13 Unplugged Coding Activities for Kids - Richard Campbell (2024)

Hello, coding enthusiasts, parents, and educators! You’ve probably heard the phrase “learn to code” echoing throughout the digital world. It’s become a mantra of the 21st century, a must-have skill set that’s as essential as reading and writing. But when it comes to teaching kids how to code, the thought of more screen time might make you cringe. That’s where unplugged coding activities for kids come into play, providing an exciting, screen-free avenue for your little ones to develop vital coding skills.

In this post, we’ll explore the world of unplugged coding, taking you on a journey through 13 engaging, hands-on coding activities for kids. We’ll dive into deck-of-cards coding, delve into the realm of computational thinking, and take a walk through the world of algorithms — all without a computer in sight!

Whether you’re a seasoned coder, an elementary teacher, or a parent looking to foster coding skills development in your children, this post is your roadmap. It’s packed with creative problem-solving tasks, logical reasoning challenges, and fun games, all designed to make learning to code an adventure.

Are you ready to inspire a future generation of coders while keeping the screens at bay? Let’s dive in!

The Benefits of Unplugged Coding

Coding, at its core, is not just about learning a programming language or getting a computer to perform tasks. It’s about developing a particular way of thinking—computational thinking. It involves problem-solving skills, logical reasoning, and the ability to break down complex tasks into smaller, manageable parts. And one of the best ways to foster these skills in children is through unplugged coding activities.

Unplugged coding is a form of screen-free coding, where children learn the principles of computer science without needing a computer. These activities often involve games, puzzles, and hands-on tasks that teach fundamental coding concepts. They’re a fantastic way to introduce coding to children in a fun and tangible manner.

Here are some benefits of unplugged coding:

1. Enhances Computational Thinking

Unplugged coding activities introduce children to the basics of computational thinking. They learn how to approach problems systematically, break them down into parts, and come up with effective solutions. Activities that involve sequencing, algorithms, and debugging help in the development of these critical thinking skills.

2. Promotes Hands-On Learning

Unplugged coding offers a tactile learning experience, which can be more engaging for young learners. Hands-on activities help children understand abstract concepts better by giving them a physical form. For example, using a deck of cards to teach coding can make the learning process more tangible and enjoyable.

3. Encourages Logical Reasoning

Coding games and activities challenge kids to use logical reasoning. They have to follow or create a set of instructions (an algorithm) to achieve a goal. This process fosters logical thinking and problem-solving abilities.

4. Reinforces Understanding of Coding Concepts

Unplugged coding activities can cover key coding concepts like loops, conditional statements, and algorithm design. By participating in these activities, children can deepen their understanding of these principles in a fun and interactive way.

5. Reduces Screen Time

Lastly, unplugged coding provides a much-needed break from screens. While technology is a fantastic learning tool, it’s essential to balance digital learning with offline, hands-on experiences. Unplugged coding is a great way to do just that.

So, are you ready to dive into the world of unplugged coding? Let’s explore the amazing coding activities that can help children learn to code while having a blast!

What is Unplugged Coding?

Before we delve into the fantastic unplugged coding activities, let’s first clarify what we mean by “unplugged coding”.

Unplugged coding, also known as offline or screen-free coding, refers to activities that teach coding principles and computational thinking without the use of a computer or any digital device. These hands-on activities, often involving physical objects and games, allow children to engage with the fundamental concepts of coding in a tangible, concrete way.

The initiative Computer Science Unplugged, a collection of free resources for teaching computer science principles without a computer, popularized the idea. But the idea has since expanded, with educators and parents worldwide developing creative unplugged activities to teach everything from algorithms and sequencing to debugging and conditional statements.

Unplugged coding is not meant to replace computer-based coding. Instead, it serves as a complementary approach, especially beneficial for younger children who are just starting to explore the world of coding. By removing the screen, children can focus on the core concepts without getting overwhelmed by syntax or complex programming languages.

In the next section, we’ll take a closer look at the key coding concepts that kids can learn through these offline activities. So, keep reading, and get ready to ignite your child’s coding journey without a single click or swipe!

