So what are the best coding classes for kids? That depends on a number of factors, including the child’s age, interests, and learning style. There are hundreds of options in various formats: tutorials, self-paced classes, live group instruction, one-on-one instruction, game-based environments, and more. How are you supposed to match up your child with the right one?
Table of contents:
- How to Evaluate Kids Coding Classes
- Student to Teacher Ratio
- Instructor Quality
- Project-Based Curriculum
- Schedule Flexibility
- Duration and Long-term Growth
- The Best Online Kids Coding Classes
- Best One-on-One Kids Coding Class: Breakout Mentors
- Best Online Classroom Kids Coding Class: AoPS
- Best Self-Paced Kids Coding Class: CodeHS
- Best Game Play Based Kids Coding Class: CodeCombat
- Frequently Asked Questions
- What is the Best Programming Language for a Child to Learn?
- Should We Look for Object-Oriented Programming, Artificial Intelligence, or Something Else?
- Why is Coding Helpful for Problem-Solving Skills Even if Not Interested Becoming a Professional Coder?
How to Evaluate Kids Coding Classes
Student to Teacher Ratio
A student to teacher ratio is the number of students per class divided by the number of teachers. For example, if a class has 30 students and three teachers, the student to teacher ratio would be 10:1. The student to teacher ratio is important because it can affect the quality of education a child receives. If there are too many students per teacher, it can be difficult for the teacher to give each student the attention they need.
For coding education, it is important that the teacher has time to individually help each student with their code. Let’s look at an example from a big summer camp or after school coding center with a 10:1 ratio. The one teacher needs to make sure all ten students in their section don’t get stuck and are making progress. Unfortunately that means when someone hits an issue, the teacher is likely to quickly give the correct answer so they can move onto helping the next student. There just isn’t enough time for the teacher to ask leading questions and gently guide the student to discover the answer themselves.
Or even worse, a class with a 10:1 ratio will choose an activity that is too easy, so that the teacher has fewer questions to answer. This means that the average student isn’t even being challenged at the right level, let alone the most gifted students. Simply going through the motions won’t cut it, students need to stretch their comfort zone to learn.
What about courses that don’t have teachers? Self-paced and gameplay based kids coding classes can be excellent activities as well. We only recommend these for students who already know they have a passion for coding and are self-motivated to keep learning.
There is no shortage of free kids coding classes available. But this isn’t a guide for the best free kids coding classes, just the best overall. If you invest in your kids’ education in other areas, or plan ahead for college, you’ll be wise to spend on their early coding education experience.
When children are young, ages 8-12, they are open to their parent’s suggestions about activities. This is a crucial window of time for introductory kids coding classes to hook their interest. This window of time is limited, so parents should act with some urgency. Parents will also attempt to avoid negative experiences and show what is possible if their son or daughter sticks with it. If that means paying for classes, it is money well spent compared to bouncing around free activities that are hit or miss.
Then when considering coding classes for teens, it is vital the course is individualized and supports intermediate learning. Teenagers don’t want to be treated like children. The right coding class will introduce new concepts at a pace that is neither too slow nor too fast. At this fickle age, it isn’t worth risking your child’s long-term interest just because there is a free option.
So while the price for these classes is important to factor in for the parents, we won’t limit this guide to just free options. Parents who pay for activities want to know that their investment will be worth it, and that their child will be able to learn and grow from the experience.
There are universal qualities for effective teachers, plus traits that are beneficial when evaluating an instructor for an optional extracurricular activity. One important quality is the ability to foster a love of learning in students. This can be accomplished in several different ways, so it is hard to pin down an exact formula or set of requirements, yet once in the class it is easy to quickly evaluate.
What makes a teacher inspiring? It’s the ability to convey information in an interesting way and to be relatable. They can tie the learning back to something else the student enjoys or knows well, whether Harry Potter or lacrosse. They can communicate effectively their own journey and passion for the subject. A great resume isn’t sufficient, although credentials certainly help. If the teacher excelled in their educational journey, they will likely set high expectations for their students, and result in more learning.
It can be tough for parents to evaluate the instructors for kids coding classes before signing up and actually starting. You can ask the provider how they hire excellent teachers and to provide details about the particular instructor. Notice if you are impressed by the people running the organization and if they are passionate about coding education. If so, they’ll likely attract like minded employees.
The curriculum is another area that is difficult to evaluate before starting a class. For the most effective learning, you want there to be a plan in place, yet not too rigid. A coding curriculum that is project-based is a great way to keep kids interested. They can see how what they are learning can be applied to a real project. This also allows for some creativity and freedom within the parameters of the project.
