Teach your kids to code with a deck of cards!

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Today I am going to be sharing a SUPER SIMPLE coding game for kids. We use this activity to introduce kids to coding and to teach basic coding skills. This STEM activity is so easy to set up, it essentially requires no work or prep! All you need for this coding activity for kids is a deck of cards, some tape, and some toys that you already have lying around your house or classroom.

This activity is an example of a screen-free coding activity or ‘coding unplugged’ activity. Coding doesn’t always mean you have to be attached to your computer! For another outdoor SUPER SILLY screen free coding activity, check out this coding unplugged activity. 

Screen Free Coding Activity

What Coding Skills are Taught?

At the most basic level, coding involves giving instructions to a computer to make something happen. In this activity, we will be practicing giving instructions to our ‘robots’ or ‘toys’ that they will follow. By giving the correct instructions, we will help our robots make it to the finish line.

In the advanced version of the activity, kids will need to think ahead and problem-solve by writing the ENTIRE code in advance. They will also get the opportunity to ‘debug’ if their code doesn’t work out.

What do you need?

Coding Activity for Kindergarten

What age is this coding activity with kids geared towards?

This activity is suitable for kids age 4 and up. There are different levels of difficulty depending on the age and skills of the child.

My son is 4.5 and he loved this activity!

How to Set Up this Screen Free Coding Activity:

Coding Unplugged Activity

This activity is SUPER easy to set up.  You want to create a grid with the deck of cards. I made a 7×7 grid with our deck. I used painter’s tape to secure the deck of cards to the floor.

Then I took a bunch of toys and placed them on the cards such that it would be difficult for my son to figure out how to get from the start to the finish. Essentially you are creating a maze with the toys.

We used a car as our ‘robot’. You can also use an action figure, a game piece, a sticker, or ANYTHING. Cars are nice because it’s easy to understand which direction they are facing when you are giving your ‘coding instructions’ later on.

Just like any kid who has ever been exposed to YouTube, my son is obsessed with kinder surprise eggs. SO I used this as the prize. You absolutely do not need a prize for this game. Lots of kids will be motivated just to solve the puzzle. Other ideas would be to have an action figure that needs to ‘rescue’ someone at the end.  There are so many possible adaptations to this game.

How to Play:

Kids Coding Activity

Start with your ‘robot’ in the starting position. You will need to give ‘coding instructions’ to the robot to get him to the finish line to claim the prize!

Coding for kids: EASY VERSION

  • We played the easy version with my son who is 4.5. In this version, the ‘coding instructions’ are given one at a time to direct the robot to the finish line (prize)
  • e.g. ‘ Move forward 3 cards’, ‘turn’ ‘move backward 1 card’ etc.
  • After each instruction, the ‘robot’ will move and then the child will have to make a decision as to what the next instruction should be.
  • It’s fun to switch roles. My son liked being the robot and the ‘programmer’. When my son was the robot, he got excellent practice of his listening skills.

Coding for kids: HARD VERSION

  • For the more difficult version of this game, kids will need to give the ENTIRE code in advance.
  • It can help to have a piece of paper to write out the code (either pictorial or with words depending on the child’s reading level)
  • Once the child is happy with their code, the parent will get the robot to perform the code. If there is a mistake, the child will have a chance to ‘debug’ their code and fix it for the next run.
  • This can also be done with a coding robot toy. Check out my review of both the Botley Coding Robot and the Edison Robot for more ideas!

Pin for Later!

Coding Activity for Kids Screen Free Coding Activity

Katie is mom of two rambunctious boys and a self-proclaimed super nerd. With a background in neuroscience, she is passionate about sharing her love of all things STEM with her kids. She loves to find creative ways to teach kids computer science and geek out about coding and math.  You can find her blogging at Teach Your Kids Code and in her spare time, documenting her families travels at Tear Free Travel.

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