Key Coding Concepts Kids Can Learn Without a Computer

Coding might seem inherently tied to computers, but the fundamental concepts can be learned without ever touching a keyboard. Here are some of the key coding concepts that unplugged coding activities can help children understand:

1. Sequencing

Sequencing refers to the ordered steps in a process or algorithm. Understanding sequencing is crucial to coding, as it involves following and creating step-by-step instructions. Unplugged coding activities can help children understand the importance of sequence in achieving a desired outcome.

2. Algorithms

At the heart of every computer program is an algorithm, a set of instructions designed to perform a specific task. Through unplugged coding activities, kids can grasp the concept of algorithm design and development by creating their own set of instructions to solve problems.

3. Debugging

Debugging is the process of finding and fixing errors in an algorithm or code. This process encourages problem-solving skills and attention to detail. Unplugged activities can simulate debugging scenarios, teaching kids how to troubleshoot and fix errors in their logic.

4. Conditional Statements

Conditional statements (like If/Then statements) are used in coding to perform different actions based on different conditions. Through unplugged activities, kids can learn about decision-making and control flow in a fun and interactive way.

5. Loops

Loops are used in coding for repetition. They allow a sequence of instructions to be performed multiple times. Unplugged activities can demonstrate the concept of loops, helping kids understand how and why they are used in coding.

6. Grid-Based Coding

Grid-based coding is a simple way to introduce the concepts of coordinates and movement. Unplugged activities can use a physical grid (like a chessboard or specially designed mat) to teach these principles.

Learning these concepts can give children a solid foundation in computational thinking and coding principles, preparing them for more advanced computer-based coding in the future. Now, let’s get to the fun part — the 13 best-unplugged coding activities that your kids will absolutely love!

13 Best Unplugged Coding Activities for Kids

Prepare for a whirlwind of fun and learning with these 13 creative unplugged coding activities. Each one is designed to foster coding skills in a playful, engaging way. So, let’s start this coding adventure!

Activity 1: Deck of Cards Coding

Concepts: Sequencing, Algorithms

For this activity, all you need is a deck of cards. Start by assigning each card suit a different action. For instance, Hearts could mean “jump”, Diamonds could mean “clap”, and so on. Then, shuffle the deck and draw a few cards to create a sequence of actions. This sequence forms an “algorithm” that the child has to follow. You can introduce the concept of debugging by intentionally adding a card that doesn’t fit, encouraging the child to identify and remove it.

Activity 2: My Robotic Friends

Concepts: Sequencing, Algorithms, Debugging

In this engaging activity called “My Robotic Friends,” children can learn programming concepts in a fun and interactive way, without the use of computers. The activity is based on a fantastic lesson that focuses on teaching programming through hands-on experiences.

Participants gather in groups and are introduced to the task of programming their own robotic friends to stack cups in specific configurations. The programming itself is done using simple paper and arrows. Each group has a programmer who writes down a program using arrows, while a robot (played by one of the participants) reads and interprets those arrows to determine how to stack the cups accordingly.

Through this activity, participants gain an understanding of the significance of precise programming and problem-solving. They learn how to sequence instructions, design algorithms using arrows, and the importance of debugging when their instructions need adjustments.

Activity 3: If/Then Treasure Hunt

Concepts: Conditional Statements

This treasure hunt game introduces conditional statements in a fun and exciting way. Hide a “treasure” somewhere in your home or classroom. Create a set of If/Then statements that guide the child to the treasure. For example, “IF you find a red object, THEN look under it.” or “IF you’re in the kitchen, THEN look in the highest cupboard.” The child follows the instructions, learning how conditional statements help make decisions in coding.

Activity 4: Looping Laces

Concepts: Loops, Sequencing

In this activity, children will learn about loops using shoelaces or any other type of string. Begin by teaching them a basic knot. Then, instruct them to repeat (or ‘loop’) this knot a certain number of times. This hands-on activity illustrates how loops can help perform the same task multiple times in coding.

Activity 5: Binary Bracelets

Concepts: Binary Coding, Algorithms

Introduce kids to binary coding by making bracelets with two colors of beads. Assign one color to represent ‘0’ and another to represent ‘1’. Then, have the kids spell out their initials using binary code, transforming each letter into a string of beads on their bracelet. This activity is a fun and creative way to learn about the binary system.

