Programming for kids

logo-easter We spent the long Easter weekend, lazing happily indoors since the weather did not permit going out. I wondered if the time could have been spent better, and started researching if my older daughter is old enough to start programming.

Little background

My daughter will soon be six and she can use the computer very well for the usual tasks and I think she is a bit ahead of the curve, but that might just be a father speaking 🙂

The big bottleneck, I see, is her poor English skills. English not being our native tongue and she going to a German kindergarten, has limited her knowledge of English to a few words and phrases. Thus reading and writing code is going to be a challenge.

Visual programming

Given the language ‘handicap’, I started looking out for what the best way to visually teach programming, which does not involve much reading and writing. A little research resulted in 3 options, 2 of which are old and I had come across and one that is pretty new.

Alice

Alice is project from Carnegie Mellon University, with a lot of industry backing. It is quite mature, but does not seem to be actively developed. for example Alice 3.0 is under development for over 4 years and still in a beta state. The recommended documentation is to buy the ‘Learning to Program with Alice’ book.

In addition, it is targeted towards high school students, although and interesting, but unsupported side project, Storytelling Alice is targeted towards younger children.

For now, I have decided to give it a slip and will revisit once Alice 3.0 is more stable.

Scratch

Scratch is a project from MIT. It has a smaller learning curve, but is more limited compared to Alice. I think it only supports 2D compared to 3D support from Alice. This makes it more approachable for younger kids. In addition there are tons of lesson plans, documentation and samples available. Scratch has built-in sharing and there are literally a million user submitted projects.

All in all, I think Scratch will be a good starting point for my daughter. But, there’s more

Kodu

The latest entrant on the scene is Kodu, a Microsoft Research project. originally written for Xbox as a meta game (a game builder), a technical preview for PC has recently being released. It is a very visually engaging and has a polished feel to it. Given that it is a fairly new project, the documentation is lacking, save for the in game help and sample, and a few blog posts. Let’s see how it goes. There is always Scratch to fall back on.

image

And

Oh yes, there are a few more options, especially Logo and Lego Mindstorms NXT.

3 comments

  1. I teach Alice to middle and high school students (still on Alice 2) and it is definitely too complex for young kids. I do use the book you mentioned and it has worked well.
    I taught my daughter using Logo. She is 10 now and will probably move on to Scratch this year and then Alice. My older 3 kids started round 11 learning Visual Basic so they didn’t have the advantage of the animation style languages, but they managed fine.

    1. I do know about ‘Snake Wrangling for Kids’, but that involves a lot of reading an writing code. Thus did not make it to the shortlist 🙂
      If it continues to be the best resource in 3-4 yrs time, I will pick it up.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *