Life-Size Coding

Children take turns being a programmer and the computer as they play on a life-size game board. In this group activity, children learn about programming, while practicing their communication skills.

Materials Required

  • Chalk
  • Index cards (optional)
  • Markers (optional)


1. Using chalk, set up a life-size game board in the shape of a grid on a sidewalk, driveway, or large open space. Add in different colored shapes throughout the grid. See the example below for inspiration.


2. Create index cards with colored shapes to match the ones on the game board (optional).

3. Select one player to be the programmer and another to be the computer. Take turns so that everyone gets a chance to try both roles!

4. The computer should stand on the game board. The programmer will tell the computer where to start, and then where to go on the board. The computer will follow these instructions exactly. For example, the programmer might say, “2 steps forward” and the computer will move 2 squares directly forward on the game board. Or they might say “turn right” and the computer will turn to the right. Use the following as commands: “Turn right; turn left; Forward __ squares; Back ___ squares”.  Each command can be repeated as many times as you wish; for example, you might need to turn left twice in order to face the right direction.

5. Once the basic concept is mastered, add in the challenge of getting the programmer to move the computer to a particular colored shape on the game board. You can use shape cards to draw a challenge. For example, have the programmer draw a card before beginning. If the programmer draws a purple star, the challenge is to direct the computer to the purple star on the game board.

Additional Tips

  • If an older child is the programmer, challenge them to plan the entire sequence of moves before telling the computer what to do. If a younger child is the programmer, invite them to go move by move.

Links to Creativity

Flexibility and an openness to experience are essential for creativity. Both programmers and computers must be flexible and ready for a new challenge. Working closely with a partner encourages collaboration and enhances communication skills. Children must adapt to novel constraints (such as the constraint of having to move within the game board grid) in order to successfully complete seemingly simple tasks.

Supporting research includes:

Feist, G. J. (2010). The function of personality in creativity. In J. C. Kaufman, & R. J. Sternberg (Eds.), The Cambridge Handbook of Creativity (pp. 113-130). New York: Cambridge University Press.

McCrae, R. R. (1987). Creativity, divergent thinking, and openness to experience. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52(6), 1258-1265.

Sonnenburg, S. (2004). Creativity in communication: A theoretical framework for collaborative product creation. Creativity & Innovation Management, 13(4), 254-262

Stokes, P. D. (2005). Creativity from constraints: The psychology of breakthrough. New York: Springer Publishing Company.

Stokes, P. D. (2007). Using constraints to generate and sustain novelty. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts1(2), 107-113.

Stokes, P. D. (2009). Using constraints to create novelty: A case study. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts3(3), 174-180.


This activity was contributed by the Bay Area Discovery Museum. ©2016 Bay Area Discovery Museum. For more information and resources see