Best Programming Languages for Kids
Parents and educators have a world of choices when it comes to teaching computer science and programming. It can be overwhelming when you start searching for resources for your child! What are the best programming languages for kids?
What’s the best place to start? It all depends on your child’s age, previous coding experience, and interests.
In this article, you’ll explore some of the most popular languages for a range of different kinds of learners. You can skip ahead to the section that seems most relevant to you.
- Icon-Based Programming — Ages 5-8
- Block-Based Programming — Ages 6-12+
- Text-Based Programming — Ages 10+
Consider your own goals while you’re browsing products, too. Are you planning to learn together with your child, or do you want something more self-directed? Are you a working programmer or IT specialist who wants to share your passion for computer science with your kids? Or maybe you just want to introduce your child to this exciting world — and give them an advantage when it comes to their STEM education?
No matter the language, no matter the coursework — try to build the coding habit. Like so many endeavors, the work you put in will reflect the knowledge you get out of any programming class or curriculum! So let’s review the best programming languages for kids.
Icon-Based Programming — Ages 5-8
Learning to code while in kindergarten? It’s more than possible. With icon-based programming languages like Tynker Junior, programming is accessible to even the youngest learners. Pre-readers use code blocks with icons instead of written descriptions — and explore cause-and-effect relationships through trial and error.
Here are several popular products available:
Tynker Junior — This app provides voice-guided coding courses like Wild Tracks! and Super Squad. Kids solve puzzles with tap-friendly code and progress through each world. Then they explore programming in open-ended creative sandboxes — writing their own code and watching what happens. There’s no wrong answer!
ScratchJr — This free iPad app from Tufts and MIT allows kids to create animated stories and more. Developed by the researchers behind the popular block-coding language Scratch. An official book and activity cards are also available.
Kodable — Simple movement-based puzzles are available for a subscription.
Helpsters — This live-action TV show from the creators of Sesame Street isn’t a coding app, but it explores “pre-coding” concepts like sequencing and directionality. Available on Apple TV+.
Block-Based Programming — Ages 6-12
Block-based programming languages revolutionized computer science education in the early 2000s and are definitely some of the best programming languages for kids. It’s not just that these tools are easier for kids to use — block code helps make Computer Science accessible and approachable for adults (that is, teachers, parents, and other educators).
Drag-and-drop block code helps users avoid common coding errors, like misspelled words or bad syntax. These tools are used throughout the K-12 world, but the sweet spot is ages 8-12. However, even college courses, such as Harvard’s CS 50 or the University of California Berkeley’s Beauty and Joy of Computing, use block code to introduce coding to older learners.
Block-based programs are typically actor-based, allowing students to move characters on a stage according to a coordinate system — and watch the results of their programs immediately! This highly-visual approach appeals to kids who want to do something practical with code, such as create video games, tell stories, or make animations. It also encourages project-based learning so different learners can find their own way into computer science.
Most importantly, a well-designed block coding system grows in complexity with the learner — like how kids working with simple LEGO bricks can go on to explore LEGO Technic gears and motors as their building skills grow.
Simple block-code programs might consist of basic movement programs or an actor who responds to a mouse click. Dress-up and storytelling projects are common at this stage.
Some kids try to get a laugh — the buttons switch costumes for this dancing banana
Kids’ creativity comes to life! An ice cream maker by Tynker user ArcticTail
Advanced block-code projects can be truly impressive works of art and computation, representing classic fractals or cloning popular video games with hundreds or even thousands of lines of code.
A block-code implementation of the famous Double-Dragon fractal
This impressive 3D ping-pong game was created by a Tynker user with only block code
Block Coding Languages
Here are a few block coding languages, along with popular resources:
Scratch — This language developed by MIT goes by the motto of 4 Ps — Projects, Play, Peers, and Passion. Scratch includes some free tutorials — and many additional Scratch third-party resources are available, such as books, courses, and more.
Tynker — Tynker provides a unique block-coding interface, as well as dedicated free and paid courses. Story-driven and game-based courses encourage reluctant readers to finish and explore. A wide variety of courses and live classes are available on the platform with school and home subscriptions, available for both web and iPad.
