Coding Games for Kids, Especially Girls, Have Come a Long Way

As someone who’s had my children in the last decade, I can tell you that the pushy-parent movement sometimes makes me feel like I’m failing my kids because they can’t code. I’ve always been a bit dubious about coding and young children, like WIRED’s Adrienne So: Is it really that necessary a life skill when getting them to master basic hygiene, or feeling generous enough to share a toy with a sibling, is tricky enough?

I had a change of heart about coding a few months ago, when a friend told me my girls should try a coding game she’d discovered: Erase All Kittens (EAK). A web-based Mario-style adventure game designed for children 8 and up, it combines a gamified, story-driven narrative and cute characters with something unexpected: kitten GIFs which pop up throughout gameplay. Plus, it’s currently free to play, a real perk when the cost of some coding platforms can feel off-putting and prohibitive.

My older two daughters, aged 8 and 10, are just the right target demographic for the game, and they became instantly hooked. (I’m not—yet I also find myself playing.) Instead of pulling them off the computer, I’ve been urging them to play more, realizing this is a far better use of their time than their previously preferred alternative: watching endless sponcon videos on YouTube.

EAK is more than fun: We’re learning practical skills as we play. It uses real syntax—the same that professional developers would use—to teach coding. This differs from most coding options currently available for kids, like Scratch or Blockly, which teach the basics of computational thinking using drag-and-drop coding.

“We’ve found that this has created a huge gap—between kids learning the simple concepts of coding, and being able to learn professional skills that can be applied in a creative, real-world context,” explains EAK cofounder Dee Saigal.

Coding Games for Girls Are Finally Here

While there’s no shortage of coding platforms and resources for children (Tynker, Code Monkey and Kodable, to name just a few), many seem geared towards younger kids, with little to entice tweener girls.

An oversight? Perhaps. Also, a huge problem: Studies show that the tween stage is a particularly critical time when it comes to engaging girls with STEM. Research from the Swedish School’s Inspectorate found that girls are just as interested in technology as boys up to age 11 (86 percent); by age 15, it drops significantly (37 percent).

But things are starting to change. Hopscotch, a coding platform for children cofounded by Samantha John, was born partly out of John’s feeling as a youngster that programming was “not made for people like me.” The creator-friendly platform allows kids to play others’ games and gives them the tools to make up their own. Girls do tend to pursue different projects than boys on the platform, programming games relating to music, storytelling, or design.

Girls’ varied pursuits are reflected in their gaming interests beyond coding: They’re half as likely as boys to play action games in Roblox (which saw 100 percent growth in female Roblox Studio players from March 2020 to March 2021, both under- and over-16s). They’re also 2.5 times more likely to spend time in role-playing experiences, compared to under-16 males, according to figures supplied by the platform.

It’s no coincidence that female developers are making these new girl-friendly coding games. They know how girls think.

When Saigal and her team were doing research for EAK, they chatted to hundreds of 8- to 13-year-olds, parents, and computing teachers. By replacing dry instructional text with story-driven gameplay and humorous dialog, by tailoring coding mechanics to teach each skill to avoid constant repetition, and by incentivizing kids with “instant results” coding, everyone, especially girls, felt more confident and interested while playing the game (cat GIFs were a fun add-on for some positive vibes).


Author: showrunner