Activity 6: Grid-Based Maze

Concepts: Grid-Based Coding, Algorithms, Debugging

Create a grid-based maze on paper or with chalk outdoors. Place a toy at one end of the maze and have the child start at the other end. Using directional instructions (up, down, left, and right), the child has to navigate through the maze. If they hit a dead end, they need to ‘debug’ their steps and try a different path.

Activity 7: Story Sequencing

Concepts: Sequencing, Logical Thinking

Children create a story using a set of picture cards. Each card represents an event or action in the story. By arranging these cards in different sequences, children can create a variety of narratives, learning the importance of order and sequence in coding.

Activity 8: Conditionals with a Coin

Concepts: Conditional Statements

Flip a coin and assign an action to heads or tails. For instance, “IF heads, THEN jump,” “IF tails, THEN clap.” This quick game is an easy way to introduce conditional statements to young coders.

Activity 9: Loop Dance

Concepts: Loops, Algorithms

Children create a simple dance routine by repeating (or ‘looping’) certain moves. This fun, physical activity is a great way to illustrate the concept of loops.

Activity 10: Origami Algorithms

Concepts: Algorithms, Sequencing, Debugging

Using origami, children can learn about algorithms and debugging. Provide them with a simple origami pattern to follow. If they make a mistake (or ‘bug’), they’ll need to ‘debug’ by finding and correcting their mistake.

Activity 11: Real-Life Coding

Concepts: Algorithms, Sequencing, Conditional Statements, Loops

Ask children to think of their daily routine as a ‘code’. Brushing teeth, eating breakfast, going to school—all these actions can be seen as steps in an algorithm. You can introduce conditional statements and loops by discussing activities that only happen under certain conditions or by repeating tasks.

Activity 12: Kodable Fuzz Family Frenzy

Concepts: Sequencing, Algorithms, Debugging, Conditional Statements

Kodable, an online coding platform for kids, has an offline game called Fuzz Family Frenzy. This board game reinforces coding concepts like sequencing, algorithms, debugging, and conditionals.


Activity 13: “Functional Suncatchers” game

Concepts: Functions, Variables, Programming Logic, Reusability, and Modularity

Discover the power of functions with the “Functional Suncatchers” game! This unplugged activity takes the concept of functions and applies it to create stunning suncatchers using beads, string, and a unique charm. By following a series of carefully designed steps, you’ll not only create beautiful suncatchers but also identify skills that are repeated throughout the process.

The game encourages you to define these reusable skills as functions, which can then be called from a main program. By recording the entire process on a single sheet of paper, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of variables, functions, and the fundamentals of programming. Immerse yourself in this captivating activity and unlock the secrets of variables, functions, and the world of programming. Watch the “Functional Suncatchers” video on YouTube at [insert YouTube link] and get ready to let your creativity shine!

There you have it, 13 fantastic unplugged coding activities for kids


Coding is no longer a skill reserved for the tech-savvy few; it’s becoming a fundamental skill for everyone. But learning to code doesn’t have to mean sitting in front of a computer screen all day. With these 13 unplugged coding activities, kids can learn fundamental coding concepts such as sequencing, algorithms, debugging, conditional statements, and loops in a fun, interactive, and screen-free environment.

By engaging in these activities, children aren’t just learning to code; they’re developing critical thinking, problem-solving skills, and creativity — skills that are transferable across all areas of learning. Whether you’re a parent looking for a productive way to keep your kids engaged at home or an educator seeking innovative ways to introduce coding in the classroom, these unplugged activities offer a valuable resource.

Call to Action

Now it’s your turn to ignite the coding spark in your kids! Try out these activities and let us know how it goes. Do you have other unplugged coding activities that your kids love? Share them in the comments below —we’d love to hear your experiences and ideas!

And if you found this post useful, don’t forget to share it with other parents, educators, or anyone else who might be interested in teaching kids to code in a fun, engaging way. Also, explore our other coding resources for more ideas and inspiration. Let’s work together to make coding an exciting journey for every child!


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13 Unplugged Coding Activities for Kids - Richard Campbell (2024)


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