Apple's Hour of Code workshops delight kids... of all ages!

Google gets a lot of attention and even affection for giving away free services in exchange for our personal, private data. Apple doesn't want any of that. When you buy something from Apple, just like stickers and cables come in the box, hundreds of millions of dollars of educational programing and probably billions in free apps and services, everything you need to start exploring code and photography and video and music and much, much, more also comes invisibly in that box.

If you think Apple products are too expensive, this is where some of that money goes, so you should absolutely go, get in on all the free classes and training, and take that money back. Even if you've never bought an Apple product you can still take all of it, all for free.

Hour of Code workshops is one of the most prominent examples. Apple's been participating in the event for a few years now, originally using web-based tools and techniques but, more recently focusing on its still newish, free Swift Playgrounds app for iPad, and all the free lessons its been releasing to go with it.

Apple's been doing Hour of Code for a few of years now. Last year, the company introduced its Swift Playgrounds to the mix. With new and improved lessons to go with it, and the ability to control robots — yes, robots! — it makes the same kinds of code used to create next-generation iPhone, iPad, and Mac apps not just accessible to everyone, but relatable.

For the last couple of years I've gone to my local Apple Store with my school-aged god kids to sit in on Hour of Code. This year, well… I'll get to that in a minute.

In stores with the new Forums, kids and their parents gather around the giant displays, on the geometric seating, and wait for the pre-prepped iPads to be handed out. In older school stores, tables and chairs serve the exact same purpose.

Way back in the first year, one of the hour-long workshop consisted of a series of code-based puzzles the kids needed to solve. The puzzles used characters and imagery from popular games like Angry Birds and Plants vs. Zombies. Instead of focusing on the nuts and bolts of coding and forcing kids to write brackets and if statements, however, the children were asked to build pre-created modules, much like an Automator or Workflow module. They simply dragged blocks of code from the sidebar to the main canvas — code that told their on-screen characters to move or turn, as well as how much or how often.

At some of the bigger stores, Apple also brings in local developers to work with and inspire the children. This year I went to Apple Laval and a couple of the developers from Budge Studios, famous for its kids games and the new Transformers: Bumblebee game, were there to answer questions before the hour began, and to work with the kids until well after it ended.

In previous years, my god kids have asked "Why couldn't it be two hours of code?!" This year, I saw several kids say the same thing. Including a large amount of young girls, which all sorts of programs from App Camp for Girls to Girls Can Code have been working for years to provide more exposure to and opportunities for coding experience.

And their teachers. Because Apple doesn't just do the yearly Hour of Code. It also has a program called Field Trips where entire classes can come in and learn. According to the staff of the local French elementary school I spoke to, it's a huge benefit to them because they didn't yet have a coding program in house.

I hadn't realized this but not all of the material had previously been available in languages other than English but, as Apple has become more and more involved, not just Swift Playgrounds but a ton of the supplemental course material has been made available in a much wider range of languages, with more coming every year.

Hour of Code happens for a couple of weeks once a year but Apple hosts free lessons and free training on coding for kids and adults all year long. In fact, it has a fairly new course on prototyping that's straight out of some of my favorite WWDC sessions past. I can't believe it's in the stores but I'm so delighted it is.

If you don't have an Apple Store near you, you can still download the free Swift Playgrounds app and go through all the free course material. If you work in a school, Apple also has free course material available for both of its initiatives, Everyone can Code and Everyone can create.

It's not just one of Apple's biggest products, it's one of the least know and least taken advantage of, especially when it comes to things like Field Trips for schools and Apple Camp for kids, so make sure you let your friends know, let your schools know, let everyone know. Pick some classes, get some people together, and go, go go.

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.