Games That Get Children Into Coding | Internet Matters

Games that get children into coding

A new wave of video games is helping children learn about coding. Family games expert Andy Robertson takes you through the benefits of games like Game Builder Garage that help turn gaming consoles into learning tools.

New opportunities with technology 

Parents and guardians are often excited about the possibility of technology creating new opportunities and aspirations for children. Coding is the new Latin, is a phrase often heard at the school gate.

However, it can be hard to know how to actually turn these technological inventions into actual positive outcomes in our families. A new wave of video games is helping bridge this gap. The best of these offer not only a way for children to make their own games, but a pathway into a lifelong love of coding.

Coding through Nintendo’s Game Builder Garage 

I’ve been working with Nintendo’s new Game Builder Garage game to see how well it does in a range of different families. Some have had coding experience before but others had none at all. There are other great examples available too, like Mario Maker and Dreams, but in this context the lessons in Game Builder Garage have been a real hit.

 

Game Builder Garage does a couple of really clever things that the families have appreciated. Whether you use this game or another one, they are really important to consider.

Making coding accessible for young people

The first is that the game isn’t text-heavy. One of the barriers to getting into coding is that it’s often very focused on dense text and complex phrases. This not only makes it seem more complex than it actually is, but can put off really young children from having a go.

Game Builder Garage uses a series of Nodon characters to represent each of the elements of the game: the controls, the character, timers, interactions and so on. It’s a simple idea but one that has made a big difference in the test families. Even very young children (as young as 8) have got involved and made something of their own.

The second aspect that has worked well for Game Builder Garage is the lesson structure. Rather than drop a player in with a basic tutorial and expecting them to learn from YouTube, here you are offered a structured series of lessons. Each one takes you through each step of making a particular game. After each lesson, the game then checks that the player has learned what they need to before moving on.

Using structured lessons to learn about coding

The second aspect that has worked well for Game Builder Garage is the lesson structure. Rather than drop a player in with a basic tutorial and expecting them to learn from YouTube, here you are offered a structured series of lessons. Each one takes you through each step of making a particular game. After each lesson, the game then checks that the player has learned what they need to before moving on.

While not all the children in the test families took to this format, for some it was really helpful. It filled gaps in their understanding and offered a really good way for parents to understand and support the learning that was going on.

Testing coded creations 

Nintendo's Game Builder Garage

Finally, being able to quickly test what you have built at the press of a button, meant that trial and error was also a good way to learn. For those who didn’t want lots of lessons, diving in and trying things out worked well too. There was enough explanation you could look up in the game so you could have a go at making something and then fix the bits that didn’t work.

After a few weeks with these families, it’s been fascinating to see what they have made. Each one has approached it differently. But they have all managed to progress towards being about to code their own game — something that many parents thought wouldn’t be possible before we started. I’m looking forward to seeing where it takes them over the coming weeks.

Console games that let you create your own gameplay 

I worked with the National Video Game Museum last year to put this list of games that offer options for making games on your console:

Resources document

See reviews from Common Sense Media on games that teach coding and other tech skills.

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