As computers become more accessible and powerful, many jobs are created for those who can program. Programming may seem intimidating, but by introducing it to your children at an early age this intimidation is avoided. Many tools and programs exist to aid in helping your children to understand how programming languages work.
Scratch is a free, child-friendly program for creating basic games, which was made to introduce children to the concepts of programming languages. As opposed to viewing code as a wall of text, Scratch represents code with ‘blocks’ shaped much like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. This way, children do not have to worry about syntax – only whether or not the ‘blocks’ fit together. Scratch is a great, light-hearted way to introduce your kids to programming concepts such as variables and procedures. As well as games, Scratch can also be used to create animations.
2) Visual Basic
Visual Basic is a program which allows the making of professional looking applications in a way that kids and adults alike can enjoy. It is more complicated than Scratch, but the ability to easily create interfaces is extremely rewarding. As Visual Basic is not great for the creation of games, it is more appropriate for teenagers than younger kids. The design phase of a program on Visual Basic is almost as simple as using desktop publishing software (such as Microsoft Word), but the coding process is slightly more complicated and similar to other programming languages. Visual Basic is not free, but there exists a ‘Visual Basic Express’ which is free, and still very powerful.
3) Lego Mindstorms
Lego Mindstorms are kits for building and programming small robots. The programming language used with these robots is NXT-G. It is much like Scratch, in that, ‘blocks’ are used to create programs. The advantage of Lego Mindstorms over Scratch and Visual Basic is that it allows children to physically see their programs in action. Although the kits can be fairly pricey, Lego Mindstorms kits are great fun for the whole family and there are extensive ways to use them.
These are just a few great tools that can help when introducing your children to programming. All of these tools are great for different uses, depending on the age and interests of the children you are working with. Try them all, and see what suits you.