Five ipad apps for computer programming concepts

I prefer to use technology as a tool, not necessarily as the objective of the learning. We didn’t purchase an ipad for our home until our youngest child was almost five. Dr. Montessori’s method for learning clearly shows that young children (under the age of six) need a lot of hands-on tools for learning – manipulatives to engage all of the senses.

Technology as a toolMy youngest son is drawing a butterfly by looking at a picture of one

That being said, I think the ipad is a really cool tool for learning. We’ve purchased a lot of apps that mimic Montessori-style work without having to host the extra shelf space. It’s great for young homeschoolers (and my small house). My favorites are here and here.

My children (especially the youngest) really enjoy these Montessori apps, but they also spend an equal amount of time playing around with the other apps we have. These apps are specifically designed to mimic useful skills in computer programming – namely solving problems, breaking down steps, and being creative.

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These are the apps that I find beneficial, which are simultaneously used and enjoyed by my children.

1. Daisy the Dinosaur (ages 5-7) – FREE
This app is for kids who need a bit of motivation and instant gratification when it comes to making things happen. Kids are given Daisy and a few commands with which to make her do something (grow bigger, smaller, walk forward, backward, etc.). It will have a short value on your ipad, but can be just enough to get kids interested in the concept of creating – rather than consuming.

2. Kodable (ages 5-7) – FREE – $9.99
One of my favorite things about the Kodable app is the “teacher mode.” Previously, I think this was called “for parents,” but the concept is the same. It’s a place where you as a parent or teacher can learn more about how Kodable works and why it is beneficial to students. They have learning guides which walk an adult through the key programming concepts that they aim to impart (loops, conditions, sequences). You can purchase additional guides (functions, and bugs) to increase your app’s longevity. The actual coding is done to a fluffy furball and you must tell him (or her) what to do and make it through the maze. You are given repeated chances if you make a mistake. Teachers have the ability to create different class accounts.

3. Scratch Jr. (ages 5-7) – FREE
This app has been a long time in the making and while I think it isn’t nearly as good as Scratch (version 1.4 or 2.0), it is meant for younger kids. My five-year-old watches his older brother make things in MIT’s educational programming language Scratch, but since he’s learning to read, Scratch has been outside of his ability. Until now. Scratch Jr. requires no reading skills and just a little bit of help from mom, dad or big brother to decipher some of the icon-based blocks. Kids can create freely or view some examples and try to remake them and put their own spin on the creation (as my five-year-old did with the farm example). He is also typing in titles and asking about spelling – all good things for a kindergartener to be discovering on his own!

4. Move the Turtle (ages 7 and up) – $2.99
This app is a bit more difficult and requires reading skills since the tutorials ask the child to perform a certain task (and there is no audio option). The support is limited to email and there is no explanation for concepts. This is definitely a “play with it and figure it out” kind of app. Thankfully, there are a number of examples so one could figure out to make your turtle move.

5. Tynker (ages 7 and up) – FREE for trial, $5 for complete app
My nine-year-old has worked with MIT’s Scratch and doesn’t play with many of these apps anymore – except for the updated Tynker. Tynker is based on Scratch and looks very similar, but has some creative limitations on the ipad platform. He understands this and enjoys creating and hacking this system as best he can – knowing that it is just different than Scratch, but still enjoyable. The complete app offers step-by-step “challenges” for those who are new to Scratch or Tynker – teaching them how certain blocks work, gradually increasing the knowledge and blocks as they go. Once they’ve mastered the teaching examples, they can use the “create” function and make their own projects.

For the adults (and older teens) in your life, I recommend Cargo-Bot. This game will simultaneously delight and frustrate you while bringing out that hidden competitive streak. My husband and I both have spent time trying to figure out the best way to “code” these bots to get them to move their cargo. Happy Learning!