Making alphabet coding ornaments is a great way for kids to learn the basics of coding without being in front of a computer. This coding activity will teach your kids the binary alphabet. Plus, the ornaments make a great homemade gift!
What does coding have to do with Christmas ornaments? Using different colored beads, your kids can learn the basics of coding while making personalized Christmas ornaments to hang on the tree.
The best thing about this Christmas coding activity is that it’s screen-free – that’s right, you don’t need a computer! Plus, this winter STEM activity is so simple that even my preschooler enjoyed coding her Christmas ornament out of her name.
My son loved the fact that we were learning machine language, which is based of binary code. And that’s why this alphabet coding activity is perfect to introduce young kids to computer programming and how computer processors work.
Learning machine language was one of my favorite classes as an electrical engineer, so I was super excited to teach my kids how binary code work!
What is Binary Code?
Binary code uses a two-symbol system, consisting of 0’s and 1’s. 0’s represent OFF, and 1’s represent ON. The binary code is translated into a decimal value, but it’s a little complicated for younger kids. You can learn more about it here.
ASCII, or American Standard Code for Information Interexchange, assigns the decimal value to letters, numbers, and other characters. Using the free ASCII chart, we can then translate the 8-bit code directly to capital letters.
How to Make Binary Code Christmas Ornaments
- Pony beads (you want a good number of two different colored beads, and a few beads of another color for the spacers. The spacers are optional, but I find that they make coding easier for younger kids)
- Pipe cleaners
- Free Christmas Coding Challenge printable
1. Using the ASCII chart, explain to your kids how binary numbers represent different letters of the alphabet.
2. Pick a word code! There are several Christmas-themed suggestions under the binary alphabet chart. Since it takes 8 beads plus 1 space bead for every letter, you don’t want to pick one that’s too long.
3. Pick a color for 0 and another for 1. You also want to have a separate color for the spacer, which separates your letters. We used white for 0, red for 1, and green as the spacer.
4. Start spelling your word by threading the correct sequence of beads on the pipe cleaner for each letter. Place a spacer between each letter. This is optional, but my preschooler kept losing her place without a spacer.
5. Once your kids coded the entire word, bend the ends of the pipe cleaner and tuck the ends into the beads to ensure no beads would fall off.
6. Tie a string or ribbon to the ornament and hang it up on the tree! You can also just hang it by the pipe cleaner if you have a section without beads.
We started off with a short word, JOY. My first-grader had no problem getting the hang of looking up the binary numbers for the letters J, O, and Y and spelling out the word JOY in binary code.
My preschooler also understood the concept of how the binary codes represent the letters of the alphabet and completed the word SNOW by herself. It did take her some time though because threading the little pony beads on the pipe cleaner took some practice. It ended up being a great activity to exercise her fine motor skills.
For the word SANTA, we couldn’t fit all the beads on the pipe cleaner. There is always the option of twisting two pipe cleaners together to form a bigger ornament, but we wanted to keep the ornament small. So we omitted the spacer beads and made a candy cane shape out of the SANTA ornament.
My kids are so proud that they made ornaments in binary code. They asked daddy if he knew what the ornaments meant, and without any context my husband was clueless. The kids thought that was hilarious and loved the fact that they knew this “secret code” that daddy didn’t know.
This DIY Christmas ornament makes a great homemade gift for the kids to give to their friends, grandparents, and even teachers (especially one versed in STEM!). The secret message behind the ornaments makes them that much more meaningful.