer systems engineer
  • Database administrator
  • Computer systems analyst
  • Software quality assurance engineer
  • Business intelligence analyst
  • Computer programmer
  • Network systems administrator

Coding is quickly becoming a primary language in this computer-driven world. Many businesses are turning to artificial intelligence and automation in order to become more efficient. While the rise of automation has many workers scared of being replaced by robots, this turning point effectively opens the doors to new positions.

For example, since many marketing departments need to send mass emails to clients to keep products top of mind, coders who can create software that sends emails automatically are in high demand, because they help companies create more efficiency and free up time to complete other projects. Many future jobs will rely on coding skills, creating more demand and opportunities for the workforce.

Teaching Kids and Teens to Code

Parents don’t have to be experts in coding to teach their children. However, it does help to know where to start. Before you begin the curriculum, it’s important to know about the most common programming languages, how they work, and where to start your child depending on what age they are.

Best Programming Languages to Start With

A programming language consists of a set of instructions that produces a variety of outputs. Many languages implement algorithms and look like a string of numbers, words, and symbols. However, just like human languages, programming languages can be learned and programmers can become fluent in them. Below are the best programming languages to start with:

  • Python: This is one of the most common programming languages used today, and is easy for beginners to learn because of its readability. Typically, coders use Python to develop 2D imaging and 3D animation packages, however, it is also a popular programming language for machine learning and deep learning applications.
  • Java: This language is one of the most common and in-demand computer programming languages today. It has become the standard for applications across all platforms, including Mac, Windows, Android, and iOS. It is also widely used in web development, and web behemoths such as Google, Amazon, and YouTube employ it in their backends.
  • JavaScript and TypeScript: JavaScript is commonly used to create interactive effects in web browsers. TypeScript is a superset of JavaScript and adds optional static typing to the language. JavaScript is one of the three core technologies of the World Wide Web, along with HTML and CSS.

Curriculum Recommendations

Coding can be a fun and engaging curriculum for kids — the only question is where to start. Your starting point will depend on your child’s age, interest, and learning style. However, there are recommended starting places for different ages:

  • Ages seven through 11: Kids in this age group can start learning the principles of programming by learning block programming. This type of programming is visual and uses a drag-and-drop system of instructional blocks. Programming like this can help build logical thinking and a foundation for creating sequences.
  • Ages 11 and older: Children in this age group can start to learn text-based programming, through which they can create computer instructions in actual code.

It’s important to ask your child why they are interested in coding to get a sense of where to begin. For instance, if they like to be creative, resources that include creating games might be a good place to start.

Coding not only encompasses computer science, but also enhances problem solving, collaboration, computational thinking, and innovation. By understanding your child’s interest in one or more of those aspects, you can find the perfect starting point for their coding curriculum.

Online Coding Resources and Apps for Kids

There are many elements of coding that must be learned in order to understand the concept as a whole. Generally, you must first learn programming logic, then specific coding languages, and finally hardware and software programming. By learning to code this way, you can first capture the principles of coding before implementing the practices. Luckily, there are many online coding resources and apps to teach these beginner coding lessons — some of which are free.

Programming Logic

Programming logic is a foundational concept that involves performing logical operations on hard data. Typically, a programming language has its own syntax to dictate how words and symbols can be put together to form a program. By understanding the flow and logic in the code, children can begin to understand foundational concepts and advance to more technical parts of coding.

Resources to learn programming logic include:

  • Move the Turtle: This app teaches programming skills to children as young as five. By completing different tasks, children can learn how to plan complex operations, as well as implement creativity and graphics. This app is available for $3.99 on iPhone and iPad.
  • Robo Logic: This app allows kids to program a robot’s movements by dragging commands to the bot’s memory. To advance, you must activate all the marked boxes. This app is available for $0.99 on iPhone.
  • Turtle Academy: This website helps kids learn programming in a fun and easy way. It’s available in many languages and is completely free. Parents can enroll individual learners at home or teachers can add their students as a bulk class.
  • Alice: This site is a beginner’s look into animations, interactive narratives, and 3D games. It is a block-based programming site that teaches logical and computational thinking skills. Alice can be used by both teachers and parents as a free tool for all who want to learn to code.
  • Cargo-Bot: This app is a puzzle game in which players teach a robot how to move crates. It is developed by Codea, and is available as a free iPad app.

Visual Blocks

A block in computer programming is a lexical structure of source code that is grouped together. Blocks can contain one or multiple statements, and are fundamental to structured programming. Visual blocks allow children to see the code language, understand the instructions, and place the blocks accordingly. Below are resources that specialize in visual blocks for younger children and beginners.

