Toolkit: Coding for families 101

By: Anna Ly
Have an hour to spare? Let’s get your family coding!
Hour of Code Banner

This week we’re celebrating Hour of Code, a global movement that reaches millions of students across more than 180 countries for one week every year in December. People of all ages get together to write short snippets of code and try programming for the first time.

By spending an hour with your family coding, you can encourage them to get excited about computer science.

This family guide will help you enjoy learning how to code with three simple exercises — no previous experience required. These tools are free, the activities are lots of fun, and in an hour you’ll be able to to call yourselves coders!

What is coding?

When you code or program, you’re writing instructions to a computer to get it to do something — these instructions are called programs. They are written in special languages and rules designed for a computer to understand. There are tools and applications that help teach coding without the need to know advanced computer languages so kids can learn programming and computational thinking skills easily. This helps them grasp the basics of concepts like algorithms, recursion, and heuristics while keeping the learning process light and easy. That’s what we’ll do in this hour.

Why should kids learn to code?

  • Learning to code helps kids express themselves, grow confidence, build things, solve problems, and understand computational thinking and logic.
  • The skills that kids learn from coding can apply to other subjects like math, science and art.
  • Kids can better understand technology by interacting AND creating with it.
  • Programming is a great entry skill to introduce kids to careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
  • We need more coders!
STEM Pie Chart

What will we use to learn coding?

There are many programs that you can use with your family to learn coding. For this guide, we will be using Scratch. Scratch, developed by the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab, is a free programming language and online community for novice coders. It’s easy to use and includes support tools, libraries of fun graphics, sounds and activities that kids love. Scratch’s community of makers, artists, kids and teachers share projects and encourage each other to code.

Scratch lets you design programs by connecting colorful blocks. The groups of blocks are called scripts, and they tell the sprites (or “characters”) what to do. Through the online application, you can make interactive stories, animations, art, and music, and share your creations with a community of new coders just like you.

This guide has three Scratch exercises to choose from. Each can be done in under an hour.

About the author(s): 

Anna Ly is a media and technology designer and business strategist. She is on the 2016 Forbes 30 under 30 list and received the Biz Journal Women of Influence award for her dedication to impactful media and technologies. She's worked on development projects at Sesame Workshop, Intel, Amazon Studios, Out of the Blue Entertainment, The Joan Ganz Cooney Center and The Fred Rogers Center. You can find her on Twitter and LinkedIn