Here are some ideas for kids of all ages, as well as parents and adults. Some of these event ideas require little or no technology. You only need a room, someone to lead the event, and parents, siblings, or other relatives to work with kids throughout the event. The easiest place to start would be board games with kids and parents. For older kids, they will need access to a phone, tablet, laptop, or desktop computer with web browsers and other software.
These ideas also might be a way to gauge community interest and lead to more involved activities, for example, setting up a maker space.
Resources mentioned are linked at the bottom of this article.
Kids Ages 5-8
For this age group, and really anyone new to technology, there are a number of board and card games that are lots of fun as they teach the basics of computer science and programming. Robot Turtles teaches players about conditional logic and strategic thinking as they direct others through the game. One Robot Turtles game can be played by up to 5 people with a parent or adult to keep everyone on track through the game.
Other board games include Code Monkey Island and Treasure Island. Fun card games include littleCodr and Bits and Bytes.
Kids Ages 8-12
Kids familiar with the basics of computer science and programming can evolve into services and languages that make it easy to play around as they learn more about programming. These services and languages also include offerings from simple to more complicated. Some are available online with a browser and internet connection. Others are apps which must be downloaded.
Hosting an event would require kids bring in phones, tablets, and laptops or have them provided by your library or group. Parents or adults would be needed for every 3-5 kids to help them set up and answer questions. Because these programs are available online, often with free versions, it’s not difficult for adults to play around before the event and become comfortable with the service or language used for the event.
Tynker.com, Run Marco!, Erase All Kittens, and The Foos are examples of online services that teach kids how to program in a fun way. Hopscotch, Scratch, and Scratch Jr. are equally fun but require downloading an app. For younger kids, Move the Turtle is another app which is easy to master.
In addition, CodingFarmer is a board game that lets players learn two ways, with code (Java) and without code. It’s similar to games like Robot Turtles but with the ability to learn with Java.
Kids Ages 12 on up
In addition, there are apps with interactive consoles that include tutorials. Your event might spend an hour to work through a few of the lessons, to get kids started with the ability to continue the tutorials after the event. Kids would need to bring laptops or have them provided. Adults supervising the event would need to work through the tutorials before to be comfortable answering questions.
Beyond Basic Events
In addition to events where kids and others can learn the basics of computer science and programming, there are other STEAM tools you could build events around. For example, Sphero and Wonder Workshop’s Dash and Dot robots miix programming with robots. Kids use a visual block language similar to Scratch to tell the robots what to do and where to go.
These events would require prior planning and use of existing lesson plans or creation of new ones to ensure the event succeeds. Both of these robots include websites with ideas that can be used for events, for example, creating an obstacle course for the robots to complete.
Another option might be Bitsbox, a monthly service that delivers easy to create and adapt phone apps kids can build. This might work as an ongoing event series to get kids interested and provide an evolving set of challenges instead of one-off events.
If you’re interested in equally fun but less technical options for STEAM events, also look into Computer Science Unplugged materials online, as well as reading Lauren Ipsum and the Computational Fairytale books to kids.
Robots and other STEAM tools to consider are organized in a matrix, sorted by grade/age, in the STEAM Tool chart linked below.
Code Monkey Island
Bits and Bytes
Erase All Kittens
SoloLearn Code Playground Apps
Move the Turtle
Dot and Dash (Wonder Workshop)
Computer Science (CS) Unplugged
Computing at School
Some excellent CS Unplugged activities, plus an online community that shares ideas.
Another great source of CS Unplugged activities.
Lauren Ipsum Book
Computational Fairytale Books
STEAM Tool Matrix
An updated list of board games, robots, visual programming languages, and other STEAM tools, organized into a matrix sorted by grade level.