As parents or guardians, we are always looking for the best activities for our kids to enjoy and grow through. Common staples of any childhood include sports, music and anything with friends.
But in a world of so many digital choices for kids young and old, it’s hard to select activities that are both entertaining and educational.
Fortunately, learning to code inherently falls into both categories—it’s screen time that you can feel good about as a parent.
A 2019 research study found that coding can be effectively introduced to children as young as 3. Another 2014 study concluded that coding increases non-verbal thinking skills. Learning to code is also a career building skill, with the The Bureau of Labor Statistics reporting that between 2018 and 2028, job openings for software developers will increase 21 percent.
Read More: Coding Facts & Stats
Coding has been transformed from something done only by engineers and post university graduates to something attainable from grade school onwards. This may seem outlandish as coding is often equated to building complex social networks or creating deep learning AI. These are some applications, but do not cover the vast arrays of things people, and especially kids, can do with code.
Not to mention that while not every kid who learns to code will grow up to become a software engineer at Apple or NASA, the comprehension, problem solving and critical thinking that coding fosters are crucial skills for being successful.
Whether your child aspires to be a lawyer, doctor, social worker, police officer or business trailblazer, the skills and thought patterns developed through coding will only benefit your kids in their non-coding careers.
The question of whether coding is a good hobby and exercise for developing critical thinking has been answered, but we still have an important question.
How do we even begin to introduce the idea of coding to our children?
In this article I aim to help you remove barriers to starting to code, decide which language is right to use, and finally pick the right website to help your kid get started.
Removing Technical Barriers—The New Web
For kids growing up in the 1990’s or early 2000’s there were no integrated web environments for coding; there was very little in the form of gamified, ready-to-type resources.
In those days kids would tinker with plain text HTML files to write code and make their ideas come to life on a computer screen. There were always questions of which text editor to use and correct system configurations. These questions would lead to friction in the process, and would slow down even the most technically inclined kids.
Today, things are different—and in this case, change is better. You can log onto a website and have direct access to an integrated development (IDE) and see your creations grow and morph as you type, edit, and refine your code.
There are curriculums and code alongs that make learning code a linear and straightforward experience. These curriculums take a lot of the guess work out of where to start and where to go.
While having kids get into web development the "old fashioned way" is a great way to expand their knowledge, starting out at this point can be difficult. There would be a lot less kids riding bikes if kids had to build them before being able to ride around the neighborhood.
By using the websites listed below, you can bypass messy and complex programming topics such as picking out IDEs, downloading programming software and managing versions, dealing with patches and updates and overclocking your computer. "Skipping" these items will allow your kids to maximize their fun from the start instead of killing their enthusiasm with dry, technical topics.
How to Pick out the Best Coding Website
Finding the “best” option for anything is always subjective, because each child is different in how they learn and what topics they are interested in. Because of this, there are different options for you to pick out the best fit for your child.
Some of the varying factors include age range, cost, types of projects and expected outcomes. Sites will cater to different levels of coding proficiency and may not always match an age range. Coders come in all different ages and some younger children may need intermediate challenges.
Either way, I would always encourage entering at an easier difficulty level to make sure that your kids learn the fundamentals. It’s always easier to keep your kids interested by reviewing easier topics before moving to more complicated ones. If you get too technical, or difficult, too fast then you risk burnout and your kids losing interest in coding.
Which Language to Pick
For a quick aside before we get into the best websites, let’s discuss software languages for used coding. Many developers have strong opinions on which kids coding languages are best. They may throw out Java, Rust or C++ as the best option for coding.
The language your child decides to use drastically changes how they learn to code. While some languages are great for building complex software systems, they aren’t good for learning to code. They have overhead for setting up environments, boilerplate file setups, strict coding syntax and lots of overhead for managing files.
Ruby and Python have simple syntax that leverage English readable functions. When written correctly, Ruby and Python code can read like a sentence, which makes it easier for kids to understand what they’re building.
Read More: Amazing Coding Facts
In terms of the coding websites listed below, here is the methodology, and more about the different buckets each falls into:
These websites meet one of two criteria. Either they focus on very basic coding concepts, or they use a low code programming language (such as Scratch). Along with using basic languages and concepts, these websites also keep topics separate (they won’t mix website styling with structure or functionality).
This final website tier focuses on children who are able to pull their different coding experiences and skills together to complete more complicated projects. Perhaps they want to attempt projects like building online games, or creating a tracker for their allowances or completed chores. These websites provide professionally made courses and events, like online hackathons, to encourage more advanced coding.
Finally, without further ado, here is our list of coding websites.
1. Scratch Jr.
This popular coding site allows young learners to program their own games and interactive stories from, well, scratch (sorry, couldn't resist!).
