Basic programming has become an essential skill for grown-ups and children alike. And the benefits of picking up this skill, especially for kids, are huge: 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 and low-cost websites that teach children how to play around with code. We've rounded up a dozen of our favorites below.
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Students celebrate completing their coding challenges. Photo courtesy of Code.org.
This nonprofit foundation website is a great starting point for coding novices. It shares plenty of useful online resources, apps, and even local schools that teach coding. Be sure to watch the inspirational video on the main page. Updated periodically, the current iteration features some of the biggest names in tech talking about how they got started in coding.
This interactive website is user-friendly and teaches kids basic code through fun, simple exercises that feel like games.
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Kids learn how to program their own games. Photo courtesy of Code Combat
Best for older kids, Code Combat uses an interactive, competitive gameplay mode to stimulate learning. Kids can be online, playing in seconds; advanced skills do come with a cost. FREE
Put those ubiquitous emojis to work in an educational way with this website that eschews complex codes for user-friendly expressions, quite literally. Kids learn to code by using emojis to substitute for html or css codes. They'll have so much fun, they won't realize the work they're putting in. Codemoji plans start at $7/month or $20 for four months, but include up to five kids' accounts.
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. FREE
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. FREE
Predominantly an app-based program, Lightbot's low-cost programming apps are all-ages friendly. Available for iOS, Android, and Amazon devices for $2.99.
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. FREE
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.
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Kids work together to create code. Photo courtesy of Tynker
Like many popular coding programs, Tynker works with interlocking blocks of code, making coding language accessible to beginners. Classes are broken down into recommended-age categories for easy entry points. There are limited free options, and Tynker plans range from $20/month (billed quarterly) to $240 for a lifetime membership. Each child needs their own account, but multi-child discounts are available and there are occasional sales, too.
Looking to teach your kids code on the go? Coding apps Daisy the Dinosaur, Hopscotch, and the brand new Google-backed Grasshopper are great resources.
Photo courtesy code.org
This article first published in September 2013 but is regularly updated. Prices listed are as of December 2018. Jody Mercier contributed additional reporting.