Parents should ask if the projects produced by students in the class are all identical. If not, ask about the range of projects produced by students in the class and to see examples. This will help to understand if it is truly creative project-based learning, or just a step-by-step tutorial that produces a project in the end. The step-by-step approach will quickly get old for kids and won’t support gifted students well.
Go go go, busy busy busy. Parents these days sometimes feel like they are running a shuttle service with no time to relax. They need extracurricular activities that fit into their lives, yet provide a regular structured time for their son or daughter to make progress learning to code.
One of the unexpected outcomes of the pandemic was the normalization of online learning. Now that the acute phase of the pandemic is over, many parents have opted to continue some online activities from the comfort of their home. Particularly online learning that involves still connecting live with an engaging human being on the other end instead of videos. This works exceptionally well in computer science since the activity is on the computer anyways!
Group classes and after-school coding learning centers usually have a set time. Yet the soccer practice schedule hasn’t been released yet, so is that time going to be open once soccer starts? Individual one-on-one classes can usually be moved to another day or time. Self-paced materials also support this flexibility as well.
It can be tough to regularly make time for learning to code from self-pace materials and games. Having a set appointment on the calendar helps, but it is often up to the parent to enforce the structure. An hour once a month isn’t going to produce the results you are hoping for, so ideally self-paced materials are used once the child is able to focus and knows they enjoy coding.
Duration and Long-term Growth
Here is a common pattern:
- 11 year-old goes to iD Tech or other big coding summer camp and enjoys it
- Doesn’t do any coding during the school year
- As a 12 year-old goes to iD Tech or other big coding summer camp for the next level and has an ok time
- Doesn’t do any coding during the school year
- As a 13 year-old says he or she doesn’t want to do a coding summer camp
How frustrating for parents who thought they were giving their child the opportunity to learn to code! They end up spending a couple of thousand dollars, have nothing to show for it, and fear it may be too late to spark their child’s interest.
We have also heard from plenty of parents who say their kids still continue to love the Minecraft modding camps and other activities, but it seems they are just playing video games the whole time. It is certainly possible for a class to choose a coding language or environment that doesn’t actually help the student learn the fundamentals and is limited to just being fun.
So when evaluating kids coding classes, keep in mind if it will support long-term growth. A month from now are you going to find yourself once again trying to find a new computer science class? If the provider has multiple levels of advancement, how do you know it won’t be limiting for your son or daughter? Meaning are they dragging out the learning or continuing to challenge the students? Do you have a gifted and talented student who does best when a high bar is set? Perhaps that would push you towards one-on-one or self-paced classes.
The Best Online Kids Coding Classes
Best One-on-One Kids Coding Class: Breakout Mentors
One-on-one learning for kids coding scores high across all the criteria except for price. With a live instructor and 1:1 student to teach ratio, no matter the provider, it is going to cost more than other options. However even at $100 per week, many parents understand the value of investing in education, particularly for a subject that isn’t given enough focus in school like coding.
Breakout Mentors has been around longer than most kids coding classes, they started one-on-one instruction back in 2011. The Founder Brian Skinner is a Stanford engineering alumni who hires the vast majority of the college aged mentors out of the award-winning Computer Science programs at Stanford and UC Berkeley. While most of their classes are held online, it is also possible for local students to meet in-person at Stanford or UC Berkeley.
Breakout Mentors also has the most scheduling flexibility compared to other one-on-one kids coding class providers — either on weekdays or weekends. It is a weekly 90 minute session at a set time, but the commitment is just 2 or 3 sessions in the month with a big discount if you hold more. Parents love that they aren’t forced to reschedule if they take a vacation or have a music recital.
One-on-one classes are especially ideal for gifted and talented students. In this regard Breakout Mentors receives top scores for their project-based curriculum with structure while allowing students to advance as quickly as they can handle. It isn’t overly tracked with rigid prerequisites. They also have advanced high school artificial intelligence and USACO competitive programming, so have a long-term plan to keep even the sharpest students challenged.
Best Online Classroom Kids Coding Class: AoPS
The Art of Problem Solving is the top online provider of advanced math courses that offers two online classroom format kids coding classes. Their courses use the Python programming language and feature a weekly live lecture, plus textbook and homework assignments.
Their introductory course is intended for students who have completed a Prealgebra math class, which is usually in middle school. This matches well to the age when students start to have the independence to succeed with the format of lectures and individual work. The AoPS intermediate course covers recursion and object-oriented programming, giving an abbreviated overview of the core concepts in AP Computer Science A.
