Say “Hasta la vista, baby!” to that Spanish Class enrollment and get your preschool child ready instead for the language of the 21st century: coding.
But you’re fluent already, right?
We are repeatedly reminded (by educators and by entire governing bodies) that our children (and yes, us parents) need to learn coding…yesterday!
Code.org states that computing jobs are the number one source of new wages in the US alone; these jobs are available in every industry across the whole of the country.
Ok. Got it. We teach our preschool children coding and we do it now.
But wait! How is it that our preschool children — who can’t even fully read English, let alone write a cohesive sentence — are expected to be fully immersed in this language of now?
Coding, this literacy of the 21st century, sounds daunting and scary until you do treat it like an actual language.
Just as with helping a child learn how to read, you never begin with multisyllabic words — or you definitely shouldn’t — but instead break down those intimidating behemoths into digestible, bite sized pieces.
Similarly, coding can be broken down into approachable and fun-for-everyone activities that reinforce computer-programming basics.
The following preschool coding games fit the build; they reinforce the coding foundation (or abc’s if you will) in an easy, relaxed way and even have the added benefit of using items that you can easily find in your home.
Help your child turn that coding brain on now!
1. Sandwich how-to
An integral part of coding is being able to give and follow instructions. After all, when coding, you are giving a specific set of instructions to a computer to receive a desired output.
Give your child a chance to be the boss (this won’t hurt, I promise) by letting her instruct you in making her favorite sandwich.
Tell your child you’ll make the exact sandwich she wants; all she has to do is draw out the process.
Have her draw out the steps required to make her lunch or snack. The actual sandwich type doesn’t matter, so long as your child knows the ingredients in what she plans on eating.
Once your child’s instructions are finished, follow those directions to the letter (or to the figure as the case may be) and see where it leads you.
If the sandwich was created according to her desired output, then your child has succeeded. If you’ve ended up with a sloppy, tasteless mess, go over the communication errors and try again next time.
Being the boss and getting people to do exactly as you want aint easy, kid! Coding follows the same trajectory — it takes practice.
2. Play Tic-Tac-Toe
Planning and reasoning — an integral component of computer programming — get a chance to shine in the simple, fun and seemingly old-timey game. Choose who gets to be the X’s and who gets to be the O’s. Draw a three-by-three grid and take turns trying for three in a row — and there you go!
If you’d like to make this more hands-on, use stickers or small items to represent your game pieces (as opposed to just using X’s and O’s).
A special note: do not give in to the temptation of letting your little one win. Preschoolers have amazingly elastic brains that allow them to catch on quickly.
First she’ll become the reigning tic-tac-toe champion and then a capable coder. But don’t worry, your independent whiz will still want you around for hugs and stuff.
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3. Play “Mother May I?” with a coding twist
“Mother May I “ is a game that exercises your child’s ability to count and problem-solve.
The way “Mother May I” works is that you stand a far off distance from your child (but close enough for you to hear his request if he has to yell it), and then you turn around and face away from your child and wait for your little one to think of crafty ways to get to you. Each request has to be prefaced with the phrase “Mother May I?”
For example, “Mother, May I take 4 giant leaps forward?” You or whoever is the “Mother” replies with, “Yes you may take 4 giant leaps forward.”
The coding twist comes in when you add sequencing to the counting and problem-solving to make a new (and totally improved!) preschool coding game.
Your new “Mother May I?” goes like this: let your child know that he can only move forwards every-other request. So, each forward-moving request must be sandwiched by a backward-moving request.
Your child has to correctly remember the forward-backward sequence all while considering that he has to choose his backward-moving requests carefully so that he inches forward (and therefore closer to you) more than back.
The game ends when your child reaches you. Then he becomes the “Mother.”
This is infinitely more fun with many children. Invite your child’s friends over and let them get in on the coding fun too!
4. Play Wacky “Go Fish”
Wacky Go Fish is an exercise in creating and implementing unique “if, then” statements.
Grab a deck of cards (any type where pairs can be made) and you’re set.
What makes Go Fish “wacky” is that you and your child each decide criteria for what silly stunt the other will perform if one of you gets a pair. For example, “Every time I make a pair, you give a thumbs up and say ‘Mommy rules!’”
As you pair on, you are playing the role of computer programmer by looking out for very specific “if” criteria (one of you making a pair) that will determine your output (the other performing a wacky something).
Before you jump straight into binary code and start talking bits, bytes and binary-to-text encoding (is your head spinning yet?), start with the basics. Modifying encoding for preschool (in game form) means you will be patterning.
The American Standard Code for Information Interchange (or ASCII) is computer speak for using patterns of zeros and ones to represent a range of different information.
But first, your child will need to have a solid grasp of understanding and copying patterns. Begin by creating simple patterns in the binary style (by using just two different patterning elements). Create ABA patterns, for example, by using two different sticker types; try creating “happy face, star, happy face.”
When your child is ready, move onto ABBA patterns like “happy face, star, star, happy face” and increase in complexity from there.
Once your child has demonstrated the ability to copy and continue a pattern, try providing her with an ASCII encoder (don’t panic, it’s just a chart), and having her use this binary coding format to encode parts of the alphabet.
Use the same principles described above (of using two sticker types) and pattern on.
6. Body counting
This activity involves exactly zero materials — YAY! Jump up and down and dance — it’ll get you prepped for what’s ahead!
With body counting you’ll be repeating a sequence of tasks until a condition is met.
The way this preschool coding game works is this: you’ll be counting up to a set number — let’s say thirty.
As you count, a specific movement will accompany every number you count aloud. Movements can include rubbing your belly, tapping your head or crossing and uncrossing your hands across your lap.
You can decide to alternate movements every 10 sets of numbers.
In that case, your body counting may see you rubbing your belly for the first ten numbers, tapping your head for the second set, and jumping up and down for the last.
Don’t let the giggles stop you — remember: you’re a focused computer programmer and you don’t stop until your condition (getting to your desired number) is met.