Coding for Kindergarten: [Coding Concepts Five Year Olds Can Understand]

 

I was doing some research these past few days on this subject because I was really fascinated and intrigued by how early these days a young child can learn the basic concepts of coding.

Coding for kindergarten kids is much simpler than we think. Children as young as five can already understand some of the basic coding concepts, even if they don’t know or understand what they are specifically.

So what does coding for a five-year-old look like? As it turns out, we all use coding concepts on a regular basis without even thinking about it. You would be surprised how almost anything you do in your daily routine can be used as an example when explaining the concepts of computer programming to children. Brushing your teeth, getting dressed, making pancakes. All of these are examples of real-life algorithms we use in our daily lives. I’ll explain how to use the examples below in a coding activity in a typical kindergarten classroom. If you are looking to introduce the basic concepts of coding to a kindergarten child, here are some easy ways to do it.

Coding Concept #1: Algorithm

If you use the word algorithm to a five-year-old child, they probably look at you in a strange way because it doesn’t mean anything to them. However, they actually use algorithms on a daily basis, and the concept is easy to understand.

An algorithm is an instruction or a series of instructions given in order to complete a certain task and receive the desired result. So, a computer programmer will write an algorithm to tell the computer how to perform a certain task to obtain the desired result.

Explaining algorithms to a kindergarten child means telling them in their own language of things that they do every day, or they see being done every day.

One great example is deciding which clothes to put on after you get out of the shower. Which piece would you put on first? You would not put your underwear on after your jeans. Or you would not put your t-shirt over your sweater. When getting dressed there is a certain order to put clothes on to make sure you are dressed correctly.

Coding Concept #2: Sequence

Teaching children about the concept of a sequence is a fairly easy task. Sequence is basically completing a task in a certain order. So if we refer to algorithms above, it means putting all the instructions in order. A great introduction to coding for children is to learn about sequencing, as this is a core skill that is a foundation to many concepts across the curriculum.

You can easily integrate a lesson on sequencing by reading a children’s book or nursery rhyme. Break the story into pictures that explain the sequence of events in your book. For example, if you are using a popular story like in Little Red Riding Hood, you can ask the children to identify the correct order of events when Little Red Riding Hood goes to her grandmother’s house.

Coding Concept #3: Loop

Mention the word loop to kindergarten children and they may already have an idea of what is it about. What is a loop? Something that goes round and round again.

When explaining coding to kindergarten children, it’s useful if we start with an example of something that they do every day. For loops, an example could be how they arrive at school every day. If every day the child takes the same direction either by foot or car, this can be considered a loop. Have your children outline the steps that they take every day to get to school, maybe these will be as follows: walk out of the house to the bus stop, wait for the bus, get on the school bus, make four stops, arrive at school, walk to the classroom.

Wouldn’t it be simpler if they didn’t have to write these steps every time they went to school? They already do this naturally, by labeling this algorithm “getting to school routine”. Since every day they repeat the same steps, this is considered a loop. Computer programmers use loops to make their programs more efficient.

When kindergarten children learn loops, they also become faster and more efficient. For example, learning how to get dressed for outdoor playtime goes faster when the teacher only has to say “get dressed” and does not have to tell the child how to put each item of clothing separately.

Coding Concept #4: Branch

Branching basically means checking conditions which determine the choice being made. So, in other words, making a decision depending on what is happening or what has happened.

When explaining the coding concept of branching to children, you can use the example of their school day using different steps of what they would expect to happen. For example, a normal school day would be: wake up, get dressed, eat breakfast, brush your teeth, go to school, come home from school, play, have dinner, read a book, go to bed. But what if on Wednesdays the child has some kind of practice after school or but on Thursday the child is going out to dinner with their parents so they will get home late and there is no time to read a book.

Using the child’s routines, and the variations of their “normal routine”, can help children understand what branching means when learning the basics of coding.

Coding Concept #5: Debug

Debugging has nothing to do with bugs or insects that children find in the garden. Though that’s what they might think the first time you introduce the coding concept of debugging.

Debugging is basically fixing an issue that they come across within the instructions in order to produce the desire result. So, if you are talking about debugging with children, they basically need to understand that to debug, is to fix a potential problem. Debugging is one of the most important coding skills to teach in the kindergarten classroom, as this concept teaches skills that go well beyond the computer. There are so many benefits in teaching children to code, and debugging helps children builds resilience and problem-solving skills essential for their future.

A good example to use for kindergarten children is giving them steps to follow and making an error in the mistakes. So, “write out a sequence” but put one step in the wrong order. Start out by giving instructions to the student that cause them to run into an obstacle. The student will soon realize that there is a “problem” with these instructions and have to figure out how they can fix them to solve the problem.

Debugging is not always the easiest coding concept to understand. Most children can become impatient. Many want the answer right there and then. It is an important coding concept to learn because of problem-solving plays a large part in computer programming.

 

If you have any questions or comments about this post, please leave a comment below, I will get back to you as soon as I can.

6 thoughts on “Coding for Kindergarten: [Coding Concepts Five Year Olds Can Understand]”

  1. LOL when you say children can become frustrated with debugging. EVERYONE get’s frusrated with debugging. As someone who’s been involved in computer science I can easily tell you that for any programmer out there debugging is the most boring and frustrating part there is. 

    You’ve written a whole bunch of code and for some reason it doesn’t work. Somewhere there is like one letter or bracket you missed which stops you and can keep you busy dismantling your code for hours. Even better is when it’s the opposite way around after you start playing around with your code you’ll eventually get to a point where it works but you’ve got no idea at all why. 

    • You are right on point Faheem, I understand you, I was a programmer for almost 40 years. Thanks for your prompt response and comments.

  2. This was a fabulous post! I have a 5-year-old myself and I can definitely attest to the fact that kids these days know a whole lot more than my generation did at their age. I can definitely see how simple coding concepts could be understood by children of that age. 

    I really like that you put instructions in there on how to introduce your children to the concept of code in their own language. I think it’s important to speak to children in their own language so that they will understand what you are talking about. I also wouldn’t have thought about using simple everyday tasks as an example of an algorithm. Great ideas, keep it up!

    • Thanks, Stormy for your prompt response and your kind words. If I ever can be of any assistance, just drop me a comment on my website. Have a wonderful evening.

  3. You have wonderfully compared the coding to kindergarten in your Coding for Kindergarten blog. I like the concept very well and thinking to own this concept for my daughter.

    She is right now in early algorithm and sequence stage, but still not in age to understand the explanation properly. However, with time I shall positively follow your concept with proper explanation.

    Thank you for sharing the idea.

    • Good to hear Dr. Sd. If you ever need any help on the Educational Robots subject, please let me know.

      Thanks for your prompt response.

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