Ask the grumpies: How to teach a kid to code?

Sandy L asks:

How to teach a kid to code when you don’t know how? (And I don’t live in a big city and I also don’t want to spend $1000 on coding camp. There has got to be a better way.)

We don’t know the answer to this question.  Here’s what we had tried on this subject back in 2015.  DC2 did really enjoy the Python for Kids book and enjoyed modifying the programs in the book, but hasn’t really come up with any programs of hir own.  We did not try Teach your kids to code.

Last summer DC1 did a week long video game design daycamp.  That used a program called Unity.  Zie fiddled around on it for about a month after the camp and then accidentally deleted or broke hir game in a way that locked it and lost interest.  Next year there’s a middle-school class that *might* teach programming but it also might not.  If it’s taught by the same teacher as the gifted-only version of the class we’re definitely not interested [update:  because DC1 is gifted, zie is only allowed to take the gifted-only version].  But there will be programming classes once zie gets to high school which is pretty exciting.  (We don’t live in a big city either, but having the university here adds a lot.)

DC1 and DC2 have both done Hour of Code in school and have links to practicing outside of school.  There’s also Khan Academy.

I dunno, does your local community college offer an intro programming class?  If so, it will probably be in Java or Python.

Any better suggestions for Sandy L?

12 Responses to “Ask the grumpies: How to teach a kid to code?”

  1. Mel Says:

    My twins’ book :-) Kids teaching kids, and they’ll walk away understanding core computer science concepts that appear in almost every coding language.

  2. Jenny F. Scientist Says:

    There’s a lot of practice stuff online – this one for Python has some pretty decent problems/ explanations (though they have a bizarre obsession with both chess and recursion, which, uh, Python doesn’t really do recursion so well…):

    That might be more engaging because it’s more interactive! (I’m sure Mel’s kids’ book is also great!!)

  3. Cloud Says:

    Is the kid asking to learn to code? If so, most of the kids I know who actually code stuff started in Minecraft or something similar and then branched out from there. I’ve also heard good things about Scratch.

    Do you just think your kid should learn to code? If so, the kid probably won’t learn to code. I say that based on my own experience as a kid (I wrote a couple programs in BASIC but didn’t really see the point and quit. I can code now, although I no longer use that in my day to day work life) and my experience trying to get our now 5th grader to try coding using the online class made available by her school and some other options (it didn’t work).

    Basically, I think some people are really interesting in coding for coding’s sake. Those people (like my husband) can get excited about writing a program to do just about anything and as kids will probably learn to code from the various “learn to code!” options out there online. They will probably learn just fine from any of the options and then explore on their own. Other people will learn to code when they see the point – i.e., when the best or only way to do something they want to do is to use code. I fall in this camp, and despite repeated attempts to “learn to code” because I thought I should, I didn’t really learn until grad school when I actually needed it.

    If you think your kid falls in the same camp as I do, maybe try exposing them to various things that might lead to coding or at least build the algorithmic thinking skills that they’ll need when they eventually decide to code. For instance, my 5th grader did finally learn some coding for her LEGO robotics team.

    Another common route into programming for people like me is through website design. Does your kid like to write? Maybe a WordPress site would be fun to them, and once they hit the limits of what the standard templates can do, they might start learning how to change the templates.

    And on the whole, I just wouldn’t worry to much about it. I know the stereotype is that people start coding as kids or not at all, but as someone who knows a lot of programmers… there are plenty of people who didn’t start until later and they do fine. Our focus for our kids is on learning how to think logically and algorithmically, and there are lots of ways they can do that.

    • Leah Says:

      I feel similar. I liked coding fine in school and definitely coded when our teacher presented that as an option for doing math homework. I loved learning more descriptive code, like HTML and website formatting. But I don’t like doing it for coding’s sake. And I really don’t like coding unless I get concrete instruction. I had to use matlab for grad school, but they expected us to understand coding logic and such. I really struggled without clearer direction and wish I’d had a coding class.

      In short, I think coding is best learned in classes where you have goals IF your kid is goal-oriented. But, like Cloud says, some people just enjoy coding and love to dabble. So I think it really depends on your kid.

      • Cloud Says:

        I took a programming class in college, and I am not sure anything really stuck other than I still remember there is a sorting algorithm called bubble sort. But, it is highly likely that having had that formal instruction made it easier for me to pick up coding by reading books when the time came. (This was before you could find this info online – I learned Perl from O’Reilly books and tips from my labmates.) So I’ll probably encourage my kids to take at least one programming course at some point. I tried to convince my 5th grader to pick a “write your own app” camp from a list of options this year, but she wasn’t interested. I want to take that camp! But she is not me, and will be taking a “science of science fiction” camp instead. :)

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        My one semester of Pascal in high school was invaluable for being able to create readable code in Stata. (Note to everybody: COMMENT YOUR CODE!!!)

    • First Gen American Says:

      I make my kids write up a summer fun list of things to do. It has to include new stuff. Son put learn to code two years in a row….probably because of his interest in Minecraft. We’ve done most modules in the hour of code website. I bought one of those robotics kits (that is still in the box). He has done robotics camps (again his thing….he’s into that stuff.) and enjoyed those but I don’t feel like he’s getting enough exposure.

  4. gasstationwithoutpumps Says:

    I’m probably not a representative model here, as I learned programming in high school around 1969, and ended up getting a PhD in computer science. My son started with Scratch in 5th grade, and is now finishing his BS in computer science at UCSB. (He’ll stay there for an MS also.) Scratch is a good place to start, as it is easy to learn and lets you do fun stuff right away.

    One of my more recent posts on teaching kids to code is at

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