Michelle M., a 2nd grade teacher, started her Commonsense.org review by saying “The ingenious jigsaw puzzle style application gives primary students the opportunity to learn the basics of coding in a creative, friendly learning environment. With a limited text interface, it gives the youngest of learners the opportunity to successfully build interactive programming stories by clicking coding blocks to express their creativity.”
Ages: 8 to 16
Scratch is a worldwide coding community that is available in 70 languages. Geared towards older kids, this Scratch version was designed for children ages 8 to 16 so they could create digital stories, games, and animations.
However, don’t let the intended age range keep you from introducing it to your older children!
Here’s what a 17-year-old user thinks about the site, as posted in the Scratch.mit.edu quotes section: “Making games is something I've always thought would be fun, but I didn't want a really complex programming language. In the beginning, even Scratch seemed complex, but after sticking with it for a while, I've been able to make some amazing games. And the fact that you can share projects so easily makes it even better. Scratch is awesome!”
In addition, a 14-year-old learner said, “Using a set of about 100 commands that can be snapped together visually, you can create just about anything and learn the fundamentals of more advanced languages. In addition, there's a whole community of people online who will give you feedback on our projects, and gladly help you with your questions.”
Cost: $15 / month OR $55 / year
Ages: 8 - 14
Kids love emojis, right? Well, Codemoji uses visual features to keep students engaged and effectively learning. While fun, Codemoji also challenges students with different lesson difficulties and "a playground" where they can creatively explore their coding foundation.
Cost: $20 / month
Ages: 5 - 18
With foundational, intermediate, and advanced options, Code Avengers offers "at-home digital education" that encourages kids to move along their coding journey to create apps, games, websites, and more.
One parent review on their site says "We have tried many coding programs and the Code Avengers has everything your kids will need to know in regards to coding and software development. It has a large age span and the older kids will love it as well as young ones."
Cost: Plan options include: individual (starting at $6/mo), family (starting at $12/mo), and homeschool (starting at $20/mo).
This 2022 winner of the Mom’s Choice Award uses block-based coding to teach the youngest of learners about sequencing and loops. One mom said, “This program is easy to use and affordable. I like the videos and hints that help him along the way.”
Cost: Getting started is free. You can request a quote for materials to enhance your homeschool program.
Ages: 6 - 18
CodeHS boasts over 100 customizable courses in various programming languages to teach your little to your not so little one about computer science. A homeschool reviewer said, “Great tool for younger students to learn coding in interactive ways!”
Cost: Free - $17.49 / month
Ages: 10 - 18
"Start coding in seconds" can definitely appeal to any parent or child spinning their wheels and wondering how to start exploring coding skill development. In goes the code, and out goes the result. It's seemingly that simple. If you still need a nudge, Codecademy offer a quiz to help you sort through which course might be best for you and your unique circumstances.
8. CSS Diner
Ages: 10 -18
With CSS Diner, help your chef serve "5-star" dishes by applying the correct CSS styling to each food item. With an integrated editor, fun food styling visuals, and guided prompts, mastering CSS becomes quite "delicious!"
9. Code Combat
Cost: $9.99 / month
Ages: 9 - 18
Harnessing tech skills is often confused with magic or sorcery, especially by those who don't fully understand how all of the pieces fit together. So, when it comes to coding, kids might not even be overwhelmed with learning a new skill, but simply know learning magic sounds difficult.
Code Combat wants kids to feel "wizardly power at their fingertips by using typed code," but they're also providing a platform to learn what it takes, all through the "power of play."
Ages: 12 - 19
Major League Hacking is a website that fosters web and app design in young developers through weekly hackathons. Whether as a solo developer or through a team, MLH offers opportunities to tackle real issues through a wide array of hackathon themes and projects.
11. Code Wars
Ages: 14 - 18
Through the websites up and down the list, coding has been describe through many things, but perhaps not by "community" and definitely not to the extent of Code Wars. As the site states, "Codewars is a collective effort by its users" and one such way is that exercises, or "kata," are community-crafted challenges to help users build their skills.
Cost: There are three pro membership options after the first 15 free challenges; monthly ($39), yearly ($120), and lifetime ($299).
Ages: 13 and up
Edabit offers over 10,000 interactive exercises to take your learner from beginner to coder. This site may be just what your older teen needs before entering into the workforce or pursuing higher education.`
One user said, “Edabit is such a fun way to learn, practice, and master your coding skills…Nothing will take you from beginner to job-ready in such a short amount of time. Great work!”
In the end, coding is wonderful in that it is something that is accessible to everyone, no matter their age. Starting at an early age can unlock a lifetime of opportunities and shape how children see and interact with the world around them—I hope these resources set your kids off on the right direction to think deeper and have fun!