The success stories of people who used MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) to pick up new skills and even change careers aren’t exactly rare nowadays. You probably have heard of people learning how to code by signing up for classes on sites like Coursera, eDX, and Udacity, then leveraging the knowledge that they’ve gained to find jobs and/or internships.
But what if your ten-year old kid expresses an interest in becoming a computer programmer?
These MOOC sites aren’t exactly kid-friendly, and most of the courses that are hosted there require at least highschool-level knowledege to fully comprehend (plus kids might not be so keen on participating in online class discussions if their classmates are scary grownups). Thankfully, there are a few child-friendly options that kids (and kids-at-heart!) can play and program with. Here are some notable examples.
Is it a game or is it a programming course? It’s actually both! In Lightbot, your kid takes control of a robot (the eponymous “Lightbot”) and guides the little guy by issuing commands that order Lightbot to walk, turn around, switch on a light, and so on. These commands are entered by clicking on icons that are displayed on the screen.
Lightbot is one of the simplest games out there, but its simplicity hides the fact that it teaches some complex programming principles like loops, procedures, if-then statements, and more in a very fun and cute manner.
Code.org “Hour of Code” – Write Your First Computer Program Lesson
Hour of Code is a global educational initiative endorsed by no less than the president of the United States himself. It seeks to have children from all over the world become proficient in computer programming with just an hour of code work everyday. The modules for the program, which are spread out across a number of affiliated websites, can be accessed at Code.org’s main website.
While most of the items that are featured on this list are also part of the Hour of Code, we’ll take a special focus on the website’s own Write Your First Computer Program lesson. This module is notable for featuring luminaries such as Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Microsoft’s Bill Gates. Through the use of videos, these celebrities will directly teach students some of the basic concepts involved in computer programming like conditionals, algorithms, and loops. What’s even better is that there is a drag and drop (pseudo) programming language (featuring the birds and the pigs from Angry Birds and the zombies from Plants Versus Zombies!) built directly into the module so that kids can instantly put into practice what they’ve learned.
Scratch is pretty similar to Code.org’s in-browser programming language, with its drag-and-drop functionality and simple syntax. Yet it is more powerful by leaps and bounds. Built in 2003 by the MIT Media Labs in cooperation with the Intel Foundation, Lego Foundation, Google, Dell, and Microsoft, Scratch can be used as a “gateway” for kids to dabble into more serious programming languages such as C, C++, Python, and others.
While the interface looks simple and cutesy (a cat sprite greets users when opening a new file), Scratch is powerful enough to create complicated games such as Mario-like platformers, simple RPGs (role playing games), and Dance Dance Revolution clones.
While Scratch is primarily targeted at kids, older students can also benefit a lot from it too. It is to be noted that Harvard’s famous CS50 (Introduction to Computer Science) course uses Scratch in its first week as a teaching tool.
Robozzle doesn’t actually teach you a programming language, but it does teach you how to think like a programmer. The premise here is simple: help the spaceship/pointer-like thing collect all the stars in each level. You must use a variety of commands to make the pointer do what you want it to do.
The great thing about Robozzle is that it can be fun for people of all ages (and not just for kids). The beginning levels are easy enough, while there are harder levels that even seasoned programmers might have a hard time to finish.
If your kid is ready to take on a “real” programming language, then go on codecademy.com and have him or her try out the lessons there. Codecademy has a gamified lesson system, so that kids will know exactly where they stand (in terms of knowledge gained) among their peers.
If your child shows interest in programming these are great tools to send them in the right direction. Who knows, maybe they’ll even build the next Facebook or Google when they grow up!