Daisy the Dinosaur is an iPad app that teaches basic programming to young children. It has a Challenge Mode, in which the user is given 5 challenges that increase in difficulty, beginning with programming the dinosaur to walk forward. In Freeplay Mode, the user can experiment with several different commands, including making Daisy grow or shrink.
I think that this app is perfectly appropriate for students as young as Kindergarten. They may need some help with the reading, but will enjoy solving the problems. My daughter is 9, and I handed her this app with no instructions. With no previous experience in programming, it took her a few minutes to understand her task in a couple of the challenges, but she quickly resolved them. She loved the Freeplay Mode, and was very disappointed that there weren’t any more challenges after the 5th in Challenge Mode.
Daisy the Dinosaur is a good introduction to programming. If you have a child that catches on to Daisy pretty quickly, you might want to also let them try Cargo-Bot, another free programming app. I reviewed Cargo-Bot previously on this blog. Cargo-bot is addictively fun, but is definitely aimed toward older children (probably at least 9 or 10). Another way to hook children in that age range, although much more complex and expensive, is to get them involved in Robotics using the Lego Mindstorms kit.
All of the above activities are fabulous for working on problem-solving skills, logic, and perseverance. Even if you have never learned programming, give Daisy the Dinosaur a try, and I have a feeling you will understand how easily it can engage our students.