5 Basic Coding Concepts for Kids

When you think of coding, your first thought might be of a big, dark room full of computers and the unmistakable click-clack sound of typing. You might picture long strings of unintelligible letters and numbers whizzing across a black screen, meaningless to everyone except a handful of highly trained professionals.

In reality, coding is not some scary, impossible job—quite the opposite!

While coding may seem like an impossible task at first glance, it’s actually very approachable. In fact, there are many aspects of coding that kids as young as five (or even younger) can understand. By starting with the fundamentals of coding at a young age, your children will be set up for success whenever they decide to take the plunge into full-on coding.

We’re going to be taking a closer look at basic coding for kids, including five coding concepts that your kids can start learning now for a headstart on computer programming.

What is Coding?

Before jumping into the nitty-gritty of all the different aspects that make coding what it is, it’s important to understand what exactly coding is.

Coding (also known as programming) is the act of writing code for computers. This can be thought of as the coding language that computers speak and understand. Just like the many dialects spoken by people around the world, computer code comes in all sorts of different languages, depending on the task that a programmer needs the computer to perform. Some of those languages include:

  • HTML
  • CSS
  • Processing
  • Java
  • JavaScript
  • Python

The best way to explain the concept of coding to your child is to use terms and concepts they already understand. With this in mind, here’s a useful analogy for when introducing kids to coding: You can think of coding as coming up with a recipe for a cake (or whatever tasty treats your kid loves).

Writing code is like providing a list of all the ingredients you need for baking, but it also goes a step further—recipes are more than a catalog of all the components of a dish. Recipes also factor in the amount of each ingredient needed, the temperature of the oven, and the length of time needed for each step. All of these elements equate to various parts of the coding process, with the person following the recipe playing the part of the computer interpreting the code.

The result? A tasty program that runs beautifully. 

5 Basic Coding Concepts

There are so many different aspects to coding, many of which can be fairly complex. Luckily, there are several basic concepts that will help your child understand programming! Read on to find out some of these key coding terms and skills.

#1 Looping

One of the simplest coding concepts for young kids to understand is the notion of “loops.” Even hearing the name should give them a good idea of what to expect!

In computer code, a loop is something that repeats again and again until it is told to stop (just like how a loop goes around and around). Your child can think of something they do every day as a sort of loop. For example, they might think of their bedtime routine, which could look something like this:

  • Go to the bathroom
  • Brush teeth
  • Change into pajamas
  • Get into bed
  • Turn off the lights

Because it would take so much longer to list out every step each day, we call this loop “getting ready for bed.” Our brain repeats this loop every single day, and we understand that the loop requires each step to be completed.

A computer programmer performs a similar task when coding a loop. They take several processes and instruct the computer to carry out the loop as many times as they need.

Having your child think about the loops in their day-to-day is an easy way to help them understand coding basics and get a taste of computer science for kids.

#2 Sequencing

Another coding concept that most kids can understand is that of a “sequence.” A sequence is simply the order of tasks. A programmer tells a computer which tasks to perform first, which to perform second, and so on so that every requirement falls into place in its proper sequence.

To explain sequencing to kids, we can go back to the bedtime analogy. For example, have them think of their teeth-brushing sequence. Make sure they describe the process in tons of detail so that you have something that looks like this:

  • Go into the bathroom
  • Grab the toothpaste
  • Remove the cap
  • Put a small amount of toothpaste on the toothbrush
  • Wet the toothbrush with water from the faucet
  • Put toothbrush in mouth against teeth
  • Brush teeth

Once their sequence is all written out, ask your kids what would happen if they changed the order of events.

Can they get their toothbrush before they go into the bathroom? Probably not. Are they able to put toothpaste on their toothbrush without removing the cap? Not without some serious squeezing!

Questions like this will help your child understand the fundamental coding concept of sequencing.

#3 Branching

“Branching” is when a computer deviates from its usual path, carrying out instructions that are not in the typical set thanks to a specific condition being met. Explaining branches to your children is the logical step after exploring the concepts of loops and sequences, as branching occurs when an original sequence needs to be slightly altered to properly complete the task.

Once again, let’s look at the bedtime routine for an easy explanation.

Let’s say the normal bedtime routine is the one from the above section on loops, but every Tuesday is soccer practice, which means your kid needs to take a quick bath to wash up before bed. The new sequence would add the “take a bath” instruction to the list every Tuesday, which would now look something like this:

    • Go to the bathroom
  • Take a bath
    • Brush teeth
    • Change into pajamas
    • Get into bed
    • Turn off the lights

    This is an example of branching. We might call this the Tuesday branch, as it would only be implemented each Tuesday after soccer—though another bath or two each week isn’t a bad idea! Ultimately, a branch is a variation in the usual string of events that only takes place when something changes in the sequence, which, in this case, is the condition that it’s Tuesday.

    Ask your child, “What are some other examples of branching that you can think of?” and see what they come up with.

    #4 Selection

    Selection statements (also known as conditional statements) are pieces of code that are only completed if certain conditions are met. These are often referred to as “IF-THEN” statements.

    Computer programmers will use these types of statements to make sure programs are only run in the event a condition is satisfied, such as a ticketing website displaying the banner “SOLD OUT” if all tickets have been sold.

    Here are some real-world samples of selection statements that kids will understand:

    • If it is raining, then I should bring an umbrella to school.
    • If I stay up too late, then I will be tired tomorrow.
    • If I leave the cake in the oven, then it will burn.

    Your child is probably familiar with these types of conditional statements. Encourage your kids to come up with other examples to demonstrate their knowledge of selection is a fun way to instill coding terms early on.

    #5 Syntax

    The concept of syntax in coding is one that children can easily understand once they’ve spent some time speaking or reading. In any language, syntax is essentially the collection of rules that a speaker must follow when ordering words so that sentences make sense.

    Syntax in coding is more or less the same. It’s the set of rules that the programmer needs to abide by when writing out a string of code. Just as different languages of the world have different syntax, individual computing languages can also have different syntax rules.

    A fun way to explore the concept of syntax with your child is to take a short sentence from a book you’ve been reading together and write it out. For example: 

    The rabbit raced ahead of the sly fox.

    Next, have your child rearrange the words in the sentence to come up with something new, like this:

    The sly ahead rabbit the raced of fox.

    They’ll be able to tell pretty quickly that words have to be in a certain order for the sentence to function properly—that’s syntax! Coding activities for kids can be a lot of fun, as it can lead to some wacky new phrases.

    If they can understand that syntax plays a vital role in the languages they speak, they’ll be able to easily apply the concept to the realm of computer programming.

    Putting It All Together

    Once kids have an understanding of key coding concepts taken from their own experiences, it can be easy for them to combine the concepts and apply them to actual computer programming.

    A perfect way to introduce kids to simple coding concepts and have them build on these fundamentals is Disney Codeillusion.

    As a program designed to help kids and adults learn coding in an RPG (role-playing game) environment, Disney Codeillusion provides an ideal backdrop for a first foray into the coding experience. Join some of your favorite Disney friends and explore programming languages such as HTML, JavaScript, CSS, and Processing.

    While the course starts with the basics, if you follow the advice from the article above, your child will already be one step ahead!


    1. GoodCore. What Is Coding And Why Should You Learn It. www.goodcore.co.uk/blog/what-is-coding

    2. TechTerms. Loop Definition. https://techterms.com/definition/loop