Coding in Kindergarten – Why, What, When & How

One of my most favourite topics to teach kindergarten students is coding! In this blog post, I am going to do a run down of how I teach coding to our students, and give you some tricks so that you can too!

Why?

Kids love learning anything to do with technology – they soak it up like a sponge. Coding skills are going to be so vital for them in the future; I think it’s better to start them up early so they can take as much in as they can!

What?

Before you teach your students how to code, you should probably know what it is. I’m going to tell you what coding is, just how I explain it to my students.

“In order to tell a computer or robot how to do something, you have to speak the same language. Coding is the language that you can both use so that you understand each other. All websites, games, robots (or anything that uses technology)- uses a coding language.”

There are a number of different coding languages that are used today. For the purposes of kindergarten though, I focus on two: directional coding and block coding.

Directional coding is just what it sounds like. It’s giving simple directions (usually with arrows) that has to be followed.

Block coding involves putting together a series of blocks to give directions. Each block has a specific command attached to it.

When?

I don’t usually introduce coding at the beginning of the year. We are trying to get our students used to new routines and schedules. We don’t need to be throwing a whole other language in there. I usually start teaching more advanced coding skills in November. You can start with simple directional coding sooner though (I will get to that soon!), and you can introduce some simple robots (more about that soon too).

How?

There are SO MANY different ways you can teach coding to your students. It really depends on your comfort level, the tech you have available and how interested your students are. I’m going to go through the different ways that we have introduced coding to our students, and hopefully it will help can figure out what works best for you and your class!

Computerless Coding

It’s just what it sounds like- coding without any tech. This is a great way to get started with coding, or a way to include coding in your program if you don’t have access to technology.

Directional Coding

This can be as simple as using any arrows that you can find (I have seen wooden arrows, but you could also print your own). Students have to get an object from the start point to the end (in this case- a hamster to its lettuce). We used a Twister grid- but you don’t necessarily need a grid for students to work on. This was just great for a group of students to work together on.

Unplugged Coding

With this kind of activity, there is no tech required. Students have their own grid, place a start and end card. Then they use the arrows to make a path. I like these because you can change out the cards without having to reprint the arrows or the grid, so you can use it all year. Take a look at this blog post if you want more info on this!

these sets are available in my store! You can find them here:

Unplugged Coding

Introduction to Block Coding

To introduce the basics of block coding, we have used the website code.org. It’s free to use, and it is AMAZING at getting students started on their block coding journey. It starts with some really simple drag and drop activities so that students can get used to using a mouse, then it progressively gets harder. It is so great at slowly introducing new concepts, so students never get overwhelmed. If you have access to computers, this is a great website to start with!

Block Coding with an App

As your students get more comfortable with block coding, they can start exploring the Scratch JR app. It is a great place for students to practice their coding skills. If they have used the code.org site and know a bit about coding, they won’t need much instruction on how to use this app. If they have never done block coding, this would be a great opportunity to do a lesson about it before having students start using it.

Robots!

Some of the most fun that I have had with teaching students is when we have used robots. There are so many different types to choose from. Check to see if your district or school board has any available to you (with our school board there is a tech library, and I was able to borrow the Dash and Dot from it). If you are getting a budget and you are going to be purchasing some for your school, make sure you research them before getting one. They all serve different purposes!

Starter Robots

If you have really young kids, or you want a robot for the beginning of the school year, a Code-a-Pillar is a really simple robot. It is just direction blocks that click together, then the robot follows the directions. I could see kindergarten students getting bored of it quickly, but if you have access to one, this would be perfect for the beginning of the school year.

Another simple robot, but one that could be used to build on skills is the Dash & Dot. I have used these with our kinder students (this is the one that is available to us in our tech library), and they love it. You use a number of different apps to control the robot, and you can buy a number of different accessories to go with it. There is a xylophone that can be added to the Dash that I think would be a lot of fun for music teachers to explore (coding music?!?) If you are purchasing this robot, I would opt just to get the Dash. I’m not really sure what the purpose of the Dot is, but it doesn’t add much value to the experience.

Sphero

Some of the most fun I have ever had with a class was with the Sphero. It is waterproof and highly durable so you can do just about anything with it (maps, mazes, painting…) I wrote a whole blog post about what we did with this robot, so if you are interested, you should definitely check that out!

Try a simple coding robot with your kindergarten students. Try the color codes and challenge students to code with this simple provocation.

Ozobots

These little robots are used for following marker lines. Students make lines on a piece of paper, and the robot will follow it. These are fun to use when learning to write their name or numbers, or learning about shapes. They are small though, and I worry about them getting knocked off tables. I would have clear expectations set before allowing students to use these.

Beebot challenge to code the word using the coding robot in kindergarten.

Bee-Bot

If you are going to get one robot for your classroom. This is it! The Bee-Bot is so fun and versatile. We have a clear plastic grid that you can place cards underneath of. You program the Bee-Bot using the arrows on its back and it travels across the grid. There are so many ways to use it.

Final Thoughts

Coding can be such a fun skill to teach in kindergarten. No matter how you approach it, the skills you are teaching are invaluable. My one suggestion- play around with whatever activity you are going to give your students first. You want to be comfortable using it so that you are able to coach and direct. I’m all for letting students figure it out and problem solve, but you also need to be able to help them if they are stuck!

If you need more ideas to incorporate coding into your classroom, I have more ideas in my STEM Night blog post, and I made a STEM Name Coding activity that you can take a look at.

Have you taught coding to your students? How do you teach it? What are your favorite activities? Let me know in the comments!

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