Learn to Code at Any Age With These Free Tools

by melaniepinola ; Updated October 17, 2017

Coding is quite fashionable

It doesn’t matter what your age is, the “learn to code” movement wants you. It’s not just about building websites and apps or getting a programming job (although those can be highly useful, too). When you learn to code, you further develop logic and problem solving skills. Plus, it can be downright fun, in a brain-challenging sort of way. Some of the best resources that will teach anyone — from toddlers to centenarians and everyone in between — how to code are easy to find and, best of all, they’re free.

Programming Resources for Kids of All Ages

Learn to code with Lego-like building blocks

Many programming courses and apps are geared toward specific age groups, but some are pretty fundamental, appropriate for all ages. As long as you or your kids are able to read and understand cause and effect, that is.

The free MIT webapp Scratch, for example, is designed for kids 8 to 16 years old, but it was the first tool I was introduced to when taking Harvard’s Intro to Computer Science Class, CS50, as an adult. The reason? This graphical tool teaches you the basic logic of programming — without the clutter of code. You drag-and-drop functions and objects in a Lego-like manner to develop animations, games and stories. It’s an awesome, easy introduction to many programming concepts for everyone. My daughter was about 4 years old when she started playing it with me, and loved it almost as much as I do.

Code.org is behind the Hour of Code movement and contributes significantly to the push for computer science education in schools, which is sorely lacking in most school districts. Video tutorials on the site teach JavaScript, Python, mobile app development, and more, for kids of all ages. They’re not as interactive as some other resources listed here, but they don’t require much time investment, which is always a plus.

Programming Resources for the Youngest Kids and Elementary Schoolers (5 to 12 years old)

Daisy the Dinosaur iPad app: Learning through play

Some programming apps are clearly designed for younger kids, with an emphasis on largely cartoon-like graphics and easily manipulated parts. They still might appeal to beginner adult coders, though.

Daisy the Dinosaur, for example, is a free iPad app that teaches kids how to manipulate an object (a dinosaur) with code. For example, when you tap Daisy, she jumps. It makes coding fun and actionable. Daisy the Dinosaur is probably best for the youngest of kids, although it’s entertaining for all.

Hopscotch is another free iPad app for kids who are a bit more advanced. It’s like a more limited version of Scratch, but one that’s touch-friendly. (Most of these learn-to-code apps are for iOS. Maybe we need to learn to code so we can make versions for Android and other mobile OS.)

Teenagers and Older


For teens and adults, free courses and resources abound, so it’s impossible to list them all. Bento.io, however, does a good job of showcasing different web and other programming technologies and suggesting courses to take.

For hands-on training (learn by playing!), I highly recommend Codecademy. The interactive site teaches HTML/CSS, Javascript, Python, Ruby, PHP and more in courses that take usually only a few hours to complete.

KhanAcademy, Coursera and edX are also excellent places to enroll in free online classes, many of them taught by distinguished professors at major universities.

The free sources here should get you, and perhaps your whole family, started or further along on your coding path. Let us know if you have another favorite not mentioned here.

Photo credit: Donnie Ray Jones

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