Snap! — This offshoot of Scratch is perfect for geeky parents or teachers who want to explore advanced computer science concepts like higher-order functions. Invented and maintained by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, this product was previously known as “Build Your Own Blocks” or BYOB.
Code.org — Find engaging, pop-culture-friendly activities like “Coldplay Dance Party” at the code.org website. Want to make mobile apps? Check out their App Lab. Simple movement-based puzzles, courses, and a wide range of other activities are also available. If you need some coding inspiration, you’ll find videos from celebrities and tech-industry leaders!
Minecraft Mods — Modding is a great way to make block coding come to life. Instead of code that controls actors, kids can take control of their Minecraft world by building huge constructions in the blink of an eye. Advanced coders can create minigames and change the Minecraft rules. Tynker and Microsoft’s MakeCode are both great options for the Minecraft fanatic in your life. Turn Minecraft time into learning time!
Robotics Systems — Many robotics or hardware systems are programmable with block code. The LEGO SPIKE robotics system, the BBC micro:bit, and many more are available. These hardware products can help make coding tangible for intermediate coders who have reached the limits of coding on a screen. Some languages like Tynker, MakeCode, and Scratch allow you to control devices with tools you already know.
Text-Based Programming — Ages 10+
Text-based programming languages are typically the ones used by working professionals. Three of the best programming languages for kids in text-coding and other first-time programmers include:
Making the jump to text-based programming languages can be hard — you’ll want to lean on whoever is willing to help you. Expect to make errors while you get the hang of things. Unlike other tasks that you do in school, it’s very common to write an incorrect program the first, second, or even third time. Be patient with yourself.
No matter which you choose, the steps needed to learn a new language are similar:
- Learn the basic syntax — the rules that all programs must follow.
- Take a beginner’s course to see what’s possible.
- Choose practical projects that inspire you, and complete them on your own!
- Find a community of learners at your school or online so that you can share your knowledge and excitement about coding.
- Try additional tutorials and take more courses.
- Add new capabilities to the base language using libraries. Dig into related technologies. Or try out another language and start the process all over again!
The most important idea to convey for beginners: You can’t learn how to program by just reading. You’ll need to actively write and experiment with code. Don’t worry if you get errors, that’s the best way to learn—by making mistakes and trying again. Whatever you do, make sure you’re writing code and trying the examples in your course and books!
Applications, Libraries, and Projects
As you learn a language, you can choose different areas to explore — whether related technologies or libraries — that extend your base programming language of choice.
Think about what you want to achieve — then work backward from there, exploring different capabilities that help make it possible. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Game Libraries. Turtle Graphics and Processing make creating games easy.
- Automate the Boring Stuff. Solve practical problems to routinize boring parts of your job or life. Have a repetitive task so easy a monkey could do it? A simple Python script can probably do it, too.
- Scientific Computing and Statistics. Python excels here — use data science libraries like Matplotlib, Pygal, pandas, and NumPy. Data science is so popular that libraries are available for nearly every programming language.
No Wrong Answer to the Best Programming Languages for Kids!
There’s no wrong first language or resource to use — the important thing is committing to learning programming and sticking with it!
When it comes to your child, try a few different resources to find the right fit so that programming isn’t a chore but a passion. Take your time to research the best coding languages for kids, sample different products and don’t be afraid to change things up if it’s not working. Many parents report that it can take several different courses or books for kids and teens to find the right resource.
- Having trouble with typing and misspelling? Go back to block code.
- Looking for something not aimed at gamers? Look for storytelling and artistic coding courses.
- Not getting what you need from coursework alone? Try joining a class where you can ask questions and get immediate feedback.
It’s easy to see why computer science is the top choice for students at leading universities worldwide. Just remember, no matter which programming language your child chooses to learn first, the work they put in will also apply to other languages. The important thing is to get started. Time to get coding!
Check out Tynker to learn more about inspiring the next generation to change the world through code.