5 Year Olds Coding Without Technology

Melissa Dann (@meld70) is a prep teacher in Melbourne Australia who has begun exploring the concepts of coding with her five year old students. Yesterday she sent me the email below. As she reflects on her own practice, I applaud her confidence in considering a blog post – way to take a risk! As such, I asked if I could quote her here in this space to get comfortable. Check out the really cool things that are happening!

Hi Brian,

Here is a quick overview of what been happening in my classroom teaching coding to 5 year olds. (Just a reminder that we have been at school for 12 weeks – its amazing!)

Game : Robots and Programmers

Children work in pairs. One child is the Robot the other is the Programmer.

Language development is an important part of the activity. Programmers can ask Robots to take steps, turn, jump, hop etc. Programmers cannot ask their Robots to do anything dangerous. Programmers must say please, or the Robot will not respond. This is similar to the game Simon Says, where the children don’t respond unless the command is prefaced with “Simon say….” And saying please is just good manners.

I kept it to a maximum of 10 steps as the children were keen to ask their robot to take 100 or even 1000 steps however we realised (by counting how many steps it took to cross the room) that 10 was about right amount for the size of our room.  Also I place a big emphasis is on counting accurately. Some of these children cannot count accurately to 20 yet, and if they can, some don’t have 1 to 1 correspondence to 20. For the children who are very capable, they can ask their robot to move 5 plus 5 steps, or 2 less than 8 steps, double 2 steps etc. The children have to be able to work the answer out before the Robot can move.

  • Programmer: Take 10 steps
  • Robot: You didn’t say Robot please
  • Programmer: Robot please take 10 steps
  • Robot: 1,2 ……10 (counting steps)
  • Programmer: Robot please turn a quarter.
  • Robot : which way?
  • Programmer: (Using spinner, turns spinner) That way, right (pointing right)
  • Programmer: Robot please turn a whole circle.
  • Programmer: Robot please take 4 steps backwards
  • Robot: 1, 2, 3, 4
  • Programmer: Robot please take 5 plus 3
  • Robot: How many is that?  (Programmer and robot count on their finger 5 plus 3)

After playing this game the first time, it became apparent that we needed a way to decide how far a turn was, eg ¼ turn, ½ turn. So we made spinners with ¼ turn, ½ turn and full turn and that showed left and right. This is still a difficult concept, but I am persevering.  We also started using BeeBots on Friday and the spinners were helpful as each press of the turn button on the BeeBot  is a quarter turn.

We have also played outside on the playground and this led to a lot more use of location language.

It has been interesting to watch the dynamics between the pairs of children. As with all activities, some groups were very focused, others not so. One group was very silly until the children swapped roles, and then they were much more focused. I asked them at the end if it was easier being a Robot or a Programmer. One child (who was the programmer first) had found it very hard to be the programmer and think of things to ask their partner to do, hence the lack of focus. But when they swapped roles, they had enjoyed being a robot.

Its been a great learning experience for me and I have been thinking about blogging it – I haven’t done a professional blog before.

Thanks for your encouragement and support.




Kudos to you Melissa. This sounds like a really cool activity for you and your students. Thank you for letting me share it. I could also see Language teachers (French, Spanish, etc.) use this activity with predetermined commands!

Keep in touch!


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5 Responses for this post

  1. Lisa
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    I think this is a great activity. There are lots of different math concepts going on there. I am going to try it in my class. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Suzanne Awtrey
    Suzanne Awtrey
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    This is fantastic! I plan to use code.org with my kindies this year and will begin with this activity the first week. Thank you so much for sharing!!


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