Best coding games for kids

Coding needn't be scary or dull, with these fun, educational coding and programming games

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  • Best coding games for kids
  • SAM Labs
  • Sphero SPRK
  • Bitsbox
  • Osmo
  • Code Master
  • Robot Mouse
  • Robot Turtles
  • Kamibot
  • More stories
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Best coding games for kids

What are the best toys to teach children and young adults coding or programming in a fun way that will actively teach them the new technology skills they will need for the jobs of tomorrow?

Coding and Programming are now part of the national curriculum, in order to solve the “skills gap” between the number of technology jobs and the people qualified to fill them. ICT (Information and Communications Technology) has in the past been dominated by dull tutoring of how to use a word processor or PowerPoint, and has been replaced by a new “computing” curriculum including coding lessons for children as young as five. See also: Learn how to code

According to Computerworld, in just a few years, there will be a shortage of 300,000 digitally skilled workers in London alone. While most students may have little interest in becoming software engineers, digital literacy will be hugely beneficial in a world where technology is being embedded deeper and deeper into our everyday lives.

This will appear most scary not to Little Johnny or Jane (with their open minds, inquisitive natures, and love of anything with a keyboard and screen) but to parents who have coding skills equivalent to those of their grandparents; ie. none.

What is STEM?

Parents might have heard of STEM, which stands for four specific disciplines: science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

STEM is a curriculum based on the idea of educating students in those subjects in an interdisciplinary and applied approach. Rather than teach the four disciplines as separate and discrete subjects, STEM integrates them into a cohesive learning programme based on real-world applications.

While parents are used to spending money on books, toys and gadgets that help their offspring learn to count and read, getting kids hooked on coding or other STEM subjects will look daunting to say the least.

For the purposes of this feature we are describing some products as “toys” or “games” when they are or can be actually a whole lot more. We’ve described them this way because we’re looking at products that kids will want to play and interact with.

If they think that the Educational Thing is a toy they are more likely to play with it, rather than just do it. Learning through play is one of the best ways of picking up new skills, and overcoming what can at first appear rather daunting educational challenges.

What is the difference between programming and coding?

The two terms are basically synonymous. But programming involves more of the problem-solving and applied logic aspects around using technology – while coding is a more narrow term, about actually writing the code itself. These days however, coding is more widely used and they are generally understood to mean the same thing.

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What are the best toys to teach children and young adults coding or programming in a fun way that will actively teach them the new technology skills they will need for the jobs of tomorrow?

Coding and Programming are now part of the national curriculum, in order to solve the “skills gap” between the number of technology jobs and the people qualified to fill them. ICT (Information and Communications Technology) has in the past been dominated by dull tutoring of how to use a word processor or PowerPoint, and has been replaced by a new “computing” curriculum including coding lessons for children as young as five. See also: Learn how to code

According to Computerworld, in just a few years, there will be a shortage of 300,000 digitally skilled workers in London alone. While most students may have little interest in becoming software engineers, digital literacy will be hugely beneficial in a world where technology is being embedded deeper and deeper into our everyday lives.

This will appear most scary not to Little Johnny or Jane (with their open minds, inquisitive natures, and love of anything with a keyboard and screen) but to parents who have coding skills equivalent to those of their grandparents; ie. none.

What is STEM?

Parents might have heard of STEM, which stands for four specific disciplines: science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

STEM is a curriculum based on the idea of educating students in those subjects in an interdisciplinary and applied approach. Rather than teach the four disciplines as separate and discrete subjects, STEM integrates them into a cohesive learning programme based on real-world applications.

While parents are used to spending money on books, toys and gadgets that help their offspring learn to count and read, getting kids hooked on coding or other STEM subjects will look daunting to say the least.

For the purposes of this feature we are describing some products as “toys” or “games” when they are or can be actually a whole lot more. We’ve described them this way because we’re looking at products that kids will want to play and interact with.

If they think that the Educational Thing is a toy they are more likely to play with it, rather than just do it. Learning through play is one of the best ways of picking up new skills, and overcoming what can at first appear rather daunting educational challenges.

What is the difference between programming and coding?

The two terms are basically synonymous. But programming involves more of the problem-solving and applied logic aspects around using technology – while coding is a more narrow term, about actually writing the code itself. These days however, coding is more widely used and they are generally understood to mean the same thing.

Best coding games for kids: SAM Labs Inventor Kit

SAM Labs Science Museum Inventor Kit

SAM Labs

£99 plus shipping

Buy from Amazon for £99, or Amazon.com for $139.

Ages 7+

Learning how to “code” is only a part of the story. Learning to “program” requires different skills. Programming is creating the logic, while coding is translating that logic into code.

Writing code is only a portion of what makes up the duties of a Programmer.

A Programmer needs to actively think about abstract solutions to problems before even touching any code. See “What’s the difference between programming and coding?” above.

One of our favourite “programming” toys is the SAM Labs Science Museum Inventor Kit, just one of a number of wireless electronic kits from this exciting British start up.