  • Tynker: This site allows children to visually work with blocks of code in order to create animations. It guides the user through interactive courses either on a computer or tablet. Parents can choose from three different pricing packages while teachers can receive a free quote for a K-8 plan.
  • Hopscotch: This app allows kids ages eight to 14 years to create games, animate drawings, and build different programs. They can publish their creations online to share with friends and family, and also interact with a community of other child coders and get inspired. Currently, Hopscotch is free for educators and is available on iPads and iPhones.

Specific Coding Languages

Computer code can be created in a variety of different languages. The most commonly used coding languages are:

  • Java
  • The C programming language
  • Python
  • JavaScript

Luckily, there are many sites available to teach children these languages:

  • Codecademy: This website is built on disrupting traditional education by creating the first online “net native” education system. Users can start coding with the free basic plan or level up with the pro plan. By taking a quiz at the very beginning, you can get started on content that pertains to your interests.
  • CodeHS: This teaching platform provides a web-based curriculum, teacher tools and resources, and professional development content. CodeHS believes coding is a foundational skill, and allows students to become certified in programming to give them an advantage in college or the workforce. Teachers can create a free profile while students can access the courses with a class code.
  • Khan Academy: This nonprofit provides free coding classes to anyone. The curriculum is created by experts in each field and students can learn at their own pace. Teachers may also use this site to discover gaps in their students’ learning and tailor instruction accordingly.
  • Treehouse: This site offers a flexible learning schedule with on-demand videos and interactive code challenges. Users can choose from an array of plans that fit a variety of budgets and take advantage of the free seven-day trial to understand what works for them.

Coding Games

Many coding curricula come in the form of games to be more entertaining for younger children. Gamification has been implemented throughout many aspects of education because it inspires students with recognition, friendly competition, and milestones. The coding industry is no different. By playing coding games, children can learn faster and retain more information. Some of the more popular games include:

  • Code Combat: This site’s mission is to make coding accessible for kids globally by creating fun games that teach coding basics. Volunteers in the coding industry create levels, add features, fix bugs, playtest, and translate. Educators can receive a free quote to use this website in their classes.
  • Hakitzu: This app simulates a multiplayer game in which players battle robots by feeding them code. Players can start at the beginner level and advance to “coder” and “hacker” as they learn the basics of coding.
  • Jsdares: This website helps kids learn coding by providing short puzzles that the players have to recreate in as few lines of code as possible. Jsdares focuses on creating visual representations of code that enable players to better understand coding and how it is used. This site is kept free by others in the coding industry contributing their knowledge to expand the games.
  • Kodable: This site provides teachers with lesson plans and automated assessment tools in order to give kids a more immersive learning experience. Parents and teachers can choose from a variety of plans and pricing.

Coding Your Own Games

Often, individuals find that they learn faster by doing instead of reading a lesson off a screen. Below are coding games that allow children to flex their creativity in coding.

  • Kodu: This coding website allows you to create games through visual programming — no prior coding or design skills are required. This free game is only available on PC.
  • Stencyl: This game-creation software allows anyone to create interactive and personalized games without code. Users can also publish their game anywhere in order to gain followers. It has a drag-and-drop interface, or users can write their own code and share their own blocks. This software remains free by requiring users to view an advertising banner in the preview of the game.

Program Hardware

Many educators have found that children learn best through hands-on experience. Hardware programming resources have made it possible for children to learn coding concepts without being in front of a screen.

By building robots, computers, and circuit boards, children are able to connect coding and hardware physically and mentally. Below are resources that parents and educators can use to help teach kids to handle computer hardware.

  • Arduino: This company creates open-source electronic platforms that are able to read inputs and turn them into outputs. Kids can tell their boards what to do by sending a set of instructions using the programming language.
  • LEGO Mindstorms: This LEGO robotics set lets kids control their robot with programming software. The set includes motors, touch sensors, and is compatible with all other LEGO sets.
  • Piper: Piper is a hands-on computer building set that allows children to learn computer science, electronics, and coding. The computer is fully functional and comes with an easy-to-follow blueprint.
  • Raspberry Pi: This company provides circuit boards for children to play with. Together with accessories and the desktop kit, kids can build and create their own computer.
  • Go Sphero: This website provides a hands-on learning curriculum to teachers and parents. Children can build robots, program them, and share their creations with the online community.
  • Wonder Workshop: This website provides robotics blueprints so kids can build their own robots and learn to code while doing it. They can even submit their creations into a competition.

Offline Coding Resources for Kids

Offline coding is an exercise that allows children to represent ideas using objects. For example, writing directions using arrows instead of “right” or “left” is a good way for kids to practice expressing an idea or concept using symbols. Offline coding can help introduce kids to programming concepts and promote computational thinking, and in turn, get them ready for actual programming.

