Coding Unplugged and Screen-free for Early Years

You don’t need a screen to experiment and discover key principals of coding.

Marble runs, mazes, and other kits selected here do exactly that. 

What’s more these examples of early-coding exploration not only take advantage of fine motor skills, creativity, three-dimensional thinking and other key concepts. They also encourage students to work together in teams.


What is Coding


The essence of coding is creating a repeatable sequence of events that achieves a goal.  That means:


  • identifying and shaping a goal
  • breaking down a task into a sequence of actions
  • trying out your sequence
  • identifying errors
  • correcting
  • trying again


We see the results of coding in almost every aspect of our lives from apps and software to manufacturing, animation, medicine, finance and more.


How to Explore Coding in the Early Years


You don’t need to know a programming language or even how to use a computer to engage children in developing important coding skills. 

Following abstract directions and diagrams to create patterns are key parts of coding.  You don’t need electricity let alone a screen or a computer to do that. Look around your centre and think about the activities your children engage in and you’ll see the aforementioned elements of coding in:

  • Games
  • Mazes
  • Domino runs
  • Train and vehicle sets
  • Dances
  • Recipes

To structure any of these activities into something that works on coding you just need to add two elements:

  1. planning
  2. a language to record and represent the sequence.



Your Coding Language


A coding language is what makes all of the above possible, repeatable and sharable.  A language that records this sequence of events, lets someone try out a sequence in their head first.  And, just as importantly it also communicates the sequence to other people.  That means the sequence is not only replicable but others can change the code to fix something or make it better or just try something new.

box coding instructions early years early childhood education louise kool canada proto-coding collection


Modern day programmers use what a computer keyboard will produce to write code:  words, numbers, punctuation and symbols.

For your early learners instead of keyboard and word based instructions you can use pictures, shapes or simple symbols.  Start with a few simple instructions.

You can created these instructions by:

  • printing on cards,
  • building from Lego or other sets
  • use readymade shapes or objects like wooden blocks
  • cut shapes out of cardboard
  • draw on slate, white board or even in sand



Coding Activity Ideas


Early coding skills in three dimensions:

Creating a maze or structure for objects to move through repeatedly and independently practices essential coding skills in three dimensions.

  • Mapping out and creating knock-down dominos mazes
  • Marble run
  • Rail road
  • Water fall set on a water table.

Movement and active play

Use Tactile Disks, Balance Boards, Balance paths and map out a path or sequence to get to the end with directions. E.g.

arrows for coding early years early childhood education louise kool canada proto-coding collection


Other ideas:

Demonstrate repeating patterns with blocks and transparencies.  Create instructions for a pattern that students can recreate in any material they choose.

Choreographing a dance represented in simple symbols – step right, step left, turn, jump, etc.

Let students create their own musical notation on a simple instrument.

Pattern, sequencing games like Aximo and Sudoky.



    Coding Unplugged and Screen-free for Early Years

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