Best apps for teaching programming

Big thanks to teacher Melissa Taylor for her review of her favourite coding apps.  We tried them all out and think she is spot on with her comments. We have added ours in italics!

scratchjrScratchJr.  In this app, kids, ages 5 to 7 can learn to program their own games and interactive stories. Kids snap together programming blocks to make their characters move, jump, dance, and sing. ScratchJr. was inspired by the popular Scratch programming language, developed by MIT. It’s a great way to introduce young kids to programming.

We love it! Having never been a huge fan of Scratch, we are complete converts to Scratch Junior. It is very, very easy for children to learn and unlike a lot of coding apps, children are not bound by tasks and activities that someone else has created. Right from lesson one they can programme their own illustrated stories, plays and animations – the only limits are their own imagination.  Although designed for 5 -7 yr olds, we have 4 yr olds using it quite competently and 8-9 year olds who are still interested – depending on the challenge they are set. Also there is a wealth of resorces and back up material and it’s free!

tynkerTynker  Kids with no knowledge of programming can learn logic with this iPad app. The app contains story puzzles that kids can solve through dragging and dropping to make visual code blocks. Kids learn to recognize patterns and break down a problem into small steps. Tynker includes one free game and additional games are available with in-app purchasing. Recommended for ages 9 to 11.

The story-based puzzles are fun and kids are motivated to keep playing to unlock other levels and earn stars. The drag-and-drop interface is easy to use and every move reinforces programming concepts, giving children skills that can transfer into coding.   If they don’t complete a level successfully, a help screen explains what they can do differently or more efficiently. They can access help if needed, and each level can be replayed as many times as necessary. On the down side the free version only lets kids try one puzzle and then you have to buy others individually. It doesn’t include the depth offered at, though, where kids complete 16 lessons and have the opportunity to create their own programs, but it’s more affordable than the Web subscription.  Also, all the instructions are given in writing, so kids have to be independent readers. 


scriptkitScriptKit  ScriptKit is best for your older kids, ages 12 and up. ScriptKit is a drag and drop programming app for the iPad. With it, your kids can build simple mobile prototypes using native iOS UI components and social media APIs. So what does that mean? They can design and write code on the iPad. Create simple APIs. Learn from examples. Cool!


HopscotchHopscotch: Coding for Kids – Kids, ages 8 to 12, can use simple, intuitive building blocks to create games, animations, and apps. They can drag and drops blocks of code to create anything they can dream up. Super fun and easy.



light-botLightbot In this game, your kids, ages 9 to 11, can guide a robot to light up tiles and solve the different levels using commands. Lightbot can help introduce kids to programming concepts and coding. Lightbot Jr. is an easier version of Lightbot designed for younger kids, ages 6 to 8.


kodableKodable With this free app, your kids can help the fuzzFamily explore the planet Smeeborg’s Technomazes. While playing, they’ll get a kid-friendly introduction to programming concepts. Gameplay is easy, you just drag and drop instructions for your fuzzes to follow and help them get through their mazes. Perfect for kids ages 5 and up.


robozzleRobozzle  Your kids can use simple commands to help a robot solve puzzles, follow a linked list, or even count in binary. With a growing database of over 1000 puzzles, your kids will have plenty of opportunities for problem solving and fun.



cargo-botCargo-Bot  Cargo-Bot is a puzzle game where you teach a robot to move crates. The game features 36 puzzles. It was created entirely on the iPad using a program called Codea.



spacechemSpaceChem Mobile In this game, your kids will take on the role of a Reactor Engineer working for SpaceChem. They can create factories to transform raw goods into valuable products, and streamline designs to meet production quotas and beat other engineers.


codecombatCode Combat Code Combat is an on-line game where you use JavaScript to advance through levels, defeat ogres and wizards. With single-player and multi-player levels, it’s perfect for any aged kid. Plus, it’s free to play and a fun way to learn coding.



Picture: (c) Digital Dream Labs,  With Puzzlets (formerly called Ludos), your kids can use plastic pieces on a base connected to your tablet to direct the character in your game and solve puzzles. The pieces have simple commands directing the character in the game to go up, right, down, and even jump.


machineersMachineers Machineers is a puzzle adventure game for kids ages 8 to 14. It stars Zola, a young girl who wants to be a machineer at her uncle’s repair shop in an amusement park town. Build your own mechanical inventions and vehicles with this game. Machineers should be available in the iTunes store soon, but you can download the demo for your PC now.

beebotBee-Bot Bee-Bot is another app that is perfect for the younger kids. Help your kid, ages 4 and up, learn directional language and programming while directing their bee robot through various scenarios.

This is an online version of the familiar BeeBot floor robots. We really like it because it is so simple to use and, again, children get the hang of it very quickly. However, it would be sad if it became a substitute for the actual robots because for this age range we think it is really important that they experience programming tangible objects – controlling things on a screen is something most children are used to, there is always a ‘wow’ factor when they realise they can programme ‘real’ things!

daisy-the-dinoDaisy the Dinosaur Kids, ages 6-10, can use a drag and drop interface to program and animate Daisy the Dinosaur. Your kids can learn the basics of objects, sequencing, loops, and events by solving the challenges in this app.

Not so innovative, more an old favourite. A great programme for FP/KS1. We think the age range is a bit ambitious and have found 4-7 more realistic. Young children love it and pick it up very easily – many will teach themselves in a few minutes – you just have to nudge them a bit.  However, as they get better the older and / or more able kids get frustrated that they cannot create their own ‘games’ and are limited in what they can control.

kidsrubyKidsRuby Kids can learn the programming language Ruby through this downloadable computer program. While not a game like the other apps, KidsRuby lets you write code and see the output instantaneously. Don’t know Ruby? Don’t worry. The help files will take you step-by-step through the process. It’s a lot of fun!


jen hughes

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