Tynker Games: Use these age-appropriate games to teach your elementary students coding concepts. From Puppy Adventures to Math Art and Maze Craze, you’ll find games that students in grades 1–8 will enjoy. Tynker also has a curriculum and STEM product library that you may want to peruse if you’re interested in combining programming with social studies, English, math, and science.
Kodable started as an app targeted to students as young as kindergarten age, but it’s now a complete curriculum. The first 30 levels are free, more than enough for an hour of code. Kodable is recommended for ages 5 and up, but there are stories of kids even younger using the app with great success. Students don’t need to know how to read in order to program using this game.
ScratchJr is a version of Scratch intended for ages 5–7 and available as a free iPad or Android app.
A favorite of some programmers, LightbotJr targets children ages 4–8.
Robot Turtles is a board game that teaches children the basics of programming without having to use any technology.
Teaching Coding to Kids 8 and Up
Hopscotch is a free iPad app for upper elementary and above. Wesley Fryer has curated resources for Hopscotch in the classroom that are full of challenges that you can use with students. He also recommends activating the emoji keyboard (go to Settings > General > Keyboards) for use with the program.
Lightbot is a puzzle game with a free version that lasts an hour and full versions for sale on iTunes and Google Play. It teaches planning, testing, debugging, procedures, and loops.
Alice is a popular platform with a unique storytelling aspect. You can use it to create a game, tell a story, or make an animated video. Like Scratch, Alice is free and supported by a powerful community of educators. There are two versions of Alice. The newer 3.0 version still has a few bugs but sports many new, very cool animations. This long-standing platform is a rewarding tool that kids will want to keep using past the initial hour. Alice is considered more for the intermediate student, but experienced teachers can use it with beginners.
Kodu is a programming tool that can be easily used on a PC or Xbox to create a simple game. There’s also a math curriculum. Pat Yongpradit, Code.org’s director of education, used this in his computer science classroom. (I’ve used it as well.)
Gamestar Mechanic offers a free version that you might want to use for your Hour of Code, but if you fall in love with it, the educational package allows teachers to track student progress, among other features. The company supports educators with videos and a must-see teacher’s guide.
GameMaker: Studio is an option if you want to make games that can be played in any web browser. The resources aren’t as comprehensive as with some of the other tools here and the community isn’t vibrant, but this one has been around for a while and might be fun for a more tech-savvy teacher.
SpaceChem is an interesting mix of chemistry, reading, and programming for ages 12 and up. As students read the 10,000-word novelette, they have to solve puzzles by assembling molecules. SpaceChem created a helpful guide for educators. This tool is available for download on Steam and installation on Windows, Mac, and Ubuntu. (Download a free demo.)
CodeCombat is a multiplayer game that teaches coding. It’s free to play at the basic level, and students don’t have to sign up. It has the advantage that teachers don’t have to know computer science to empower learning in programming. It’s recommended for ages 9 and up. See the teacher guide for the information and standards covered in this game.