As technology dominates our lives, learning basic computer programming isn't just a smart idea, it's an essential skill for grown-ups and children alike.
Learning how to build simple websites and games helps kids refine their design, logic and problem-solving abilities. It also allows them to express ideas and creativity in unique ways. There are a number of FREE websites that teach children how to play around with code. We've rounded up a dozen of our favorites.
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Prices are as of January 2016.
This nonprofit foundation website is a great starting point for coding novices. It shares plenty of useful online resources, apps and even local schools to teach coding. Be sure to watch the inspirational video on the main page. The January 2016 iteration is aimed at inspiring girls to code and features well-known women in tech fields, such as Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg, Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai as well as everyday women and girls who insist "if you can code, you can change the world."
This interactive website is user-friendly and teaches kids basic code through fun and simple exercises that feel like games.
While Code Avengers lacks the eye-catching graphics of other options, it does offer a series of free intro classes in building web pages, apps and games. If you like the free version, you can graduate to a series of paid options that range from $19 to $39 per 12-hour course.
Best for older kids, Code Combat uses an interactive, competitive gameplay mode to stimulate learning. There are online courses that require registration, but kids can be online, playing for free in seconds, too.
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Students celebrate completing their coding challenges. Photo courtesy of Code.org.
Particularly good for kids, Code Monster features two adjacent boxes. One displays code, the other shows what the code does. As you play with the code (with some help from a prompt), you learn what each command does.
After a quick download to your computer, kids can learn Ruby, an open-source programming language that's easy and intuitive.
Known for its extensive and challenging math games, Khan Academy also has basic programming tutorials that teach kids how to build graphics, animations, interactive visualizations and more.
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Predominantly an app-based program, Lightbot offers a FREE demo online as part of its Hour of Code. Like what you see? Its pair of low-cost programming apps cater to kids ages 4-8 and 9 and older.
Designed by MIT students and aimed at children ages 8 to 16, this easy-to-use programming language lets kids build almost anything they can dream. There are no obscure lines of code here. Instead, arrange and snap together Scratch blocks as if they were virtual Legos. But it's more than just a coding guide, it's a vibrant online community of programmers who swap ideas and inspiration.
Inspired by Scratch's snapping blocks system, this software allows users to create simple games for iOS, Android, Flash, Windows, Linux and Mac systems. If your child is serious about it, there are paid pro plans that come with advanced functionality.
Founded by iD Tech, Tech Rocket's free platform allows access to its six Hour of Code classes as well as five other free-of-charge classes. For those looking for a more advanced experience, paid subscriptions range from $19 to $29 per month.
Like many popular coding programs, Tynker works with interlocking blocks of code, making coding language accessible to beginners. Intro courses here are FREE, but classes jump into the paid category after that, costing $50 per course (discounts apply). Classes are broken down into recommended-age categories, making it easy for mom and dad to determine where kids should begin.
Looking to teach your kids code on the go? Coding apps Daisy the Dinosaur, Hopscotch and Kodable are all FREE for iPad.
Photo courtesy code.org
This post first published in September 2013 but is regularly updated.