A programming language is one of the ways that humans communicate with computers. We tell computers or robots what to do by writing computer programs.
What is the best programming language for kids to learn? There is no single correct answer.
Every child is different. Some kids are more visual-inclined, while others prefer text-based coding at a young age.
In this blog post, I have curated a list of programming languages that are suitable for kids to learn.
Types of Programming Languages
For educational purposes, we can categorize programming languages into two main categories:
- Visual, Block-based Programming languages
- Text-Based Programming languages
Block-based programming languages like Scratch or Block.ly introduce coding to young kids. Kids learn to code by dragging and dropping blocks. It is easy to start even for kids who still can’t read.
However, kids should move on to text-based programming as soon as possible.
Text-based programming languages help kids to develop real coding skills. They learn to understand the syntax of programming languages, formulate a solution, and write proper programming statements.
Without further delay, let’s look at my 9 recommended programming languages for kids to learn.
Block-based programming languages for kids
When discussing programming languages for kids, especially for young kids, Scratch by M.I.T is always at the top of the list.
Scratch is a free learning platform. It gives kids the freedom of expression. It does not limit a kid’s creativity.
With Scratch, kids are allowed to create games, interactive stories, and animations. It is easy and fun to learn Scratch. Children create programs by dragging and dropping building blocks.
Besides, they can also share their creations with others in the online community.
Scratch helps young coders to learn problem-solving, to think creatively, and to work collaboratively. It is most suitable for children aged 8 to 13.
It is FREE to sign up and use the Scratch platform. You can find out more about Scratch at scratch.mit.edu.
Blockly Games is a Code With Google program. It aims to teach children the importance of computer science and encourage the development of young programmers.
Blockly Games is a series of educational games. The program is specifically designed for children who have no computer programming experience.
Each Blockly game teaches concepts of programming like loops, conditionals, control-flow, and mathematical equations. By the end of the program, kids are ready to venture into learning conventional text-based programming languages.
Both Blockly.Games and Scratch are built on Google’s Blockly technologies. To learn more about Blockly and Scratch, check out my blog post on Blockly vs Scratch.
It is free to join and learn Blockly Games. You can find out more at Blockly.Games.
Alice is a block-based programming language and an integrated development environment. It is designed to teach programming concepts without the complex semantics of programming language.
Children can learn and create programs by dragging and dropping visual blocks. It is suitable for middle-school-aged kids and university students. Alice is a great introduction to object-oriented programming and also a good foundation course for students who are learning Java.
Alice is written in Java. It could be used with Netbeans (a Java development environment) to convert Alice files into Java.
Alice is a free computer programming educational tool maintained by Carnegie Mellon University.
You can find out more about Alice programming at Alice.org. Alice.org offers a series of How-tos, programming lessons, and Alice software download.
Text-based programming languages for kids
Python is recommended as the first coding language for first-time text-based coders.
It doesn’t overwhelm young coders with complex syntax. Python code is easy to read and understand. It is very close to plain English.
Python is suitable for kids aged 8 and above. Of course, some kids can start earlier when they are ready for text-based coding. Kids would enjoy learning python by creating animations and developing games.
There are many benefits to learning python. The language is used in Data Science, Web Development, Machine Learning, and Automation. (Personally, I use python in financial market analysis. This is just to show how powerful the Python language is).
Here are free Python learning resources:
Python Fiddle http://pythonfiddle.com/
Python Turtle http://pythonturtle.org/
Roblox Lua is a unique scripting language created by Roblox. It utilizes the Lua programming language, so in essence, you are learning Lua programming.
Roblox is a popular gaming platform, but the exciting part of the platform is the ability that allows users to make their own games.
Roblox Lua scripting language is a great choice to introduce text-based coding to children. The programming language is beginner-friendly. It is easy to learn, read, and embed the program into applications.
It is easier for kids to accept the coding challenge when their creations appear on the gaming platform.
To find out more about Roblox Lua, check out the Roblox Developer tutorial page.
Swift (Swift PlayGround)
Swift is a programming language created by Apple Inc. It is a language used to create apps for the iPhone, iPad, and Mac.
Swift PlayGround is a development environment as well as an educational tool for Swift. It is available as an iPad app. The app targets young students starting to learn to code.
Swift PlayGround offers basic programming lessons and gamified challenges. It has a very attractive interface that will attract young coders.
In addition to teaching kids to create apps, Swift PlayGround integrates Robotic education. It allows kids to create programs to control robots and drones.
The app is free and available for download from the Apple AppStore. You can find out more about Swift PlayGround at https://www.apple.com/swift/playgrounds/
This is an old school programming language, but it is one of my favorites. BASIC was invented in the late 1970s. Back then, BASIC was the programming language that all computer owners would try to create simple and small programs on their computers.
It is the first programming language I learned when I was a kid. While it has no commercial usage, BASIC is an excellent introductory programming language for younger kids to start text-based coding.
BASIC is incredibly simple to understand.
I am so glad to discover websites like Microsoft’s Small Basic. You can choose to learn to code online or download Small Basic to your computer.
Ruby is an object-oriented scripting language. It is designed to be programmer-friendly. The programming language comes with simple rules and easy syntax (In case you wonder, the syntax is the programming-equivalent of grammar in English).
The readable syntax of Ruby makes it a good choice of programming language to introduce coding to young coders. A lot of the Ruby programming statements are self-explanatory to students.
As inspirations for new coders, Ruby is used to creating some big-name web applications. Twitter, Kickstart, Basecamp, and Shopify are a few of the well-known applications created using Ruby.
There are a few free online learning resources for Ruby programming for kids:
- Free Ruby book at RubyKin:http://rubykin.com/
- Free Ruby Programming software at KidsRuby: http://kidsruby.com/
Best Programming Language For Kids – Closing Words
In case you wonder why I did not mention Java or C++ on the recommended list?
Java and C++ are powerful programming languages, but they are not the best language of choice for learning to code. In fact, I found that pushing these languages to young or even new adult coders, it might kill off their interest in learning.
Each kid is different. There is no one size fit all method when choosing the best programming language for kids to learn.
Starting from block-based programming, observe their learning. If you find the kid starts to get bored, maybe it is time to move on to the next step, text-based programming.
If you are looking for tips and tricks to teach kids coding, make sure to check out my blog post on Tips to teach kids to code.