Programming for Kids

I first cut my teeth into programming when I was 9 on an old TI-99/4A on a black and white television. It took me several hours to copy some TI-BASIC code out of a book and into a simple editor screen. The results blew my mind. A simple little ball (I think it was red, but again this was a black and white TV 8^D) would bounce move my screen and when it reached an edge it would “bounce” and make a random noise. I’ll admit I really didn’t know what I was working with then. I suspect I was working with looping algorithm (for movement and keeping the app going), and a randomization algorithm (generating sound and the next direction for the ball to go. Overall it was pretty intense and there was no explanation in the code, just commands to type in.

This past week my girls (nearly 9 now themselves) dived into their first world of programming. Thanks to a site called Code Studio.

It wasn’t nearly as “syntax rich” with commands, but it it was more “semantically” rich with concepts. In one particular “puzzle” they had to move a friend around a tennis net to the other and have them do a little dance or something when done. Another one they had to get through a maze. The girls are just starting out but are hooked! They are working their way through the intro series, and then who knows where we’ll go from there. There are tons of options to go through.

What is great about this approach is that they are learning more about general programming concepts and creating algorithms to solve problems (move left, move down, move right, toggle sound), than getting knee deep into code at this point. Yes they are building code, using a list of predefined options and a nice “block layout” to show how each command links to the next for sequencing, but they are learning fundamentals that will transfer into any programming language. It’s quite a bit of fun too! The girls can’t seem to get enough of it at the moment and my wife has indicated she might sign up and poke through some courses too. There are also some “Angy Birds”, “Plans vs. Zombies” and “Frozen” themed lessons to add to the fun.

At a higher level, the problem solving skills, algorithm building, and general programming concepts will be invaluable no matter what path they choose in the future. [Note: I am not pushing my girls to be programmers but will have no complaints if they want to have an in home hackathon sometime in the future 8^D] Society is becoming increasingly technology rich [wait… I have to program my thermostat now and make sure it gets updates from the internet?!] and having this fundamental knowledge will be a good thing.

So get your kids programming! You can access Code Studio from nearly any brower. My girls are actually accessing the lessons from their Nexus  7 tablets without a problem. If you’re looking for other resources, I’ve heard some great things about Hopscotch (for iPad) and UK folks are lucky enough to be able to try out a Doctor Who based programming game over on the CBBC site.

Know of any other kids programming resources? I’d love to hear about them! One day we’ll dive into C# over here. 8^D

What are your 10 bits on the matter? I want to know!

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