ASK AN EDUCATOR! “How can I teach my 12 year old to code?”

Baz asks:

How can I teach my 12 year old to code. She is 12 years old, very artistic, creative and dyslexic. She has followed a couple of tutorials for App Inventor & Scratch. she has been delighted with the outcome. I have started to try and learn Java, but frankly it is going to take too long for me to become fluent and provide her with any coaching. The UK government has finally realised that they have been failing our children since the 80’s home computer boom and we have no facilities for teaching coding to kids. PS, I love your site, it is like an Aladdin’s cave of tech treasure…

Thank you for the comment, and I love the Aladdin analogy!

I recently spent a bit of time working with some K-6 teachers on integrating programming into their curriculum. They had, like you, begun with Scratch and were ready to move to the next level. There are really three primary companies that make “kid friendly” microcontrollers: Parallax, PICAXE and VEX. We happen to use PICAXE with our high school freshman, as it’s considerably cheaper then Parallax and VEX.

To summarize:

Parallax offers a variety of microcontrollers that are geared toward the educational environment. The Basic Stamp series are programmed in BASIC using Parallax’s easy to use IDE that has a very quick learning curve. Although a bit expensive, their Board of Education, is a great way to get started with programming, and interfacing with simple circuits. They also offer the BoeBot platform that gives your Board of Education some mobility.

As I stated earlier, we use PICAXE over Parallax’s microcontrollers as they are significantly cheaper and offer a very robust IDE. The PICAXE Programming Editor uses BASIC in addition to a flow chart style environment (this might be great for your daughter.) They offer two series of microcontrollers, the M2 and the X2, that range from 8pin DIPs to a 40pin QFP. We happen to use the M2 series over the X2 as it has a built in “music” function that really excites the students. PICAXE also offers a pretty nice robot platform with a built in PICAXE. Who doesn’t like robots, right?

The “mother” of all educational robot kits. Our 10-12 grade robotics course begins with the VEX kits as they are great at introducing students to basic robot sensors and mechanics, while providing a robust platform. Although programmed in C, their is a TON of educational literature surrounding their product.

I hope this has helped with your research and I am sure your daughter with be excited, no matter which avenue you choose!

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“Ask an Educator” questions are answered by Adam Kemp, a high school teacher who has been teaching courses in Energy Systems, Systems Engineering, Robotics and Prototyping since 2005.

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  1. Also, don’t forget Parallax’ Propeller platform. Might be for the bit more advanced, but is a great start for a time in which more and more programs are written multi-threaded.

  2. I have taught kids this age (and as young as 10) to program using the Arduino. You can download a free PDF copy of the book I wrote for my class at

    Somehow programming concepts are easier when they can see the result of things happening in the physical world!



  3. Microsoft Small Basic is a free download and it looks friendly for kids to learn. In the 80’s there was LOGO and Pilot being offered to kids. When I was in college, they taught Turbo Pascal by Borland and now it is a free download.

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