The courses start around $50 per week, which is a substantial 50% savings compared to one-on-one kids coding classes. Yet with a 20:1 student to teacher ratio, this isn’t the optimal choice to provide students individual instruction on their code. The curriculum is a nice blend of structured textbook learning and large projects at the end.
The classroom lecture format at Art of Problem Solving is a great choice for late middle school students with maturity and independence.
Best Self-Paced Kids Coding Class: CodeHS
CodeHS creates software for school districts to offer an extensive catalog of kids coding classes, even when the teachers don’t know the material themselves! They offer individual at-home learners access to all their courses for $20 per week.
CodeHS is the best kept secret in self-paced online kids coding classes. Most parents know about companies that spend more effort on marketing and advertising, while CodeHS seemingly invests their efforts in curriculum development and selling to school districts.
These extensive classes are ideal for driven students who can make learning progress without an instructor. Even though it is named CodeHS, they also have many options for middle school students. There is limited help available from tutors as well — although in recent years the company has focused less on the individual learners, so it is unclear at this time how the 1:1 help works or if it will be offered in the future.
All the class options can be overwhelming, so where should kids learning on CodeHS start? First check out Intro to Python with Tracy and then Intro to Computer Science in Python 3. Since it is self-paced, gifted and talented students can advance rapidly, but it is a good idea to finish each course before moving onto the next. CodeHS also features advanced classes in Data Science, Artificial Intelligence, Mobile Apps, and Cybersecurity!
Best Game Play Based Kids Coding Class: CodeCombat
This is another company that has changed through the years to start offering 1:1 learning and selling to school districts. You want their self-paced option that is just $2 per week (billed yearly). This gives full access to the game-based learning platform. It isn’t exactly a kids coding class, but if the parents provide a regular set time to play the game, it is like making your own class!
Who is a fit for this option? Kids who love video games and parents who want to make their screen time productive. Keep a close eye as students advance and might be ready for other activities.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the Best Programming Language for a Child to Learn?
There is no definitive answer to this question as it depends on a number of factors, including the child’s age, interests, and learning style. However, there are a few general considerations that can help guide your decision.
If the child is very young, you’ll want to look for a language that is easy to use and fun. Scratch is a good option for kids aged 8 and up. It uses a block-based drag-and-drop coding language that is easy to get started with.
For slightly older kids, Python is a good choice. It is a widely used language that is easy to read and write. It is also relatively simple to learn, making it a good option for kids who are just starting to learn to code.
We wrote a whole article about more kids coding language options.
Should We Look for Object-Oriented Programming, Artificial Intelligence, or Something Else?
The answer is yes, all of the above — just at the right time. If a student is ready for more advanced computer science topics, whether object-oriented, data structures, algorithms, or something else, they aren’t going to benefit from the class. It may even curb their interest in coding.
You need the right coding class for your son or daughter’s specific situation. It gets more difficult to provide blanket recommendations once a student has been coding for a year or two and is intermediate to advanced. That’s why Breakout Mentors is happy to jump on the phone for a quick free consultation, just schedule here.
Why is Coding Helpful for Problem-Solving Skills Even if Not Interested Becoming a Professional Coder?
Coding is a process of translating a problem or task into a set of instructions a computer can understand. This process can help improve problem-solving skills, even if the person is not interested in becoming a professional coder. You have to take a problem and break it down into smaller and more manageable pieces, then figure out how to solve each piece. When something doesn’t work as expected, you have to take a step back and think through it. You have to gather clues like error messages and what you recently changed. It is a process that involves highly logical thinking.
There is also a certain type of engineering creativity that kids aren’t likely to have experienced in other subjects. How do you take these very logical coding concepts and stack them together to produce amazing results? How do you plan ahead so everything is organized and requires as little work as possible? How do you rework the plan when you hit a speed bump or identify a new feature? This kind of technical flexibility develops the student’s creativity.
Of course there are many more reasons a background in coding will only make someone more effective at a different job. Code is taking over many fields, and if not doing the technical work themselves, leaders will need to speak the right language with other employees.
No matter your son or daughter’s age or experience, there is a kids coding class that will be a great fit. Hopefully this article helped you understand how to evaluate the various options and prioritize based on your specific situation. There are many different formats for kids coding classes and we highlighted the top option for each category. These classes can have a massive impact on a child’s future, so parents are wise to invest even if there may be abundant free options.