Friday Mar 21, 2008

Programming for kids

A while ago I started looking for ways to get my oldest coding. My first machine was a zx-81, with 1k of memory, and most of this was used by the screen, there was a big incentive to learn assembler. I'm not out to force him into assembler programming, but...

I evaluated a number of possibilities, one was the Kid's Programming Language (or Phrogram) which can do some impressive things in few lines of code. A sample 3D space 'game' takes about 30 lines most of which look like:

	If IsKeyDown( Up ) Then
		Ship.TiltUP( moveAmount )
	End If

I also looked at squeak, but it didn't grab me as being easy to use.

An interesting alternative to real coding is c-jump, which is a programming board game. I'm not quite convinced by the syntax, or the jumping around the board.

The first thing I tried with him was Java. Which was pretty successful, but I couldn't just leave him to get on with it. There's quite a bit of syntax to have to handle. So while it was a success, it relied on me finding the time to work with him.

We then tried scratch. This has been quite successful for the following reasons:

  • It's all drag-and-drop, and the programming constructs are coloured/shaped so it's easy to put them together correctly.
  • Its all graphical, and the interface is very intuitive. You can see the object that you're programming.
  • It has an integrated graphics editor so he can draw his own sprites. Changing the look of a sprite is a step towards looking at the programming of the sprite and from there modifying the programming.
  • The biggest thing has been that he can work on this autonomously, I just have to see the end results.

The downside of scratch is that it seems a bit limited in what it can do. He really wants to do 3D games - so perhaps Phrogram is the next stop.

Any other recommendations for kids programming?

About

Darryl Gove is a senior engineer in the Solaris Studio team, working on optimising applications and benchmarks for current and future processors. He is also the author of the books:
Multicore Application Programming
Solaris Application Programming
The Developer's Edge
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