Learning to code without a computer may seem illogical, but it makes perfect sense. Unplugging the computer and teaching coding through more familiar mediums such as hands-on activities, can make the subject less intimidating and more interactive.
In the grand scheme of things, the basic principles of coding teach metacognition, problem-solving, and abstract thinking. These are valuable skills to have even if a career in computer programming isn’t in the immediate future. We’ve compiled a list of our favorite hands-on coding activities from our Pinterest Board, Coding Unplugged, so you can have fun coding in a variety of ways!
Follow the Sequence
What does sandwich-making have to do with coding? If you do this hilarious sequence activity, you’ll find out! Making a simple sandwich may seem easy, but imagine having to write out the entire process, step-by-step, for someone else to follow. Creating a code for a computer to process is similar. Both require a person (the coder) to create a sequence, that if followed, will always produce the same product. Watch this family try the sandwich-making challenge:
This can also be done for activities other than sandwich-making. In fact, anything that comes with instructions such as furniture or technological gadgets detail sequences of steps to achieve a desired outcome. In actual coding, inputting specific symbols in a sequence influence the end result as well.
Get little ones interested in computers with this fun activity! Emojis are becoming more complex with greater variety every year, so start off with the simplest symbols. In addition to familiarizing children with this technological form of communication, it also teaches them how to better interpret emotions and icons.
Photo by Hello Ruby
- Tell a story. Sometimes it’s hard to tell what each emoji is communicating. Tell a story of the situation where you’d use each of these emojis.
- Name it. Give a name to the feeling behind each of these emojis. Explain to you friend. Did you come up with different answers?
- Practice. Can you make a silly face? What about a confused one? Can your friend guess which emoji you’re trying to do?
- Design. Make your own emoji. Think about a feeling you’ve had and how to make it into an emoji. Use materials like paper, cardboard and glitter.
Code Your Name
Photo by Mama Smiles
Using ASCII code, anyone can write their name in binary! In fact, you can write your name using the numbers themselves, or, you create a cool keychain, bracelet or necklace.
To create a keepsake using binary code, assign a separate color for 0, 1, and spaces. In the bracelet above, blue is used to space out each separate letter code. This is a great opportunity to learn about how computers process numbers and symbols. What may seem like an ordinary bracelet, is actually a sequence that spells out a complete thought! Did you know that braille is another form of binary code? So is Morse code! Learn more about the braille alphabet and Morse code from our Pinterest, which may lead to more coding activities!
Photo by Mama Smiles
Hello Ruby: Adventures in Coding
This is a great read-aloud coding story and activity book in-one! Through this book, children learn how to “break big problems into small problems, look for patterns, create step-by-step plans, and think outside the box” with an adult. There are exercises in every chapter to reinforce these concepts, making learning fun.
“Meet Ruby―a small girl with a huge imagination, and the determination to solve any puzzle. As Ruby stomps around her world making new friends, including the Wise Snow Leopard, the Friendly Foxes, and the Messy Robots, kids will be introduced to the fundamentals of computational thinking, like how to break big problems into small ones, create step-by-step plans, look for patterns and think outside the box through storytelling. These basic coding and programming concepts will be reinforced through fun playful exercises and activities that encourage exploration and creativity.
The book’s website also has a slew of other great unplugged coding activities for both home and the classroom.
Coding a Lego Maze
You can do a lot with Legos, even code! This activity teaches children how to think like a programmer with multiple maze variations depending on your child’s comfort level with coding. The activity comes complete with worksheets and instructions:
- Level 1:The child can see the specific problem at hand and step by step walk their LEGO figure out of the maze. Like the game Robot Turtles, this easiest level teaches the child to think from a point of reference different than their own. The child’s left may not be the same as the figure-in-the-maze’s left, but even the youngest kids can learn this valuable skill of switching reference frame.
- Level 2:Hopefully, by the time they’ve mastered Level 1, your child will realize that it’s a bit tedious to tell the character to move forward 7 times in a row. Rather, it would be handy to just have a way to say “Do this next command 7 times.” This level introduces the concept of “for loops.”
- Level 3:Older children might be ambitious enough at this point to realize that an awful lot of work goes into solving a specific maze using the method of Levels 1 and 2. With the introduction of “while loops” and “if statements”, kids can challenge themselves to write as short a program as possible to solve a specific maze. The programmer just needs to consider all possibilities at any random location for their LEGO figure and decide the best generic sequence of actions. For example, what should the character do if there’s an opening to their left? What if they’ve hit a dead end?
- Level 4:While kids will hopefully experience success in Level 3, they will likely find that if they try to use their code on a different maze, it may not work. It’s possible that their figure will get stuck in what programmers call an “infinite loop”, repeating the same behavior over and over again without being able to escape. By introducing a random number generator, older kids can write a program that can get their figure out of any maze.
Photo by Research Parent
For more instruction details and visuals, check out the original post at Research Parent.
For more information about the benefits of computer-free coding, check out our recent blog post, Want Your Kids to Learn Coding? Start by Unplugging the Computer. If you're still hungry for unplugged coding activities, be sure to read our recent blog post about ThinkFun’s top 5 Offline Games That Teach Kids Coding Skills for a great time! We're also launching a brand-new series of programming games soon, which you can learn more about here. Be sure to follow our social media platforms to get the latest information on all of our coding games!