Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Developing Computational Thinking Skills for Children Age 4-7

Computational thinking is the set of skills you need to be able to get computers to do useful things. It includes logical thinking, planning ahead, working with data, being able to give precise instructions and make predictions. There are lots of activities that can help young children aged 4-7 to develop these skills.

Computational thinking skills can be developed through coding but there are lots of other activities that help too. A lot of them are screenless which helps to develop modern skills while also developing other important skills including motor skills and communication.

Some of the ideas here are classic kids games and activities that you might have tried anyway, they just happen to be great for computational thinking skills.
  1. Brain teasers

    Puzzles and activities like spot the difference, crosswords and brain teasers are great for developing computational thinking. You can find them on children's activity sheets at restaurants, fast food, and cereal boxes, activity sheets at museums and event days and in children's magazines and annuals. Encourage children to have a go and help them out with harder puzzles to improve their technique.
  2. Apps

  3. Most kids enjoy spending time on a phone or tablet. Lots of computer games actually develop computational thinking. Children have to predict what's going to happen and come up with strategies for solving problems and winning games. Some apps specifically develop logical thinking skills. Look out for games that require the use of logic, memory or planning ahead. And also games that encourage kids to experiment and create digitally. We recommend apps by Tinybop and Toca Boca. Read our review of Tinybop apps.
  4. Logic Games

    There are some great hands-on logic games that can help develop children's problem solving skills. Smart Games make a range of logic games that are designed for younger children that develop logical thinking skills while children play.
  5. Trump Card Games

    Trump card games and trading card games are brilliant for learning to work with data. Children who have played Top Trumps style games find it much easier to understand the concepts of data and working with databases. There are loads of different sets available so you should be able to find something that fits your child's interests.
  6. Surveys and Collections

    Surveys are a great way to get kids thinking about working with data. Depending on the time of year you might be able to find surveys about butterflies, trees or other wildlife to participate in. Look out for the results or look at the results of the survey from previous years. Explain that computers are very good at working with large amounts of data but people need to think about what questions to ask.

    Tap into children's interests to learn about data. Children are often really interesting in facts and data about their favourite subjects. It might be the statistics for their favourite football team, knowing all the details of all the LEGO sets in their favourite range or knowing all the details about the characters in their favourite books or TV show.

    Questions about the biggest, smallest, oldest, first, fastest are great for thinking about data. 
  7. Guess Who

    Guess Who is a classic children's game that develops an understanding of data and logic as kids play. It's great for learning to spot similarities and differences and helping to understand how to ask good questions about data. Kids don't need to worry about that while they're playing though!

    You can find themed versions of Guess Who and even a version for younger children.
  8. Cluedo Jr / Clue Jr

    Cluedo (Clue in the US) is a classic game of logical deduction. There's a junior version of the game which has been designed for children from age 5.

    The junior version still involves logical deduction but it doesn't have the gruesome setting of the original. Instead the mystery involves cake!
  9. Secret Codes

    Anything to do with encoding messages and breaking secret codes is brilliant for computational thinking.

    Melissa and Doug make a Secret Decoder activity set which includes lots of activities that will introduce kids to the basics of cryptography. The kit is recommended for age 7+ so it's at the higher end of the age range, but some kids will enjoy it at a younger age, especially if a parent joins in.
  10. Physical Puzzle Toys

    There are lots of physical puzzle toys that develop problem-solving and planning skills. Just tell kids they are fidget toys! The puzzle ball is a popular option - you have to move balls one at a time to match the colour of the hole and the ball. If kids are going to spend ages fidgeting then they might as well do it with a toy that develops useful skills.

    Kids who want a real challenge could try a 2 x 2 Rubik's cube. It's actually more difficult to solve a 2 x 2 cube than you might think!
  11. Pattern and Rule-based Crafts

    Lots of craft activities involve working with patterns or following rules. Bead-threading kits and pixel art mosaics are good examples. There are also colour-by-numbers kits that involve mapping from a number to a colour, you can find versions for painting, kits that use pencil crayons and mosaics and there are even apps that allow you to colour by numbers. We particularly like the tiny puzzle-like plastic bricks made by Simbrix.

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