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Kid-Friendly Programming Languages

With the right tools, anyone (even beginners who have never programmed anything before) can easily create their own animations, stories, video games, and other interactive programs. The key is finding the right programming language for your task and your level of experience. The table can help you find just the right combination. So take a look at the table, decide what programming language is best for you, and give it a try. You may be surprised at how quickly your creations take on a life of their own!

Programming Language/ Environment Operating System Download From Cost Use to Create Difficulty Level Additional Science Buddies Resources
Gamestar Mechanic
  • Windows
  • Mac
http://gamestarmechanic.com/ ?cid=scibud (use online) The basic version is free; advanced version is available via subscription.
  • Games
Beginners.
This is a simple way to introduce beginners to video-game design. No programming is involved. For an introduction to programming, choose another of the beginner packages.
 
GameMaker
  • Windows
  • Mac
http://www.yoyogames.com/ The basic version is free; $40 for advanced version.
  • Games
  • Animations
Beginners and beyond.
It's easy and simple for beginners, but it has enough complexity and options for more experienced programmers. This is a good place for beginners to start before graduating to Kodu and Pygame.
GameMaker User Guide
Scratch
  • Online, any platform
http://scratch.mit.edu/ Free
  • Interactive stories
  • Animations
  • Games
  • Music
  • Art
Beginners and beyond.
Easy and simple for beginners, Scratch features enough complexity and options for more experienced programmers. Straightforward and fun enough for even early elementary school students, it's a good starting place before graduating to StarLogo TNG and Pygame.
Storytelling Alice
  • Windows
http://www.alice.org/kelleher/ storytelling/index.html Free
  • Interactive stories
  • Animations
  • Games
Beginners and beyond.
This is especially good for users who want to make animated stories. It's also a good place for beginners to start before graduating to the more advanced Alice.
Alice
  • Linux
  • Mac
  • Windows
http://www.alice.org Free
  • Interactive stories
  • Animations
  • Games
Intermediate and beyond.
It's slightly more complex to use than Storytelling Alice but has far more options.
 
Kodu Game Lab
  • Windows (graphics card requirements are strict)
  • Xbox 360
http://fuse.microsoft.com/kodu/ (Windows) or the Xbox Marketplace in the Indie Games channel (Xbox 360) Free for PC, $5 for Xbox 360
  • Games
Intermediate and beyond.  
StarLogo TNG
  • Linux
  • Mac
  • Windows
http://education.mit.edu/ drupal/starlogo-tng Free
  • Simulations
  • Models
  • Games
Intermediate and beyond.
It's especially good for making complex real-world simulations.
 
Pygame
  • Linux
  • Mac
  • Windows
  • Several mobile phone platforms
http://pygame.org/ download.shtml Free
  • Games
  • Multimedia programs
Advanced.
This is appropriate for users with some programming experience or a dedication to learning on their own. Trying one of the beginner/intermediate languages first or taking a programming class is advised. Pygame is a game-centric version of Python, a more general programming language.
 

Not sure how to turn a love of games or programming into a science project? The Science Buddies guide on Tips and Resources for Making Video and Computer Games has more information about using video games in science fair projects. The guide also lists a number of other places you can show off the games you make. Additional Project Ideas can be seen in the Video & Computer Games and the Computer Science sections of this website.

Teachers, parents, and other educators interested in using video games and animations for educational purposes can find more useful tips in the Resources for STEM Education Through Video Game and Animation Creation.