Programming Ideas

Coding Concepts for Preschoolers

In my library, we’re a little obsessed with coding.  We’ve been working on a project to introduce computational thinking and free coding resources to kids called Coder Time. For over a year, we’ve been searching for ways to teach our audience some complex ideas by experimenting with apps, activities, and lesson plans to create library programs (you can learn more about it here). While these programs were always for our older kids and tweens, we’ve been amazed at our youngest participants’ enthusiasm to jump right in. As we work with this age group, we keep finding overlap between coder concepts and early literacy skills.  For example, play teaches symbolic thinking, a skill important for both reading and coding.  Narrative skills help children understand story structure, but also strengthen computational thinking.  I’ve recently started incorporating coding concepts into my preschool storytimes.  After some trial and error and a mobbed flannel board, here’s what I have in the works:

Coder Values: Collaboration, perseverance, imagination, it’s all about attitude!  My favorite book for this is Today I Will Fly! by Mo Willems.  Partner with your parachute and kids can work as a team to make Gerald, or your elephant puppet, soar.

Algorithms: An algorithm is the set of instructions you follow to complete a task.  Understanding this is the first step in writing a program.  I’m using Lois Ehlert’s Growing Vegetable Soup to introduce the seed planting activity found in Course One of Code Studio. I also adapted their “Happy Maps” activity for use with a magnetic whiteboard. In a very simple maze of boxes, we help Bingo find his bone.  Apps like Kodable and Lightbot Jr. are too advanced for my preschool audience, so this lets me control the level of difficulty, and give the kids a more tactile experience.

Conditionals: Conditionals are pieces of code that only run when certain conditions are met.  They are the If/Then parts of coding.  A good introduction is If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff.  In looking for other ways to teach this, I found Linda Liukas’s Hello Ruby’s paper dolls. This inspired me adapt our “Teddy Wears a Red Shirt” flannel board. Teddy’s wardrobe has grown to include pajamas, yellow boots and a bathing suit.  If it’s raining, Teddy wears his rain boots all day long.

coding concepts preschoolers
Photo taken by the author of this blog post.

Throughout this process, our approach has always been to give families a taste of the possibilities that are out there, and help them discover that coding can be fun and accessible regardless of your background. As a result, a lot of these are variations on program staples.  If you have ideas for other ways of integrating coding into programming for preschoolers, please share!


Brooke Sheets is Children’s Librarian at Los Angeles Public Library’s Children’s Literature Department and is writing this post for the Early Childhood Programs and Services Committee. 

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