Top 5 Coding Games for Kids That They’ll Want to Play

If you’ve been keeping up on edtech news in the past decade, you might have noticed that coding courses have been targeting younger and younger students every year. Starting in college? Lost cause. High school? Behind! Elementary school? Perfect. The younger and younger the lessons will start, until we learn how to pre-program babies to be tech geniuses.

While this might seem like micromanagement of children’s destinies to some, we must all face the truth: coding is the new writing. As computer programming skills become more and more crucial to future careers, coding will become more prevalent as a required skill for high school graduation.

So, once we’ve faced the music about the need for students to start programming instruction young, where do we begin? Coding camps are all the rage right now, and well worth the expense, but not all parents can afford the additional cost of instruction. So, we took a look at a few of the more affordable coding games out there to see just what the worldwide web has to offer.

Top 5 Coding Games for Kids That They’ll Want to Play

5. CodeMonkey

Ages: 9+

Cost: $29/year per individual, $295/year per class

Short story: Cute monkeys, real code

Long story: CodeMonkey doesn’t just teach kids the basic principles of programming–it promises to teach them real coding languages that they could use to build their own website. Also, there’s a social element, so students in a classroom setting can compete against each other for top scores…for better or for worse.

The catch: the game is 9+ (suggestion, not a rule), and while a K-5 teacher can use the game in class, students must be 13 or older to play at home. Yet clearly, the cute cartoon monkey design was made for a younger crowd. That’s COPPA, cramping edtech companies’ style since 2000.

4. Kodable

Age: 5-7

Cost: Freemium–$7 for pro, bulk discounts available by quote for school purchase

Short story: Coding curriculum + software for classroom, computer lab, and home learning

Long story: Particularly helpful for a classroom setting, Kodable provides a supplementary coding curriculum for teachers along with its coding games for kids. This could be helpful for really getting kids to understand the principles behind coding, as well as glossary terms and the purpose of code. It also helps teachers who have limited access to computers to provide lessons to students outside of the computer lab, preparing them with worksheets and physical learning games before jumping into the application of the principles during computer lab time.

The catch: It’s maybe a little (or definitely very) optimistic to think that elementary-age children can immediately grasp and delve into actual code, but I feel like the pseudo-code taught in Kodable (and many other coding games) may provide an added, unnecessary step to actual code. The logic behind coding is certainly there, and it’s simple enough for a kindergartner to understand the game structure, if not the glossary terms.

3. Lightbot

Age: 8+

Cost: Free, $3 for the app (iOS/Android)

Short story: Coding game

Long story: Kind of like the 21st century Pong for coding apps, Lightbot is a simple, streamlined game for a computer, iOS or Android device. Players must create a full sequence of code to complete a puzzle, which is not only a pretty apt simulation of real-life coding, but a fun challenge. While there doesn’t seem to be a curriculum or teacher portal or any tracking system involved, the bare bones game to teach bare bones coding logic is refreshing in its simplicity.

The catch: I don’t know if this app has any more educational depth than Minesweeper…or chess, but it does seem like an uncomplicated first step to developing the logic behind programming. As the app’s info page defines programming (or coding) as “simply the way people tell a computer what to do using instructions that the computer understands,” the blueprints of learning to code are certainly set in motion.

2. Scratch

Age: 9+ (5-7 for ScratchJR)

Cost: FREE

Short story: Animation meets coding game from MIT Media Lab

Long story: It’s kind of a no-brainer to look to MIT for any sort of technical instruction and educational innovation, so of course they’ve invented a game to teach coding, too. Scratch allows players to mix and match commands to program animations, games, or stories. It’s pretty engaging, no matter what your age or interests.

The catch: It’s not the most glamorous or complex game, but the instruction and research behind it is solid, and, most importantly, it’s FREE.

1. SpaceChem

Age: 10-adult

Cost: Free demo, $10 (Steam), $3 (iOS/Android)

Short story: Narrative, multi-subject space action adventure educational game

Long story: Space, chemistry, and programming, all in one educational game? It’s a STEM educator’s dream come true. The concepts taught within this game are higher-level and cover multiple STEM disciplines, the cool modern design and complex story lines involving building machines, fighting monsters, space, and other cool things that make loud noises will certainly impress. Bonus, it also hones in on engineering careers to give students an idea of what it would be like to use these skills in the real world.

The Catch: While the utter coolness of the game might make the difficulty level of the concepts addressed palatable, the game really is made for an older crowd. There are some slight references to vague violence, but it’s probably about as graphic as Super Mario.

Hannah Nyren

Hannah Nyren

Hannah Nyren is the General Manager of EdTech Times. A Texan by birth but a Bostonian at heart, Hannah is an educational writer, AmeriCorps alum, and one-time StartupWeekend EDU (SWEDU) winning team member. She started her career at a Pearson-incubated edtech startup, but has since covered travel, food & culture, and even stonemasonry in addition to education.