Best Coding Games, Toys, & Apps for Kids

Posted on February 2, 2019
Cubetto, a completely screenless coding toy for kids 6 and under

Coding Games for Kids

At Juni Learning, we provide online programming classes for kids. However, we often get asked for recommendations for other games, toys, or apps that can supplement their learning or be used to spark their interest in STEM. As many parents know, “coding” might not be the most exciting word to your child right now, but “videogame” or “iPad” may be! Many of our students sign up for Juni’s program after they have been exposed to programming through a game or toy that leaves them wanting to learn more about computer science and building software. Here are some resources we recommend for your children for exposing them to programming and sharpening their problem solving skills!

Coding Toys for Younger Kids

For kids 10 and under, there are many games and toys that help them understand the building blocks of computer programming. For example, Bitsbox delivers a physical box to your home every month containing a kit of projects, and then your young child can login to Bitsbox’s online platform to program their own version of these projects. The apps are selected based on difficulty and interests - they offer anything from interactive birthday cards to Tetris-like games. The apps can then be easily shared onto phones and tablets.

The Osmo is an iPad-based programming game system that incorporates physical blocks to write code. Using a set of magnetic blocks, your child controls Awbie, a cute character who must navigate the different levels of the Osmo universe. The physical blocks must be connected together logically so that Awbie can move on screen, using commands like “move,” “turn,” and “repeat.” The Osmo is ideal for kids as young as five years old because they don’t need typing skills to learn the basics of programming logic and to practice their critical thinking skills. After your child has mastered Awbie, they can move onto Osmo’s other products like Coding Jam, which uses a similar block system to generate digital music, and Coding Duo, a more advanced version of Coding Awbie with multiple players.

Kids use these magnetic blocks to program Awbie on the iPad screen.
Kids use these magnetic blocks to program Awbie on the iPad screen.

Cubetto is a completely screenless coding toy for kids 6 and under. Cubetto is a wooden robot that is programmed by placing colored blocks onto its surface, which instructs it where to move. The Cubetto is placed on top of different maps, mazes, and books. For example, in one challenge Cubetto must navigate around a big urban city. In another, he is in ancient Egypt, learning about pyramids, hieroglyphics, and the Sphinx. This is a great toy that encourages active play and critical thinking without any screens.

Coding Games for Older Kids

For older kids who love robots, the Anki Cozmo is a palm-sized robot, built with facial recognition, self-maneuvering capabilities, and an “emotion engine” to respond to real-world situations. It comes with a Code Lab app for users to program the Cozmo’s movements and responses to different environments. Code Lab is built on Scratch, a visual programming language (which we teach at Juni!). For example, you can use Code Lab to program Cozmo to move around and write his name, or to approach a human and Cozmo recognizes his or her face. There is even a more extensive software development kit to tap into the Cozmo’s computer vision capabilities and third party integrations (like with Google Assistant and Android). Kids can also play games with Cozmo like Memory Match and Keepaway.

If your child is interested in building hardware, the Kano might be the best toy for them. With the Kano, you follow a storybook to build a simple computer. The kit comes with a power supply, Raspberry Pi (the chip that powers the computer), keyboard, SD card, and optionally a microphone and an HD touchscreen. Once built, the touchscreen version allows you to program your own art, games and music. The coding starts with a block-based environment, but for more advanced students, there are projects available in Python and Javascript programming languages.

Kids can build their own computer with the Kano Computer Kit.
Kids can build their own computer with the Kano Computer Kit.

Many kids this age love Minecraft, an open-ended game where users can build their own worlds and experiences using the resources they acquire. Building in Minecraft is very Lego-like, where the pieces are varied and fit together in infinite combinations. Given the nature of Minecraft, “modding” the game is extremely popular, where you create new items, resources, and functionality by programming extensions to Minecraft’s code. The most popular mods, for example, add new animals, crops, and furniture pieces to the game; allow you to monitor and control your inventory more efficiently; and even introduce magic and wand-making into the game. While modding Minecraft was not designed for beginning programmers, there are sites dedicated for helping kids learn how to mod with online tutorials like LearnToMod and books like Coding with Minecraft.

Online Coding Games and Platforms

There are also many online-based games and platform for students to start learning programming. CodeCombat offers a series of online levels in settings like the Kithgard Dungeon and the Backwoods Forest. Students gain points by completing challenges so that they can advance to the next level and buy power-ups. CodeMonkey is another online game where the student moves through a series of challenges in tracks like Coding Adventure and Coding Chatbots. The main language they focus on is CoffeeScript.

Students gain points by completing programming challenges in CodeCombat.
Students gain points by completing programming challenges in CodeCombat.

For students who want to take a more rigorous course, Khan Academy offers self-paced courses in HTML, CSS, and Javascript, focusing on website and game development. These courses include online videos, written explanations, and coding exercises.

How Juni Learning is Different

At Juni Learning, we think all of the resources we’ve mentioned above are great ways for young students to get introduced to computer programming and problem-solving. However, they are not a replacement for working with a real instructor in a private one-one-one coding class. Our students work through our structured curriculum at the pace appropriate to them, focusing on building their fundamentals in one programming language at a time. They meet with their instructor weekly over videoconference, looking at a shared screen. The instructor takes time to review homework, to clarify questions and misunderstandings, to introduce new programming concepts, and to provide guidance and suggestions as the student is coding. They can slow down the pace of the class for additional practice with tougher concepts, and they can also accelerate the student toward more advanced topics.

For example, one of our most popular courses is our Scratch Level 1: Game Superstar course. In this course, students use Scratch's drag-and-drop coding system to learn computer science fundamentals, like loops, variables, conditional statements, and event listeners. This is a course for beginning programmers. By using Scratch’s block-based programming language, students use the pallet of commands to drag-and-drop the code, focusing on building their programming skills without having to memorize syntax-related details. Our curriculum is very project-based, so students are building their own increasingly complex stories and games in Scratch that they collect in their portfolio as they progress.

If you would like to have your student assessed to start working with one of our instructors, request a free online trial class with us!