Origami Unplugged Coding Activity

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Origami has been around for thousands of years, so what makes it one of the best unplugged coding activities for kids? Find out here!

Whenever I come across a kids’ coding activity, I am always astounded by how many of our everyday kids activities and games are perfect for talking about concepts like Algorithms, Sequences, and Decomposition. These coding vocabulary words might seem daunting, but they refer to super simple ideas you can learn about here. The fact is, you can teach kids to code with any routine, step-based activity. 

Why is origami a great introduction to coding?

Origami is one of the most step-dependant activities I have ever seen. The precision and focus needed to complete a task are both extraordinary! I believe this is one of the most perfect unplugged coding activities – another one of the many great ways to get kids excited about coding! Read on to find out why Origami and Coding are a Match Made in Heaven!

Origami and coding are a match made in heaven!

Coding Concepts Learned:


Although the term Algorithms seems big and scary, it is basically just the sequence of steps you take to accomplish a task. Origami is laid out so nicely already, all you have to do to help teach your kids to code is to point out that what they are doing is working with Algorithms.


After you have talked about Algorithms, you could label Sequences. A sequence is when you put the instructions in the order they need to be in to accomplish the task. Chances are, your origami instructions are already nicely laid out in the order you will need to accomplish them.


The idea of decomposition is to work backward from end to beginning and to break large problems into smaller ones that can more easily be solved. For example, you could show your kiddo an example of a paper crane. After they have time to admire it, you could hand your child a piece of square paper and say “Go!”. The look of confusion on their faces will probably be priceless!

What this accomplishes, is a lead-in to a conversation about decomposition. Computer programmers can’t just look at a large problem and fix it right away. They have to break it down into the smallest possible pieces, solve each one of those little problems, then build those smaller solutions together to solve the larger problem they started with.

Your big problem here would probably be “How do I make a paper crane?” You can then help your child to break it down into the smaller problems of “What do I need to do to get started?” or “Where do I find the information?” There is really no wrong way to go about this.

Origami Unplugged Coding Activity

Let’s go through two coding games that emphasize the concepts discussed above and allow your child to practice discussing algorithms, sequence, and decomposition. Encourage your child to have some fun with this easy coding game!

Activity #1: Origami Algorithms Game

In this origami game, your child will teach YOU how to make a simple origami creation by giving you specific instructions to complete the task. The catch is that you will be sitting back to back so your child will have to be very specific and detailed in their instructions so that you can create the origami properly!

Explain to your kids that it is very important to explain the instructions step-by-step, completing a task the same way a computer would. Just like in this activity, computers don’t have an idea of what the final program is supposed to look like. They need very detailed and accurate instructions in order to complete a task properly.

The origami we have chosen is very simple. In this origami activity, we will be creating a simple dog face. We specifically chose a simple origami creation so that the steps could be reasonably given without your child sneaking a peak!

Step By Step Instructions

They KEY to this algorithm activity is that your origami ‘coder’ needs to explain the algorithm WITHOUT you looking at the visual instructions.

Step One: Sit back to back with your child. It may be helpful to have a small desk to work on. We used side tables in our example.

Step Two: Each person starts with an unfolded square piece of paper

Step Three: Have your child teach you how to make this simple origami creation by explaining the instructions to you as they go. They will use the origami instruction sheet below to create the origami but you will not be able to look at the instructions when they are explaining it!

By not being able to SHOW you the instructions, your little ‘origami coder’ will learn just how challenging algorithms are for computers! Computers don’t have eyes to see. They need to be given VERY SPECIFIC and exact instructions with lots of detail. If computers aren’t given the correct instructions, the final outcome can turn out really silly!

Step four: Compare creations! When you are done building your creation, turn around and see if you got it right!

If your child gives you some instructions that aren’t quite right, follow through with them in your origami design. Then when you compare at the end, you might note some pretty funny errors! That’s ok, errors are part of programming. Now we just have to debug our errors. Figure out where we went wrong and how we can correct it better for the future.

Activity #2: Origami Sequencing and Decomposition Game

In this unplugged coding activity we are going to ‘decompose’ a swan!

In this activity, we are going to work on the sequencing AND decomposition together! For this activity, we will show your child the finished project in advance and a list of instructions completely out of order! Work with your child to put the steps back in the right order – working through the origami task while you do so.

If at the end of the game you end up with something not even remotely close to the original design, you know there is a “bug” somewhere in the “code” and you can go back and fix it!

Step One: Print out the image instructions below

Step Two: Create this origami in advance without your child seeing how it was made

Step Three: Cut the instructions along the black lines so that you have 12 squares. Mix them up out of order.

Step Four: Now give your child the completed origami and the instructions out of order. Get them to come up with the correct order by decomposing the origami! Provide them with sheets of origami paper so they can test out their algorithm at the end.

We started with a simple design for this activity. The older the child, the tougher the origami design I would choose – and therefore the more steps they would have to “code” before they could complete the design. This game would be a great way to begin to teach kids to code at any age, and to reinforce the concept of what a Sequence is!

The wonderful thing about discussing decomposition is that it can then wash over into other areas of your child’s’ life as well! Need to know how to tie your shoe? Let’s break it down! Trying to figure out long division? Let’s break it down! There are so many benefits to coding beyond the computer!

Origami and Coding are a Match Made in Heaven!

Origami is just such a wonderful start to this process because you are starting with a relaxing, bonding, and beautiful experience.

There have been so many studies that show just how important it is to teach kids to code. If you are worried about screen time or the lack of tangible, tactile experiences, origami would be a wonderful fit for an activity that works on the concepts of coding and is also screen-free.

The basics of any coding language involve the concepts of algorithms, sequences, and decomposition, so why not start using that vocabulary as soon as possible?

I know I jump on any coding activity I can do without a computer, so I hope you enjoy Origami and Coding as much as we do around here. What is your favorite origami design to make? How do you plan to teach your kids the concepts of algorithms, sequences, and decomposition? Let me know in the comments!

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Origami is a great introduction to the basic concepts of coding. In this unplugged coding tutorial we will review basic coding concepts like sequences, decomposition, algorithms and debugging to help your students understand coding fundamentals. Origami is a fun activity that can easily incorporate computational thinking skills in the classroom or at home. #coding #codingunplugged

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