A friend asked me for suggestions on classes her daughter can take to learn computer programming recently. She knew that I had once been a software developer programmer. Teaching kids how to program a computer can be done, at any age. Like school learning, though, there is more than one way and method of doing this. The best part is that this can be done for my favorite price, FREE.
Most people are not aware that there are so many ways to program a computer. Think of it like this, if someone asks you to bake a cake how would you respond? You would either make your favorite kind and hope they like it, or flip open your recipe book and ask them to pick their favorite, or show them your lovely Pinterest cake board and ask them to choose. Of course, you would also have to know the occasion. You wouldn’t make a sheet cake for a wedding.
Programming a computer is the same thing. There are so many different ways to get a computer to do things because they are so many different ways to use a computer. Some people only use it to balance their checkbook or pay bills. Some people use it to check Facebook or read articles on the internet. Some people use it it to play games. All of those different uses require different languages for parts of those tasks and other languages for other tasks.
A language is how we talk to the computer. Did you ever see the movie “Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy” where the Babel fish gets shoved into Arthur Dent’s ear so he can understand the aliens speech? Yeah, that is something like how we speak to the computers because their language is 1’s and 0’s. Except without the Babel fish.
Another thing to think about is that not all kids are created alike. As the parent you have to know what your kid is ready for and capable of doing. That is why there are so many ways to learn. If your son or daughter does not like one way that does not mean they simply are not capable of learning. It could simply mean that they do not learn the way the material is being presented. Try another! And another. And so on.
Because here is what I have learned in my 20 years of programming – everyone can learn something about programming. It just takes finding the right way to explain it to get the process moving along.
Just like learning any foreign language, sometimes you have to be immersed into it to really understand it. A kid does not just want to learn the language, they want to see what it can do! Keep these things in mind as you find the right way to teach your kid how to program a computer.
The very first programming lessons I gave the boys was using Scratch. This is very visual because it shows “blocks” that they can be moved around and manipulated on the screen. These are really program actions. Envision writing “clean bedroom without complaining” and “shut the back door all the way”, and other chores, then moving those in the order you want them to go. Once you are sure just hit enter and like magic the computer obeys.
I started J learning this when he was 4. Yes, as in four years old. He already had reformatted my hard drive by then, he saw me do it the day before, so I got the little monkey started. Kids these days have NO fear when it comes to programming or using computers. Let them explore and understand how it works.
He now says that was the boringest thing I have ever made him do. I know that he learned to understand computer logic playing this game, though. So, Mommy wins!
Kids With Some Experience
I started the boys on Alice.org when they were about 11 and 8 years old. Do not let all the gobbledegook computer speak throw you, no one is ever going to ask if you understand “object oriented programming” at the playground. What I liked about this site is that everything you need is right here. There is a lesson plan and videos that show the kids how to do the assignments. On the video tutorials page is a link to the lesson plans.
It does not matter which LP you choose I think. They are all excellent. Close your eyes and pick one.
This program is a little more complex but if you think your kid is ready you could certainly start here. Your kids can go as fast, or as slow, as they want because it is self paced. Which, if they are anything like Jordan, will only be a few short weeks. Because he ate this stuff up like Thanksgiving dinner.
When they get bored with this stuff, and they will, you bring on the heavy guns. We took J to the bookstore for his 12 birthday, told him he had $30 bucks to buy anything he wanted. He brought me this HUGE tome called “Java for Dummies: 9 books In One.” He was twelve years old! He could have chosen anything. I could see by the way he was holding that thing, like it was teddy bear, that he truly did have to have that book. I didn’t learn Java until I was 35.
He took that book and absorbed it. Now I see him programming things like it is nothing but a thing. I can follow along for the most part, once you learn one language you can learn another easily. It is just like human language that way. But I still do not get it. My kid has surpassed my knowledge.
You can download the free pdf of the fifth edition of the book. I would suggest printing out the table of contents and scheduling doing a new one every two weeks.
If she wants to learn how to program things like WordPress, one of the hottest things out there today, then she needs to know HTML and CSS. These are the languages that tell the computer how to make things look. This site, LJSkool.com, is run on WordPress and a lot of HTML and CSS. A lot.
Computer Programming Teaches You Logic
The very best reason to teach your kid how to program computers has nothing at all to do with computers. It will teach them how to think things through from beginning to end before even getting started.
That is called logic, my dear, Watson.
I’m sorry. The opportunity was there and I had to take it.
Computers do EXACTLY what you tell them do. If you are not getting the results you intended it is not the computer’s fault.
Every once in a while J will ask me why something is not working. I will have him tell me his logic by asking him what he wants it to do, then have him read through each step and what it does. Most of the time just by saying it out loud he will see his error.
Hmm, that is kind of like parenting in a way isn’t it?
That means focusing on each step, bit by bit, to figure out what went wrong. If that does not work a huge trick of mine is to think of what I do not want the computer to do. A lot of times there is less coding involved that way. Funny how that works.
The Most Important Thing
There are tons of ways to that you CAN teach your kid how to program computers. These are the ones that my family has tried, and loved. They are also my favorite price – FREE. Well, OK, except for the birthday book. Which, remember you can access for free now. Please do not spend money on a class until you know if your child is ready to learn, or even interested. Not everyone wants to know how to do this. Some kids are just wired differently.
Please do tell me how you used these ideas on our Facebook page. If you see any great pins on Pinterest that would help parents leave the URL in the comments below!