The first computer coding language was created in the 1940s, during a time when the most technologically advanced item most people had in their homes was a radio. Today, coding is an integral part of everyday life — every app on your phone, video you play on YouTube, or email you send uses different coding languages.
There are many reasons to teach kids how to code, but the most important one is that it’s fun! Coding allows kids to learn a new skill while being creative in unexpected ways. With so many coding languages, though, it can be hard to figure out where your child should start. That’s why we put together our top kids coding languages so you can decide which one is the best starting place for your child.
What is a Programming Language?
At its most basic level, a programming language is a set of instructions that tell a computer to execute tasks. Every programming language has its own syntax (set of rules for how to write the language) that must be followed to successfully code with that language. Each language is classified as either low level or high level.
- Low-level programming languages are written in a way that is similar to binary (the strings of 0’s and 1’s that computers understand). While they run quickly, they are difficult to learn.
- High-level languages use words that are easier to read and understand. Most computers are now powerful enough that high-level languages don’t sacrifice much speed and can be used in most circumstances. We’ll be focusing on high-level languages here as those are the most ideal for kids.
10 Basic Programming Languages For Kids
The most important things to consider when choosing a coding language for your child are to pick a language that is easy to learn, that has real practical purposes, and that will serve them well in the future. Kids who are new to coding can get frustrated learning a language with complicated syntax rules, so make sure to start them with a language that teaches them the foundations of coding before moving on to other languages.
If your child already has any interest in coding, odds are they’re at least a little familiar with Scratch. This block-based programming language was created by MIT to provide a free resource to help teach kids the fundamentals of coding. Scratch is the easiest code to learn because the visual interface is easy to understand and doesn’t require advanced typing skills, which is why CodeWizardsHQ starts elementary students with this language. Kids with no prior programming experience can quickly build a simple game in Scratch and customize it with different designs, characters, animations, and sounds.
The other benefit of Scratch is that there are so many different Scratch games that your kids can play right now! Scratch also lets you remix existing games to make them your own, which can be a great stepping stone to building a new game.
Python is a text-based programming language that can be used to create webpages, games, software, and much more. When compared to other text-based languages, Python is relatively simple to read and understand, which is why it’s a great option for kids. Kids who aren’t really creative types might connect more with Python versus the block style of Scratch and middle school students can certainly start their coding journey with Python. It’s also a great programming language for kids who started with Scratch but are ready for more of a challenge.
Python is a powerful language, which is why it is so in demand by employers, but it’s also a great stepping stone to other languages. When learning Python, kids will be introduced to coding basics like loops, variables, and lists that will give them a solid foundation for learning more coding languages in the future.
Java has been around for decades and is still widely used, but odds are your child is most familiar with it because of Minecraft. This popular game is run on Java and players are allowed to modify basically everything about the game, from landscapes to characters and everything in between.
The syntax of Java makes it more stable and easy to maintain than other languages, but it also makes it more difficult to learn. In general Java is considered best for intermediate students or those who are at least in middle school, so it may not be ideal for elementary school students who are learning to code. It is also the language that is used for AP Computer Science courses in high school, so students who are interested in getting this AP credit would do well to learn Java.
Lua is the driving force behind Roblox, which as most parents know, is widely popular with kids. In general, Lua was created to be used in applications, which is why it’s often used with iOS and Android apps and games. In addition to Roblox, other popular games that use Lua include World of Warcraft and Angry Birds.
Lua uses a simple text-based syntax that is easy for beginners to learn and start using. If your child’s interest in coding is all about wanting to make their own games, Lua is a great place to start.
Pronounced C-sharp, this language is popularly used to create apps for Windows. It’s also used a lot in game development, particularly when used with the game engine Unity, which allows users to interact with elements in 3D. This language’s syntax is very similar to Java, so it’s ideal for older kids who are learning to code and for those who are particularly interested in developing games and apps specifically for Windows.
One of the newer programming languages on this list, Golang was created by Google engineers to solve the problem of needing to run many lines of code at the same time without sacrificing speed. The syntax is similar to C (which we talk about later in this article) and it also has the benefit of signalling errors in code while you’re writing it versus when the code is being run.
In general, Golang’s syntax is relatively easy to learn and it’s a great language to use for web development. For parents who are looking to give their kids a leg up in the future, Golang is definitely worth considering thanks to its growing popularity.
The newest programming language on our list, Swift was created by Apple to develop apps for any device that runs iOS. Swift Playgrounds teaches users how to code using Swift and includes step by step lessons and challenges.
Swift Playgrounds is not as versatile as Scratch when it comes to customization and in general is recommended for kids ages 10 and up. For kids who are primarily interested in learning how to code for iPhones and iPads, or for schools that use iPads in the classroom, Swift is a great option and will likely continue to grow in popularity.
This language is most commonly used to create online applications quickly while still making them easy to scale to many users — Twitter, Shopify, Basecamp, and Kickstarter all use Ruby. It was created to be easy to learn and has similarities to Python with its syntax. While not as commonly used as Python, it is another programming language that is ideal for beginners.
Although C and C++ are similar as far as syntax, C overall is less complicated to learn while C++ incorporates object-oriented programming and is much more involved. Games, animations, and graphic-based applications most often use C++ (Adobe products like Illustrator and Premier use this language) while C is commonly used to develop databases and operating systems.
C and C++ are more suited to older kids or those who already have coding experience. However, they are commonly used languages in the real world and would be a great addition to your student’s coding vocabulary.
Learn the Top Kids Coding Languages
No matter which language you choose for your child’s introduction to coding, what’s most important is getting them started. Programming classes are still hard to find in most school systems, so just giving your child the opportunity to learn coding will put them ahead of many of their peers and serve them well both academically and in many different careers (you don’t have to be a developer to use code).
Ultimately there is no single best programming language for kids, but all of these languages have their benefits and will give your child a solid foundation in coding basics so they can take their skills wherever their imagination leads them.