The SAM Labs Science Museum Inventor Kit is the starter package, and works as a great standalone toy that can also be added to with extras available from the SAM Labs site.

It promises to teach engineering powers to everyone, using simple active blocks and an intuitive desktop app for Windows and Mac. It’s a wonderful STEM tool because it integrates more than just one subject – linking, for example, coding with engineering through designing and building things.

The SAM Inventor Kit includes four wireless blocks: a Light Sensor, Tilt Sensor, Buzzer and a DC Motor. You can also buy other blocks (for example, a simple Button, Pressure Sensor, Proximity Sensor, Slider, Fan and Dimmer).

While a little simplistic an explanation some have called the SAM Labs building-block approach “Mekkano for the Internet Generation”.

Through step-by-step instructions the child or adult quickly learns five STEM activities, including mastering Morse code, making your own electronic songs, creating ingenious alarm systems (a lot of fun for kids), adding sounds to your drawings, and building a mini drum machine. After these there are more activities online.

While the visual building of circuits in the app is similar to the Scratch coding language enjoyed by many kids, the coding element of SAM Labs is based on JavaScript, which is a little more complex and it would help to have some JS knowledge beforehand.

That said, the SAM Inventor Kit is a lot of fun as a programming tool/toy without you having to even touch the coding side.

SAM Labs wireless building blocks and the intuitive desktop app are supported by STEM tutorials, and also by community projects. You can add extra blocks and even customize using standard modeling motor accessories from its website or the likes of Amazon.

Part hardware, part software the SAM Labs Science Museum Inventor Kit is an innovative and really fun way for kids to explore programming, and the scope is limited only by the user’s imagination or creativity.

Best coding games for kids: Sphero SPRK

Sphero SPRK

Sphero

£99.95 or US$129.99

Buy from Amazon for £99, or Amazon.com for $149.

Ages 7+

Kids love robots and it’s hard to find a more playful one than the Sphero, a robot ball that you control via various apps on your smartphone.

Sphero SPRK (which stands for Schools/Parents/Robots/Kids) is a translucent version of the robot ball (about the size of a tennis ball) but any of the Sphero models will work with the iOS or Android SPRK app – even the Star Wars Sphero BB-8 Droid. Read our full Sphero SPRK review.

It’s this app that uses a Scratch-like coding environment that lets you set simple commands to roll, flip, spin or change the colour of the ball. You can dig into the C-based OVAL programming language if you’re more of an advanced programmer but the block-based coding is easy enough for coding beginners.

You drag-&-drop actions (colour, spin, move, change angle of direction, speed, etc) in simple blocks from the app’s menu, and these commands lock together in whatever order you decide. Changing that order is as easy as moving the blocks around the screen.

There are 12 sample programs to get you started, and you can change these to quickly get the hang of things.

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Best coding games for kids: Bitsbox – Coding For Kids

Bitsbox – Coding For Kids

Bitsbox

From $20 (about £14) a month as a download or $30 (£21) for the full Bitsbox, from Bitsbox direct

Ages 7-12

Bitsbox uses simple coding commands to create cool apps. Kids learn to program by copying and modifying apps and then downloading them to their smartphone or tablet. Every month Bitsbox sends out to subscribers a fun package of programming materials in a box.

In each box there’s a full-colour booklet with between 12 and 20 apps to code, alongside high-quality extras such as trading cards, posters, stickers, non-toxic tattoos and other goodies – even a mystery toy. Kids type in these lines of code on Bitsbox's virtual tablet on its website. As they type the code they see the app coming to life before their eyes, and once they finish they can download the app on their smartphones/tablets and share it with friends and family. 

Apps range from simple two-liners to full-on games with graphics and sound effects. The language that kids are typing is simple Javascript/HTML5.  

The idea behind Bitsbox is that kids should actually learn how to write code. This compares to using a visual modular language such as Scratch, which teaches "coding logic" but not how to write in the coding language. 

As such it’s a partner to Scratch, or maybe next step for kids who want to get deeper into coding.

Coding logic has been prioritized over actual coding because many educators feel that it’s too hard for young kids (aged 6-12) to learn such languages. Bitsbox disagrees.  Just as young kids are better equipped to learn foreign languages or how to read music than the older students, there is no reason why the language of computers should be any different, says the company.

While it’s possible to download the digital book, kids will get more excited and (literally) stick with the program if they receive the full $30 box each month.

Best coding games for kids: Osmo Coding

One of our favourite and innovative kids’ games for the iPad is Osmo; read our Osmo for iPad review. Osmo uses a fun Montessori-like method to teach via physical objects – not normally what you’d expect from an iPad game.

Osmo consists of a Base unit that you slot the iPad in portrait mode, and a little plastic mirror cap that fits over the camera so the iPad can ‘see’ what’s happening on the table below. This “Reflective AI technology” allows kids to play with physical items in the real world while still benefiting from the power of iPad technology.

There are several wonderful Osmo games, which we really recommend you take a look at; read our full Osmo for iPad review. The latest game is Osmo Coding, which is designed to teach coding to kids aged 5-12.

