As coding becomes a more widely demanded skill, youth are eager to get on the bandwagon at seemingly younger and younger ages. When I taught preschool, I would occasionally have children even as young as four and five asking me to teach them how to make a video game. I felt conflicted because I didn’t want my little ones to get discouraged, biting off more than they could chew, but I also wanted to encourage their enthusiasm. To build on their excitement, I added games and activities to our schedule to build logical skills they would need without stressing them out with the rigor of actual coding before they were ready for it.
Incorporating activities that reinforce students’ use of symbols, sequencing, and automation can be great early steps in teaching them to think like a computer.
Sequencing is vital to computational thinking, and you can add it with either quiet or noisy activities.
- Create patterns together with printable worksheets or paper and craft supplies. Check out Math is Fun for some of these activities.
- Play rhythm games with your students to help them predict elements in order. AshleyDanyew.com has several great ideas to try.
Substituting a symbol for a concept lays the groundwork for a command in a coding language being substituted for an expected action in a program. These activities may seem like they require literacy, but you can substitute pictures for words or actions.
- Prepare a list of simple pictures (e.g., a blue triangle could represent one person’s name or a drawing of the moon or sun could represent gestures of sleeping or waking up). If your children enjoy coloring and drawing, you can start this activity by having the children make the pictures. With a set of drawings completed, you can have the children create simple messages together with them.
- Spell children’s names by making secret codes. Visit picklebums for some fun secret code activities with printable papers and physical objects.
You can use physical games to get younger students thinking about how one action in a program leads to the next. Once students learn to string two actions together, you can add a third, and so on.
- Play Simon Says: This game is well-known and easy to teach. You can add a twist to it to reinforce automation. Prepare a list of instructions that can build on each other. For example, you could have instructions like: “lift your hand partway,” “lift your hand all the way,” “move your hand side to side,” and “wiggle your fingers.” Those could be combined in two or three-step commands to make a hello wave (lift your hand all the way, move your hand side to side) or play the piano (lift your hand partway, wiggle your fingers). You can expect children under 2nd grade to remember about three to four instructions in a row once they get the hang of it.
- Play robot: this is the opposite of Simon Says. Again, prepare a list of commands. You will act as the robot, you’ll give students a goal (e.g. open the door), and students must use the instructions in the list you made to tell you how to do this. Children will give all the instructions at once, and you’ll complete them in the order they are given.
Bethany Goossen is a curriculum writer and coding teacher with Best Brains Learning Centers.