When I was young, I had a Commodore 64 computer. Some friends did too, while others had ZX Spectrums or Amstrad CPCs. Arguments over which was best could be heated, but what all these home computers shared was the fact that you could write your own programs for them, not just run those of commercial developers.
Bizarre though it may sound to kids today, my generation spent a fair amount of time copying programs out of magazines, typing them in character-by-character on our computers to make them run, and (in many cases) learning from this process in order to write our own programs. Stimulating fun for most of us, but an early start on the path to a career making games or software for some.
Fast forward to 2013, and children are using computers in greater numbers than ever, from PCs to games consoles, handhelds and tablets. There’s also a big demand for developers – programmers – who can make apps and games for them. But are children getting the same opportunities to cut their teeth at a young age to learn coding skills? Arguably not.
Or perhaps they are. We’ve noticed a number of apps emerge over the past year or so that want to get children thinking about and practising programming on iPad in particular, but iPhone too. Here are five that have stood out for us in particular:
Move the Turtle – Programming for Kids (iPhone / iPad, £1.99)
This was the first coding-for-kids app that we spotted back in 2012, released by a developer called Next Is Great. Aimed at children aged five and upwards, it teaches the basics of programming through a series of challenges, based on the Logo programming language that I remember from my childhood. “A friendly Turtle will introduce your child step by step to the basic concepts of programming in a colourful graphic environment,” explains its App Store listing. Read our original story.
Hakitzu: Code of the Warrior (iPad, Free)
Hopscotch HD (iPad, Free)
Aimed at children aged eight and upwards, Hopscotch HD is described as an “easy-to-use visual programming language” that kids can use to code games and animations on the iPad. How? By dragging and dropping “method blocks” into scripts, before pressing a Play button to see how they run. “No other programming language has been designed to be used on a mobile interface,” claim its developers. Read our original story.
Kodable Pro (iPad, £1.99)
Released today – this is what triggered this article – Kodable Pro is the paid version of an existing app called Kodable. It teaches programming skills through dozens of game-like lessons, all based on the story of the ‘fuzz’ family who’ve crash-landed in a place called Smeeborg, and have to navigate their way through mazes. Logic, problem-solving and critical-thinking are among the skills it aims to encourage for children aged five and upwards. Read our original story.
Bee-Bot (iPhone / iPad, Free)
Bee-Bot is actually a real-world thing: a programmable floor-robot shaped like a bee, which has won awards and been used in a number of schools here in the UK. This is its spin-off app for iPhone and iPad, with 12 levels designed to help children “improve their skills in directional language and programming” as they navigate through 12 levels. It’s joined on the App Store by Bee-Bot Pyramid, which does the same thing with an Ancient Egyptian theme.