There are many resources for offline coding curriculum, including:

  • STEM Education Guide: This guide provides teachers and parents with STEM resources to teach their kids, including offline coding games. The site also has a variety of free downloads to use so that kids can be immersed in STEM.
  • ThinkFun: This site creates games, brainteasers, and puzzles to help inspire young children. It focuses on immersing children in an interactive STEM environment in order to initiate creative thinking. ThinkFun provides free downloadable games for both teachers and parents.
  • GearHungry: This digital magazine is aimed at a male audience and creates buying guides based on reviews. While their main target audience is adults, there are some posts that pertain to children.

Coding Resources for Parents and Educators

To help teachers and parents spread the knowledge of the STEM industry, many nonprofits and contributors from the coding industry have created websites, teaching guides, and other resources — mostly free of charge. Below are websites that share a variety of curricula for both public and homeschool students.

  • KidsRuby: This website allows children to write and try code through games and homework. It is free to download and allows coders all over the world to contribute by creating lessons.
  • Code With Google: Google offers a free coding curriculum and programs to help close the learning gap. The programs provide teachers with lesson plans, tutorials, activities, and resources to share with their students.
  • Scratch: This is a free website that allows you to program interactive stories, games, and animations. It also brings together an online community for kids to collaborate and share their creations.
  • Hour of Code: This worldwide event was designed to clarify coding as an introductory course. It shows that anyone can learn to code and takes place during Computer Science Education Week. Educators and parents can plan an event in their community with the free guide.
  • Glitch: Glitch is a free coding community where you can learn how to code, build a production-level app, or collaborate on a team. Users can gain feedback from like minded people and work simultaneously on projects.
  • Coursera: This is a website that allows people to learn, earn certificates and degrees, and participate in professional development. Coursera specializes in STEM education and starts at $39 for a course.
  • CS Unplugged: This website provides free teaching materials for computer science curricula. Kids can learn through games and puzzles without being in front of a screen the entire time.

Coding Resources for Teens After High School

Since STEM has become integral in the education department, many boot camps and scholarships have been created to help students discover fulfilling careers. STEM is an expansive category, and these resources help students and adults gain the advantage needed to be successful in this industry.

Coding/STEM Boot Camps and Summer Camps

Below is a list of summer boot camps that train kids in coding, software development, game design, and more. Many of these now offer virtual options, but most are in-person camps that last from as little as one day to multiple weeks.

  • National Computer Camps (NCC): This camp has been around since 1977, and has immersed kids in computer science, creativity, sports, and other activities that focus on raising self esteem. Campers can choose from a variety of courses as well as attend virtually, during the day, or for multiple weeks. This camp is ideal for high school students because most camps are held on college campuses.
  • iD Tech: This virtual tech camp allows kids to learn from professors from Stanford, Caltech, and UCLA, as well as an online community of like-minded students. The classes are personalized by only allowing a maximum of five students and include gamified learning for long-term success.
  • Digital Media Academy: Kids can sign up for courses in design, digital storytelling, computer science and AI, game design, as well as robotics and engineering. With locations all over the United States, students interested in STEM are able to gain knowledge that gives them an advantage in college and the professional world.

STEM Majors

Obtaining a degree in STEM can lead your child to a fulfilling career. Many students in STEM share similar attributes, including:

  • Analytical and problem-solving skills
  • Math skills
  • An interest in how the world functions
  • An interest in how technology works
  • An interest in how technology can affect human life

Popular STEM majors and degrees include:

  • Crop science
  • Biochemistry
  • Cybersecurity
  • Genetics
  • Physics
  • Actuarial science
  • Computer science and programming
  • Data management and technology
  • Mechanical engineering

After obtaining an undergraduate degree, your child should also consider getting a master’s degree, which can help them advance their coding career faster. Not only will a master’s teach your child about security, programming, and engineering, it will also teach them management skills.

Coding Scholarships

  • Bloc New Relic Diversity Scholarship: This scholarship helps children attend developer boot camp and code school. Eligibility includes women, U.S. military veterans, and minority groups.
  • Bloc Women Who Code Bootcamp Scholarship: This scholarship partners with Women Who Code to integrate more women into Bloc’s boot camp. The program includes a project-based curriculum, mentorship, and career coaching.
  • The Laurel Fund: This scholarship is part of Ada Developers Academy, and covers the living expenses of two or more Ada students during the classroom portion of the program. Students are then eligible for paid internships in the Seattle area.
  • Access Funds for the STEMulus Center: The W.K Kellogg Foundation has awarded funds for individuals looking to attend either the Cyber Academy or Deep Dive Coding Boot Camp. Eligibility requirements include being a resident of Bernalillo County and your total household income must be 200% of poverty or less.
  • Claim Academy Financing Options: The Claim Academy offers a variety of scholarships for women, minorities, veterans, and recent high school graduates. They also provide loan and income-share agreement options.

Although the computer science field is experiencing a learning gap, by using the resources in this guide, children and teens who are interested in coding careers can become successful in one of the fastest-growing industries.