Foundational Concepts of Coding Belong in Early Childhood Education

Nichole Leigh-MostyCurriculum

It is my belief that the future our children will live and work in will be very different from the one we currently know. Innovation and technology, coupled with globalization, will only continue apace and change today’s world. As a mother, I find this rather exciting for my own children. As an educator, I am careful about the choices I make regarding how best to prepare young children for challenges they will encounter as they grow. Skills and a basic understanding of computer sciences will enable our children to be technologically and digitally literate.

Computer code is vital and entwined everywhere. Its presence runs deeper and deeper into the huge array of electronic devices we use every day. Coding allows new products to be invented and existing ones to be improved. The possibilities seem endless and the opportunities for today’s child limitless.

Our education system, therefore, has an important role to play in creating first interest, and second a foundation, for children to understand how technology actually works. Coding for preschoolers is as important for them to learn as it is to read and learn math. Coding activities can lay the foundation to help children to think like a computer programmer.

I have been told that anyone can learn to code. Coding is basically giving your computer instructions in a language it understands, in order to produce a specific result. Many seem to think it is just for adults, but that’s not the case. Coding no doubt is also for children, even children in preschool.


Teaching children how to code has numerous benefits and advantages that go well beyond programming a computer. Coding teaches skills such as learning to problem solve efficiently and helping to develop persistence, resilience, and determination which are all highly sought-after skills life in general. Identifying and defining an objective and then the process needed to achieve the objective is an essential concept to grasp – an invaluable life tool even for non-programmers.

One might find it a bit advanced to begin working with technology, especially coding, at the early childhood level. I have often illustrated the importance of laying down the foundations for children in their early years. When it comes to computer sciences, especially coding, we are laying down the foundations to learn to think logically - like a computer programmer. Truth be told you don’t even need a computer for our unplugged preschool coding activities.

As is the case with any other subject taught in the early years, coding is best introduced through fun, hands-on games, and activities. Activities that have a problem to solve and promote logical thinking are a perfect choice. Through fun and engaging activities, they won’t even realize they are learning the skills needed to code. Here are three simple games we are using now at ScuttleBugs to teach children about coding. Feel free to use them at home!

Treasure hunts are both fun and require many of the skills that computer programmers use when coding. When you go on a treasure hunt with instructions and directions, the children can follow these to find their treasure. This teaches children how a set of instructions (algorithms) is used to perform a specific task. Or, in geek-speak, algorithms, to direct a computer to perform a task.

It is really quite simple. You place “treasures” all-around a room or garden, then draw a map with simple instructions.  Instructions like: 2 big steps forward, 3 small steps right, Crawl under the table, and so on. If they make a mistake they must go back and start again (debug the code!) until they find where the treasure is hidden.

Along the same lines following a maze is a great coding activity because it helps them to develop resilience. If they find they are going in the wrong direction, they need to go back and try again until they find another path to follow. To add a twist and some extra fun you can make a blindfolded maze. One child (blindfolded) acts as the ‘computer’ and one as the ‘programmer’. The programmer has to give instructions (algorithm) to help the blindfolded computer through the maze.
Finally just about any game or activity that uses mathematics is a useful coding activity for children. There are lots of easy and fun number sense games that help teach children to understand numbers. It could be a board game, a made-up sports game, or a maze or treasure hunt giving clues in the form of addition and subtraction.

One way to get children counting is by using a grid maze. Children have to be able to count the spaces in the grid to give their “computer” the right instructions. We created a super simple grid maze with chalk in an outdoor screen-free coding activity that was perfect for preschoolers it improved their programming concepts by using their math skills! Two for the price of one maybe but it’s also teaching how two different a variety of skills can be combined through one activity.

Children learn best when having fun. Play is the best means of education a young child can have. All three of the developmentally appropriate coding activities mentioned above are activities that children can easily take part in, and learn to even lead, in their day to day lives at home or at school.

Coding for preschoolers doesn’t have to be complicated. It’s just incorporating the skills used in computer programming into children‘s activities and play in a natural and fun way.