Parents are rightfully thoughtful about their children’s screen time. But what about when you want your child to learn an ability as intricately related to on-screen activities as coding? Perhaps you’ll be surprised – it’s not as intricately related to screens as you might think, and there are many coding activities that require no computer and still pass on the logic. Here is our shortlist of the top six.
Coding, and the related coding activities are the alpha and omega of 21-century skills, and are slowly working their way into national curricula, afterschool activities, while more and more parents are tapping into the trend by introducing their children to coding toys and tools in the comfort of their own home. If you’re one of those parents, or just thinking of becoming one, you’ve surely thought about how best to approach the topic.
Coding, besides being a handy tool that will be immensely appreciated on the future job market, is the language of the future. It’s what makes technology run the way it does and understanding it allows us to understand and interact with technology at a deeper level. Not only that, but learning how to code through fun coding activities also enhances other abilities – such as math skills, logic, reasoning, critical thinking, analytical thinking, as well as several key soft skills, like communication, collaboration, literacy (of media, tech), and leadership. We discuss these skills and how coding contributes to their development in-depth in one of our previous blog posts.
The main takeaway of learning how to code is that while your child never has to become a coder in their life, they will always make use of the problem-solving, solution-oriented approach that coding is, complete with a refusal to be discouraged by failures.
While many parents are ambitious about their children immersing themselves into coding activities, they are also cautious about screens, especially with the younger kids. It’s understandable, although we do encourage a more productive relationship with screens that is built more on a means-to-an-end approach rather than a means-in-itself approach. A screen only facilitates the necessary, and while it shouldn’t be used without reason and discussion, neither should it be seen as purely negative. Take a look at one of our blog posts to learn how to approach screens productively.
Coding tools are often based on smart electronic devices, or gadgets that are connected to a screen. The screen is rarely the center of attention, but it functions as a good intermediary. Not all of them are, though. Some require no screen, and some even go as far as requiring no devices at all. No need for a bigger entrance investment, no need for any tools, just you, your child, and your common creativity. So if you’re still unsure about any screen time and would rather choose the way of less electronics and devices, we have good news for you.
There’s plenty of coding activities that instill the principles of coding deep into a child’s brain in a comprehensive manner without a single screen required. We’ve compiled six of them for you to get inspired by.
Here they are:
What you’ll need: chalk, a water source (water gun, water squirter, etc.)
What you’ll do: Create a 6×6 grid on a sidewalk or any block of concrete. Divide the roles between you and your kid – one will be the commander and the other will carry out the commands. Color some of them with the chalk – these will be special squares where you’ll end up being watered down with whatever tool you’ve gathered that squirts water. Now, the commander will have to lead the other person with very precise, straight-forward commands (move one square ahead, one left, two right). As soon as the one moving steps on one of the squares, they will receive a refreshing wave of water.
What you’ll learn: Conditioning (IF you stand on a certain square, THEN you will get watered down) and sequencing (what sequence of commands is required to get to one of those squares?)
What you’ll need: Colored paper, crayons, stickers – and anything additional you want to use to decorate your self-made emojis
What you’ll do: Create your own emojis by cutting out circles out of yellow paper and using colored pens and crayons to draw the expressions we all know from our electronic devices. Then, explore the logic behind using emojis by discussing what emotions emojis communicate. Make up a story using only emojis, use individual emojis to discuss the several ways in which they could be interpreted, practice your creative skills by giving assignments to create brand new emojis with brand new emotions, and design them yourself.
What you’ll learn: Emojis are basically code. They are used to communicate certain emotions like ciphers, and we understand they mean based on a common agreement of both emotions and the encoding of these into yellow sphere-like symbols. Coding isn’t only about giving commands, but also about communication and transferring meaning.
What you’ll need: A printable algorithm page (which you can download from the website) and plastic cups
What you’ll do: An algorithm is, in simplified terms, like a recipe, complete with steps you’ll have to follow to reach a particular outcome. In this case, the recipe will be provided in the sheet of paper available on the website, in which symbols give the guide on how to build a pyramid or any other structure out of cups. First make sure your kids understand the symbols, and then give them a task to build.
What you’ll learn: Algorithmic thinking, which means looking for the most effective and efficient solutions to solving an unfamiliar task with the experience we have at hand.
4. If-then game
What you’ll need: A bunch of enthusiastic and energetic kids.
What you’ll do: This is an interesting twist on the ‘statues’ game, in which one person determines how fast and far the others can go by either looking at them, or covering their eyes. If he looks, they freeze like status, if he doesn’t, they move. In this version, kids will pretend to act like computers. If you press a certain command, something will happen. In advance, children have to agree on the signals they send to one another. If I lift my left arm, you’ll all lie down. If I turn in a circle, you do too. And so on. The list of if’s is endless, so be creative!
What you’ll learn: The if-then logic. It’s what computers are built on, and thus very helpful in understanding the logic behind giving out commands and seeing the results in real life.
What you’ll need: Just your everyday morning routine and a printable morning routine sheet that you can download on the website.
What you’ll do: We’ve already discussed how breaking things down into steps encourages algorithmic thinking. Computational thinking is another staple every programmer should be familiar with. It goes like this – what does one do after they wake up and in what particular order? How does one move from one activity to the next (transitions) – such as from washing your teeth to eating breakfast? How could one modify these steps and what would that achieve? What are the different variations to these steps? In the end, you should have a design of your morning routine ready, and an understanding of all the ways in which it could change or be modified – all on a sheet of paper complete with symbols.
What you’ll learn: Decomposition, transitions. It’s the breaking down of a problem (decomposition) into smaller bits in order to identify common patterns and apply a solution (algorithm) based on the similarities between the patterns. Start by discussing your morning routine and breaking it down into individual steps.
What you’ll need: Colorful beads and a string to attach them to
What you’ll do: If you’ve ever made a necklace out of beads, you know the type of pride it brings you to wear your own creation, no matter what the final outcome looks like. This time, we’re going to spice things up by involving binary logic. Refer to the website linked above to understand it, but basically, binary is an alphabet consisting of only 0’s and 1’s, and the different order in which these are arranged gives one different numbers. (Think of morse code, which is also a binary language consisting of short and long tones.) Once you determine what the letters of a name are translated to in binary (you might need to use nicknames for length purposes), switch between two (or more) colors of beads to make out the individual letters on a string. And there you go – your very own secret message on a necklace!
What you’ll learn: Binary code. Computers are built on binary, so understanding is very useful for anyone who will ever want to work with computer science or coding.
These coding activities communicate the very basic principles of coding and programming. All of the logical principles are key in understanding programming more in-depth and in inspiring kids to be curious about the way things work. Not only that, but they’re also a great way to bring kids together with their parents and for you to observe as their brains expand in front of you.
If you, however, do decide to graduate to coding activities that are partially based on a screen, you can start with a tool like Robo Wunderkind. Our modular robotics kit is controlled via 3 apps: their difficulty ranges from that appropriate to kids from age 5 (Robo Live), 6-10 years old (Robo Code), and that which is appropriate for kids up to 14 (Robo Blockly). Furthermore, the bulk of the creative work takes place in the physical world. Your kid has to build an actual physical robot, which can be modified in an endless array of possibilities. That is what we call a healthy balance between a screen and real life.