As you might guess, computer programming—also known as coding—can involve a lot of time on the computer. So what to do if your kid is showing an interest in coding, but you’re worried about long hours in front of the laptop or tablet?
Thankfully, plenty of coding for kids activities don’t require a computer at all!
If you want to encourage your child to explore the fun of coding while minimizing screen time, you’ve come to the right place. This article will guide you and your child to some screen-free coding activities to help work those coding muscles—no computer required.
First, a Word About Screen Time
Technology is everywhere today, which means that screen time is at an all-time high. In fact, Vox reports that the average adult spends 3.5 hours per day using the internet on their mobile phones—this doesn’t include time in front of the TV or on computers for work.
It’s unlikely that kids are spending this much time in front of a screen, especially since they’re probably not telecommuting into work each day. With that said, it’s still important to be mindful of the total hours your kids spend looking at screens. That’s why a blended offline-online approach is perfect for children as they practice coding.
Of course, technological literacy is vital in this modern age, especially for the future of programmers of the world. That’s why ensuring access to a reasonable amount of screen time is essential if your child is interested in coding.
But as they say, variety is the spice of life! Mixing in these offline coding activities with online ones will give your child the educational spice they need for their coding skills to flourish.
Puzzles and Worksheets
Coding makes significant use of mathematics and problem-solving. So any activity that challenges the mind or calls for practicing math skills can help prepare your kid for online programming.
Here are a few ideas to try: :
Sudoku – This 9x9 Japanese puzzle game encourages kids to think critically, recognize patterns, and look at different possibilities. While many Sudoku apps exist online, it’s just as easy to print out puzzles from the internet or buy a Sudoku book.
Math worksheets – Arithmetic is a core mechanic of many coding languages. Help your child hone their coding skills by practicing multiplication and fraction. Finding free, printable math worksheets online is a breeze. Inventing games or competitions with the worksheets can make math lots of fun for everyone!
Logic puzzles – Logic puzzles or riddles help your child flex their reasoning muscles. For example, the Farmer’s Dilemma:
A farmer resides on a small bit of land next to a river. One day, he takes his boat across the river to buy a fox, a chicken, and a bag of corn. But when he arrives back to his boat, the farmer realizes he has a dilemma. The farmer can only take one thing in his boat at a time. He can’t leave the fox alone with the chicken because the fox will eat the chicken. He can’t leave the chicken alone with the corn because the chicken will eat the corn.
So how does the farmer transport all of his new items across the river to his farm safely?
Quite a head-scratcher, huh? Puzzles like this require one of the most important coding skills: problem-solving. For some offline coding practice, you and your child can work on riddles like this one using only a pen and paper.
(And if you and your child have given this riddle your best shot, click here to see if you were right!)
At the end of the day, anything that sharpens the brain is a terrific activity for those learning to code.
Algorithms are fundamental to coding, and while the word itself might be a little tricky for the younger ones, the concept is actually pretty straightforward. At the most basic level, an algorithm is the set of rules that a computer undertakes when performing a task.
Here’s a simple offline activity involving algorithms: have your child come up with the step-by-step process behind the things they do in their everyday life. For instance, you could ask them to write down all the instructions for getting ready for school in the morning, and they might come up with an algorithm that looks something like this:
- Get out of bed
- Get dressed
- Come downstairs
- Eat breakfast
- Brush teeth
- Put shoes on
- Get in the car
The deeper they go into the process, the better, as it shows how detailed coding instructions can be. It’s a great introduction to computer science for kids.
If they come up with a step that seems a little too broad, have your kid break it down even further. With the instruction “eat breakfast,” your child can be more specific about the steps involved. Do they go get cereal from the cupboard and pour milk first? Or do they get themselves a glass of orange juice? Do they sit at the kitchen table to eat?
Getting into the nitty-gritty details makes this activity fun, as it also shows just how many steps our own brain—the computer of the human body—goes through to do something we think of as pretty simple.
As a bonus, by inspecting the order of elements in their algorithm, you can also discuss the concept of sequence, which, in coding, refers to the order in which commands are laid out.
“Coding” a Maze
This is the perfect activity for a hands-on, screen-free coding challenge. The exercise involves creating a maze out of LEGO or other blocks and creating a set of instructions (directions such as “go left” or “continue straight”) to help guide a doll, action figure, or Monopoly piece out of the maze. In this case, the instructions act as the “code” that runs the “program” of exiting the maze.
The printable exercise, which comes in a variety of different levels for aspiring computer programmers of all ages, starts by teaching kids how to think from a perspective other than their own. As your child ascends through the levels, they can begin to create increasingly complex codes to free the character from the maze.
For example, instead of inputting the direction “go straight” four times separate times, they can write the code to run the “go straight for the next four interesections.” This creates what computer programmers call a loop, and is a great foundation when introducing kids to coding.
Kids can even practice if-then statements by instructing the character to take certain actions if they hit a dead-end, and so on. It’s a fun activity that can be done completely offline and requires very few resources to get started.
If-Then Backyard Game
Sort of like Simon Says meets coding, the If-Then backyard game is perfect for a sunny day in the backyard or park. With the aim of practicing simple if-then statements, the game has one person who leads (called “the programmer”) and a group that follows their commands (known as “the computers”).
The programmer starts out with a statement like, “If I sit on the ground, then you clap your hands three times.” The “computers” make sure to perform the appropriate task, but only if the programmer satisfies the “if” part of the statement.
If the computers carry out a command that doesn’t correspond with whatever “if” the programmer says, they’re out!
This activity is wonderful because it makes learning a group activity and encourages kids to practice programming outdoors. This game might be a much-needed break for the intrepid programmer who has been cooped up inside a little too long.
Here are some additional if-then statements to help inspire your next outdoor coding activity!
- If I say “Pizza!” you say “Party!”
- If I jump once on my left foot, you jump twice on your right foot
- If I rub my stomach and say “Yum, yum!”, you pat your head four times
- If I do a somersault, you all clap three times
Moving it Online
All of these offline activities are wonderful companions to the coding process, but when you get down to it, nothing beats the real thing—practicing programming on a computer. That’s why it’s important to choose a coding course that will cover as much ground as possible.
With Disney Codeillusion, you can have the best of both the offline and online worlds. Disney Codeillusion offers 125 comprehensive online lessons along with several offline components, including postcards and a keepsake magic book.
Disney Codeillusion complements all of the offline activities from this article by taking the experience online, providing a supportive and entertaining learning environment for your child. Your child will practice four of the most important coding languages:
How will they practice these skills? Through an RPG-style program that takes place in the magical worlds of Disney! With help from favorite Disney characters, your kid will try their hand at web design, media art, and game development. And if your child ever makes a mistake or gets stuck, Disney characters will guide them step-by-step to the answers.
Since at least some of your kid’s coding journey needs to take place online, why not make it a fun, interactive experience for everyone with Disney Codeillusion? Start your free trial today!
- Vox. Tech companies tried to help us spend less time on our phones. It didn’t work. www.vox.com/recode/2020/1/6/21048116/tech-companies-time-well-spent-mobile-phone-usage-data
- Research Parent. Coding a Lego Maze. https://researchparent.com/coding-a-lego-maze/
- Left Brain Craft Brain. If-Then Backyard Coding Game for Kids. https://leftbraincraftbrain.com/if-then-backyard-coding-game-for-kids/
- Popular Mechanics. Solution to Riddle of the Week #1: The Farmer’s Dilemma. https://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/news/a23688/solution-to-riddle-of-the-week-1-the-farmers-dilemma/