Kids and ComputersJune 6, 2005
My son, for instance, is 11 years old, and is attracted to gaming and technology, but it's hard for me to figure out how to motivate him to look into the machine in a more deep way.
The post prompted many interesting comments and a thorough response from Eric Mack. Microsoft just released a new site to help kids explore programming, Bitman's Place. You can also check out this Programming 4 Kids summary.
I think a lot about this because my son Ben is very interested in computers, more so than I was at his age. He loves to express his creativity through technology, but I've struggled with the best way to introduce the power of programming. With the endless advances in software over the past 15 years, I'm continually surprised at the lack of elegant ways for a child to learn programming. We've experimented with many different tools, including Radio Userland (outline-based scripting can be a great way to start), basic HTML/PHP website design, and Squeak (quite good, designed for children, but graphically dated).
The best tool we've found is one we discovered only recently, Processing. Though it's definitely not for young (under 8) children, this is a very nice, cross-platform, programming tool that allows you to be as simple or as advanced as you like. It is completely self-contained, thoroughly documented, free, and does a wonderful job of hiding a lot of the normal complexity. For instance, if you run your program, but don't end it, you can modify the code and click run and it will simply close your previous instance. It also takes care of naming and saving your various projects.
The best part for kids is that it's primary focus is on creating very cool graphics. Here's a great overview.
If you'd like to experiment with programming, or know a young one who would (with your able assistance), I highly recommend it.