Osmo Coding uses the brilliantly simple Osmo game system.

Osmo’s team is made up of former Google software engineers, so you can be sure that these guys know what they’re doing when teaching to code.

Osmo Coding uses simple blocks that magnetically snap together in front of an iPad and are interpreted as instructions that guide the game’s cute character Awbie on a journey to finding strawberries in a magical world of forests and beaches.

Each physical code block contains a unique command (walk, change direction, jump, grab) that can be sequenced with other commands. Combined with parameter, loop, and boolean (if-then) blocks, kids can easily make complex sequences for Awbie to follow.

Players can see the effects of the coding blocks in real time before running the actions.

Parents will learn a thing or two about coding too!

It’s like (visual programming language) Scratch meets Lego.

Check out the Osmo Coding video.

Osmo Coding costs £39 but requires at least the £69 Osmo Starter Kit. It is also available in the Osmo Wonder Kit for £119 ($145), which includes all the great Osmo games. In the US you can buy the Coding Kit (base plus Coding for $75). Weirdly this option is not yet available in the UK.

All the Osmo games are fun, so if you can stretch to the Wonder Kit we think you'll enjoy them all.

Best coding games for kids: ThinkFun Code Master Programming Logic Game

ThinkFun Code Master Programming Logic Game

Think Fun

£15 from Amazon UK or $19.99 from Amazon.com

Ages 8+

ThinkFun Code Master Programming Logic Game is a puzzle that teaches core programming concepts.

It really is a board game, not something you need to charge or link up to an app. No computer is required, just an enquiring mind.

You use an avatar figurine plus action and conditional tokens.

On each level, players program an avatar to harvest power crystals and reach the destination portal via pathways.

Your thinking processes mimic the way computers execute programs. As you play the game more, more complex programming concepts are introduced so you learn the core ideas as you play. As with actual coding only one specific sequence of actions will lead to success.

You get ten maps with 60 levels from beginner to expert.

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Best coding games for kids: STEM – Robot Mouse Activity Set

STEM – Robot Mouse Activity Set

£50 from Learning Resources

$59.99 plus shipping from Amazon.com

Ages 5-9

Aimed squarely at primary school children in science, technology, engineering and maths lessons the Robot Mouse Kit is a cute way to develop coding enthusiasm and critical thinking skills from a young age.

Kids program the battery-driven mouse to find the cheese, and this can be solo or a group game. Through game play it provides a basic introduction to the concepts of coding, including Step Coding and Logic.

The flexible kit comes with 16 plastic base pieces, 22 plastic maze walls, 3 tunnel pieces, 30 double sided coding cards, 20 Sequence cards to plot and track the mouse’s path to the cheese, and a Multilingual activity guide.

There are two coding sets available; the activity set that is complete with the green track or the individual mouse, which comes with coding cards so you can use it on the floor.

Best coding games for kids: ThinkFun Robot Turtles Board Game

ThinkFun Robot Turtles Board Game

Think Fun

£24.99 from Amazon UK or $24.99 from Amazon.com

Ages 4+

Another batteries-not-required coding board game is Robot Turtles, which teaches programming fundamentals to kids ages 4 and up.

Inspired by the Logo programming language, the game lets kids write programs with playing cards. Players dictate the movements of their Robot Turtle tokens on a game board by playing basic Code Cards: Forward, Left and Right. When a player's Robot Turtle reaches a jewel they win. If they make a mistake, they can use a Bug Card to undo a move.

The game has Beginner to Advanced levels – as the players advance they encounter obstacles such as Ice Walls, and use more complex Code Cards (like lasers to melt the walls).

Two to five players can play at once and everyone who gets the Robot Jewel wins.

Best coding games for kids: Kamibot Programming Robot

Kamibot Programming Robot

See it on Kickstarter

There are many more coding/programming toys and games coming soon. Kamibot is a fun programmable robot – about the size of a coffee mug – that teaches kids to code.

 Kamibot isn’t surrently available but is a crowd-funding project through Kickstarter. At the time of writing it is half way to its target.

Kamibot makes coding fun by being cute, and you can even add colourful folded paper skins to dress Kamibot up – Kami is the Japanese word for paper.

Kamibot is based around the open-source Arduino platform, so kids can easily learn how to code using Scratch, the popular drag-and-drop programming language taight in many schools.

With the included app, you can control Kamibot with your Android or iOS smartphone or tablet. You control Kamibot’s direction, speed, the direction of its head, and the colour if its LED lights. You can also set it turning around in endless circles or more complex configurations.

For example, Kamibot will use the IR sensors on its undercarriage to follow a black line on the ground through complex obstacle courses you create.

It includes a range of sensors that help it move around. These sensors act independently when in line mode, but you can also program them using Scratch, sending Kamibot on autonomous missions.

Kamibot is also equipped with a rotating pad on top, allowing you to control the head-movement of your papercraft character.

It is expected to cost around $100 when available.

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