Don’t hide. I see you over there whispering to yourself, “Is it over yet? The race to make every child a primo computer programmer?”
The news I have for you is… no, it’s not.
I get it: your mind is swirling in a dizzying confusion of numbers and alien-sounding vocabulary with words like, “algorithm,” and “function.” And then you have to make sure your kiddos have a roof over their head.
Here’s the thing, whether or not your child goes on to code the most popular game, technology, or prosthetic limb, he still needs to know what’s up.
Studies show that coding games help not just with computing, but they also help with other sequencing abilities, required in basic math. Coding also improves executive function — we’re talking big deal, big rewards type stuff here!
Instead of viewing coding as a chasing-a-feral-cat-around-and-strapping-him-down kind of chore, flip that on its head and have some fun.
Think of the following kindergarten coding games as simply fun with a programming cherry on top. Your child will love practicing the basics of coding and will be at the head of the pack in that programming marathon!
1. Silent programming (hot/cold remix)
Here, instead of you dishing out the looks that say, “Stop right there, if you know what’s good for you!” your child will be the body language ace, aka “the programmer.”
Start the programming practice by teaching your child two signs for “hot” and “cold”; this will serve as the programming code.
“Hot” looks like you’re fanning yourself — like you know, it’s hot — while cold involves you crossing your arms across your chest (in an x) and rubbing your upper arms like you’re shivering.
First, leave the room while your child hides a favorite toy somewhere in a room. When all’s a go, have your child scream, “ready!”
Enter the room and start approaching things to look inside or under. Look at your child’s “hot” and “cold” codes as a way to get clear directions. Hopefully, you’re getting warmer, or closer to the hidden object.
Celebrate with a sign language clap (spirit fingers), or just high-five till you drop.
2. Back-to-back programmer-computer drawings
Kindergarten coding games often get a bad rap for being too complicated. But they needn’t be, as you’ll see with the game below.
This game works best with another similar-aged child. Because your child will definitely have patience for someone else, but not for you. I’ve heard enough of “But that’s not what I said, mommy!” to know this is a fact of life.
Play works this way: designate one child to be the computer and another to be the programmer. The computer and programmer must sit-back-to-back, unable to see what the other is doing.
The first child, or “the programmer” draws a simple picture using only basic shapes (like hearts, triangles, circles and squares).
The programmer will be the instruction giver while the computer (with pen, paper and clipboard in hand) will be information receiver, as he patiently tries figure out what the heck he’s supposed to draw.
Encourage the “programmer” to give one instruction at a time and wait for the computer to say “ready” when poised to receive the next command. When the programmer is finished giving instructions, have him turn to the computer to confirm correct output.
Highlight that without a programmer, a computer is as useful as burnt toast, meaning it’s good for nothing. It’s all about that clear, precise and purposeful information it’s receiving.
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3. Code a birthday
Every kindergartener loves a birthday wall. And forgetful spouses – I’m not naming any names — rejoice when they have hints about those special days. Kindergarten coding games create wins all around!
Grab a box of Popsicle sticks, a sheet of cardstock (more if you’re coding more than one birthday) a pair of bingo daubers (or markers) and get ready.
First write your child’s birthday in mm/dd/yy or dd/mm/yy format.
Grab an ASCII encoder and translate your child’s birthday into binary code; have your child assign one color for the 0’s and one color for the 1’s. Assign just one birthday number to one popsicle stick.
The finished product will feature 6 Popsicle sticks; stack those babies from top to bottom and glue them onto the card-stock.
Put your artwork on a fridge for all to see. Repeat with other family member birthdays as desired.
4. CVC word sticker decoding
Decoding, or the ability to figure out what a symbol or code means, is the focus in this fun guessing game.
“CVC” stands for consonant-vowel-consonant; the “V” or the vowel will allow for some interpretive sticker fun. First, choose 2 small sticker types to stand for two different vowels. For example, apple stickers can stand for “a” while stars can mean “o.”
Begin by writing a word alongside your child. Writing, “cat” for example will include “c-apple sticker-t.” When your child is ready for a challenge, create words that can read, cat/cot, cab/cob, pat/pot, and tap/top, by using one of the two sticker types to alter the word.
5. Whole body algorithm treasure hunt
Grab 20 sheets of printer paper and decide with your child how you will lay these out to create a human game board. Any arrangement works as long as the paper pieces are touching. You can choose to lay them out in an “L” shape, in a square shape etc.
Print out this treasure chest picture and add it anywhere on your game board arrangement. Have your child say an algorithm, using directions like “up, down, left, right” to help you get to the treasure.
6. Creating functions for a treasure hunt
A function is a simple way to perform some repetitive actions.
For instance, in the previous game, you can keep saying, “Forward, forward, forward!” until the cows come home, but what if you misspeak?
There’s a better way!
The answer is creating a function. Ask your child, “How else might we show, “Go forward 6 spaces?” Let them come up with their own shorthand, and if they need help, suggest using an arrow and the number six, 6 –>.
The parameter, the number “6” in this instance, lets a person know how many times ->, or going forward, is going to happen. Have your child create appropriate functions to make the above treasure hunt much, much easier; use half-sheets of paper and markers to write out the resulting directions.
Lead the player with the movement you want them to make by showing them the desired function.
7. Hopscotch using functions
Grab some sidewalk chalk, some blank sheets of paper, a marker and head outdoors. Find a large enough area of pavement to create a hopscotch grid.
Instead of playing the boring old way you might be familiar with (using a rock and repeating a specific, unchanging pattern) here you will use functions to create your own hopping patterns.
First, use the sidewalk chalk to draw out a hopscotch grid. Then, decide on which symbols you will use for specific movements on your hopscotch grid. Finally, write out the functions on your papers accordingly.
Take turns trying to replicate each others’ functions.