Right now, many of us are still adjusting to a new reality of being stuck at home, away from offices, sports arenas, restaurants and classrooms. We are also being asked to deal with a whole new set of colleagues hanging around 24/7 – which for many means our kids.

And while figuring out “distance learning” can be overwhelming, this is also a great opportunity to give kids a bit of unstructured time to explore with technology (safely, of course) beyond just streaming movies. In fact, many of us at IRT started building our technical chops long before we were ever paid to code just by playing and exploring at home.

Growing up, we were tinkerers and gamers. We built the first websites for our family businesses, learned to program on school calculators, and broke more stuff around our houses than we care to admit. All that time playing was also teaching us the skills and tenacity we needed to thrive in the world of software.

Today there are infinite options for kids to get familiar with tech at any age. Here are a few of the tools and programs we like to share with our own kids to  get their technical wheels turning.

1. Scratch (and Scratch Jr.) – Scratch was developed at MIT as a programming language and community where kids can create and share games, stories and animations. Kids learn about computational ideas, the design process, and increase their overall digital fluency. Scratch can be played online or via an app for kids 8 to 16 years old. Scratch Jr. uses the same concepts but targets a much younger learners (5 to 7 years old).

2. Raspberry Pi – Raspberry Pi takes kids beyond the screen into the “makers” side of tech. These small, single-board computers were developed in the UK to teach the basics of computer science and can be used to program with Scratch or Python. Accessories, communities, and upgrades keep it engaging for kids and adults alike. (Note: our own Roberto Hernandez gives talks about prototyping with Raspberry Pi)

3. Swift Playgrounds – Swift is a language used to build apps for iOS, Mac, Apple TV and Apple Watch. Swift Playgrounds is an app for both iPad and Mac that teaches Swift through games and interactive activities. No coding expertise is required so it’s perfect for students.

4. Minecraft Hour of Code – In this free hour of code lesson, kids use Minecraft to learn coding concepts and explore artificial intelligence.  The lesson was inspired by Microsoft’s AI for Earth program.

5. Tello and Tello Edu – Once your student has spent some time with either Python or Scratch, you can add a programmable drone to expand beyond a laptop or a tablet. Make sure you watch out for your furniture though.

6. Khan Academy – Everything starts with math, and Khan Academy has a variety of FREE courses from early math all the way through calculus and linear algebra. Lessons, quizzes and evaluations keep students engaged and on-track.

Whatever tool you choose, don't forget to have fun. Parents and kids alike are feeling stressed right now, so remembering how much fun tech can be is important. And if you need a brain break, you can always watch the pandas at the National Zoo!