I would like to give my kids a step up learning to create computer programs. It seems like this is going to be an important skill to their generation. Do you have any suggestions on how to catch their interest?
Back in the dark ages (that is, the 1980’s, when Ken was learning to program—we don’t even want to discuss what decade Doug learned in), he began coding using a tool named Karel the Robot. This simulator took the form of managing the behavior of a software-based robot (named Karel, right?), using the concepts of computer programming to make the robot handle simple tasks. You can still find support for learning via Karel the Robot online (http://karel.sourceforge.net/), but it’s no more kid-friendly or attractive than it was 35 years ago.
Today’s kids need something a little more suited to their own tastes, focusing on visual games and simulations that seem like fun, in order to motivate them to write their own computer code. If you do a little research, you’ll find a number of visual introductions to programming meant for children, as young as 6 or 7 years old. For the youngest set, check out Daisy the Dinosaur (https://goo.gl/BhzsqI), an iPad app that allows kids to manipulate Daisy through challenges that require them to investigate loops, if-then decisions, and other programming constructs. If you’re a Logo fan from way back (writing programs to move a little triangle, perhaps imagining that it was, in fact, a turtle), you’ll appreciate Move the Turtle (for iPhone/iPad, https://goo.gl/Q6mMfq). This app allows children (or any programming beginner) to solve tasks using programming constructs and a cute animated turtle.
For the slightly older kids, check out two very well respected tools: Hopscotch (iPad, https://goo.gl/9ghkk) and Scratch (web-based, https://scratch.mit.edu/). These learning tools are more robust, offer more features and capabilities, and can take the pre-teens through some practical programming skills. Microsoft has entered this arena, as well, with its Kodu tool (http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/projects/kodu/). You might find this Microsoft Research-based tool interesting and useful.
If you start researching kids and coding, you’ll find a ton of resources. We ran across a nice summary article (http://goo.gl/onU3l). Start there for more information on the various learning tools.
We firmly believe that although your children might not grow up to be programmers by trade, the skills they learn in making the computer handle tasks can help them in many professional areas—take the time to get them interested at a young age, and they’ll develop skills they can use forever. Then you can let them teach you a little!