First steps in coding

Teaching coding in primary schools seems to be a big thing given recent changes to the curriculum, and it doesn't seem like a bad idea. My Dad started me off with a bit of computer programming as a child, and I have dabbled in various languages since; I'm certainly no expert but I can hopefully help the boys get started with a bit of coding. I mistakenly thought that they would need to be able to read proficiently to get started until I read a bit more about the Key Stage 1 curriculum, which introduces the idea of algorithms from the first years at school, and it seems this is often done in a screen-free way.

This got me thinking that there's actually quite a long way you can go in giving little people experience of the ideas of breaking instructions down into simple, sequential steps and other basics of coding e.g. debugging, without needing to be able to read. I had several ideas for how I could turn following some instructions into a (hopefully) fun activity, and printed some little cards to represent each step.  Some of the cards had different numbers of movements forward, some right and left turns and some road signs for 'stop' and 'go' (because the small boy is very keen on deciphering road signs and explaining them to other people, particularly his baby brother).

I used a Duplo baseboard and some Duplo bricks to mark 4x4 squares of different colours, added some tunnels with house pieces and some fences.  I put a minifigure 'farmer' at the 'start' and some animals for him to collect.  I then set out some step-by-step instructions for him to follow to move the farmer to collect one of the animals (this was an algorithm, to use coding terminology, although I didn't describe it like that for my son).

The challenge for the small boy was then to execute the code by moving the 'farmer' in accordance with the precise sequence of instructions until he found which animal he was collecting.  If he got the instructions wrong or in the wrong order, he'd likely fail to find the animal.  It's a sort of puzzle, and he quite likes working things out when he doesn't know the answer, so I hoped he'd be keen to try it.

Following instructions to move the farmer to reach the dog

He was drawn into starting the activity by the road signs, which he read and told me what they meant, and I explained the other cards.  He got the idea amazingly quickly, and with a little help in making sure he went one step at a time, he found the dog.  He then insisted that I made up some new instructions to find the chicken.

After collecting the chicken, the farm gained more animals and people from our Duplo collection and he played with it in his usual sort of small world play way for a while, and added a few more fences to keep various animals apart.

A little later, he wanted another puzzle, and I set up a different arrangement of animals for him to find.  He still required a bit of help to make sure he didn't jump steps and got his left and right the correct way round, but he enjoyed reading the cards, saying what they meant and then moving the 'farmer' the correct way.  We did a few more rounds, and then when I managed to get the instructions wrong by putting in too few 'forward' arrows (I blame trying to prevent his brother trying to play with the Duplo animals located on the 'farm' rather than the ones in the toy box...), he got a bit frustrated with my incompetence and went to play with something else!

I've got lots more ideas for activities we can do with the basic ideas of coding and as he seemed to enjoy this one, we will probably try something else out soon.


  1. Once he's got the hang of this, try

  2. Thanks! I'll have a read for some ideas :-)


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