Basic programming has become an essential skill for grown-ups and children alike, and the marketplace is full of coding programs for kids. The benefits of picking up this skill, especially for kids, are huge: Learning how to build simple websites and games helps kids refine their design, logic, and problem-solving abilities. It also allows them to express ideas and creativity in unique ways.
There are several FREE and low-cost programs that teach children how to code. We’ve rounded up 13 of our favorite coding programs for kids below.
Find even more educational tech posts for kids in our STEAM Guide.
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Free Coding Programs for Kids
Students celebrate completing their coding challenges. Photo courtesy of Code.org.
This nonprofit foundation’s website is an excellent starting point for coding novices. It shares plenty of useful online resources, apps, and even local schools that teach coding. Be sure to watch the inspirational video on the main page. The current iteration features some of the biggest names in tech talking about how they got started in coding.
Particularly useful for kids, Code Monster features two adjacent boxes. One displays code, the other shows what the code does. As you play with the code (with some help from a prompt), you learn what each command does.
Known for its extensive and challenging math games, Khan Academy also has basic programming tutorials that teach kids how to build graphics, animations, interactive visualizations, and more. Its latest addition is a partnership with Pixar, which gives users a chance to learn how Pixar artists do their jobs.
Designed by MIT students and aimed at children ages 8-16, this easy-to-use programming language lets kids build almost anything they can dream. There are no obscure lines of code here. Instead, arrange and snap together Scratch blocks as if they are virtual Legos. It’s more than just a coding guide; it’s a vibrant online community of programmers who swap ideas and inspiration.
Designed by Apple for the iPad, Swift Playgrounds is a much more sophisticated-looking version of Code Combat (see below), with the added benefit of being FREE. Kids solve interactive puzzles in the guided “Learn to Code” lessons to master the basics of coding or experiment with a wide range of challenges that let users explore many unique coding experiences. It requires an iPad with iOS 12.0 or higher.
Low-Cost and Subscription-Based Coding Programs for Kids
Basic class is FREE, then $19.99/month
This interactive website is user-friendly and teaches kids basic code through fun, simple exercises that feel like games. To go beyond the basics, you’ll need to subscribe.
$20-$29/month following FREE trial
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Kids learn how to program their own games. Photo courtesy of Code Combat
Prices start at $9.99/month following FREE trial
Best for older kids, Code Combat uses an interactive, competitive gameplay mode to stimulate learning. Kids can be online, playing in seconds; advanced skills do come with a cost. The game itself looks quite antiquated and might not thrill kids raised with games more sophisticated than Donkey Kong.
Prices start at $7/month with discounts for long-term commitments; multiple users are allowed
Put those ubiquitous emojis to work educationally with this website that eschews complex codes for user-friendly expressions, quite literally. Kids learn to code by using emojis to substitute for HTML or CSS codes. They’ll have so much fun they won’t realize the work they’re putting in. The initial lesson is FREE.
$6.99/month or $59.88/year following FREE trial
$2.99 one-time charge
Lightbot’s low-cost app is all-ages friendly and available for iOS, Android, and Amazon devices.
Starter programming is FREE, then $99-$199/year depending on the package selected
Inspired by Scratch’s snapping blocks system, this software allows users to create simple games for iOS, Android, Flash, Windows, Linux, and Mac systems. If your child is serious about it, there are paid pro plans that come with advanced functionality, including the ability to publish and sell your games. Best for kids ages 12 and up.
RELATED: Tekkie Uni Brings Online Coding, Robotics, and Digital Art to Kids Everywhere
Kids work together to create code. Photo courtesy of Tynker
Prices start at $20/month with discounts for long-term commitments
Like many popular coding programs, Tynker works with interlocking blocks of code, making the language accessible to beginners. Classes are split into recommended-age categories for easy entry points. Each child needs an account, but multi-child discounts are available, and there are occasional sales, too.
Bonus: There are tons of great coding apps if you’re looking to teach your kids to code on the go (and more are released all the time!). Try Daisy the Dinosaur, Hopscotch, Grasshopper, Space Coders, Code Masters Wonderwood, Code Karts, and CodeSpark Academy, for starters.
This article was first published in September 2013 but is regularly updated. Prices listed are as of January 2020. Drew Kristofik contributed additional reporting.