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Ask Slashdot: Best Book Or Game To Introduce Kids To Programming? 246

New submitter connorblack writes "My very gifted nephew is about to turn nine this month and I would love to get him some sort of fun, engaging book or game to introduce him to the basic concepts of programming. I have a feeling if approached correctly he would absolutely devour the subject (he is already working through mathematics at an 8th grade level). What I first was looking at were the Lego Mindstorm programmable robots- which would have been perfect, if only they weren't around 300 dollars... So if there's anything similar (or completely new!) you've either heard praise about or used yourself with your kids, it would be great to get a recommendation. Also if possible I would want to stick to an under 100 dollar budget." Would a nine year old be able to follow The Little Schemer?
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Ask Slashdot: Best Book Or Game To Introduce Kids To Programming?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 15, 2012 @10:02PM (#41665243)

    How about you first show him this:

    Then you show him the ORiley Python Book.

  • GORILLA.BAS (Score:4, Interesting)

    by damn_registrars ( 1103043 ) <> on Monday October 15, 2012 @10:03PM (#41665257) Homepage Journal
    That was the first game I ever changed the code on. Of course, first we played it as is to figure out what we could do. Then we went into the code and broke it - who says bananas can't fly straight through solid buildings?
  • by 109 97 116 116 ( 191581 ) on Monday October 15, 2012 @10:18PM (#41665353) Homepage

    Get him something larger in scope than programming. Look into astrophysics or biology or botany sciences, or aeronautics, mechanical engineering, chemical engineering, materials sciences, anything engineering related or high math or high tech, but not programming.

    Think about promoting something where they seek interests and career lines that might work for themselves or create their own corporation.

    If you want to shoot for an interest leading to most likely employment, get him something for marketing and business. Entrepreneurship as well.
    I don't recommend these as careers for everyone, but there will be lots of need.

    Alternatively, get him a book on how things are actually made, not how they say they are on How It's Made or Mythbusters.
    Something with a lot of good photos of Injection molding, machining, forging, casting, metal injection molding, powdered metallurgy, 3D printing and Selective Laser Sintering, Fused Deposition Modeling, etc.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 15, 2012 @10:24PM (#41665377)

    The main development language is C# for using XNA. Microsoft gives you a GREAT example driven e-book (and free tutorials are everywhere), and all the tools FOR FREE. He can program straight to PC (and Xbox if you buy the $99 a year membership), and use a controller for interface for either. It's pretty easy to pick up, as it explains just about everything. I've been programming since Kaypro][ days (when I was 6), and to get started, you really don't have to go much past if/then, basic integer and boolean variables. I'm still using my 2nd grade level programming skills today!

  • GameMaker (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Purity Of Essence ( 1007601 ) on Monday October 15, 2012 @10:24PM (#41665381)

    Without hesitation, I'd go with GameMaker along with the book The Game Maker's Apprentice, and followed by The Game Maker's Companion. The first book includes an older version of the GameMaker software which is all that will be needed to complete the exercises. If your child likes the process, move onto the second book which covers more advanced concepts. Those books, along with either GameMaker 8.1 or GameMaker: Studio should your child want to move onto more current versions, will all fit within your $100 budget, and it will only cost you $20 or so to get started.

    The books are excellent learning tools and the GameMaker software itself was originally created by co-author and Utrecht University professor Mark Overmars to teach programming. It's a great way to get ones feet wet and very good games can be created with it if one is willing to put in the effort. If you child wants to move on to more popular languages, GameMaker will provide them an excellent foundation for learning them.

  • RoboRally (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JoshDM ( 741866 ) on Monday October 15, 2012 @10:33PM (#41665437) Homepage Journal
    RoboRally [], if you can get it!

    Richard Garfield, creator of Magic the Gathering, didn't win awards for it for nothing.

    Race your robot against your opponents to get to the goal first. Program your robot figurine for each round selecting and ordering basic movement cards (forward, forward x2, backwards, turn left, right, u-turn) using a larger set. If you are damaged, your set of cards to choose from reduces until your registers you've programmed lock into place. Teaches how to think ahead and very basic programming skills. My five-year-old has been slowly learning how to play by laying out cards in order and having me beep-boop the robot into horrible predicaments he programs out. After two games, he seems to have gotten the hang of it and is able to guide the bot to the goal without falling into pits. Soon he will be up against me and my lasers; then he'll know true pain.
  • +1 for Python (Score:5, Interesting)

    by occasional_dabbler ( 1735162 ) on Monday October 15, 2012 @10:36PM (#41665463)
    Yep, get him into Python, he should be able to pick that up quickly enough to keep him interested but it will also offer him challenges for years if he wants it. Or... at the risk of being downmodded (again) for not being a MS/Nokia hater, you could get him a cheap WP7 phone (plenty around right now with WP8 coming) and take a look at the amazing TouchDevelop scripting environment that lets you write anything from one-liners to quite complex apps right on the school bus, mostly without having to actually write anything - you connect up various blocks and pipes to get results. []
  • by The Dancing Panda ( 1321121 ) on Monday October 15, 2012 @10:47PM (#41665535)
    I'm pretty sure there's new versions of it out, and it's a good start to what engineering (in pretty much any sense) is all about.
  • Re:Scratch (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 15, 2012 @11:28PM (#41665729)

    +1 for Scratch, my son loved that at age 8. Later he tried Alice but didn't like it as much. Several years ago we got him an excellent kid-oriented Python book, "Hello World! Computer Programming for Kids and Other Beginners" by Warren D. Sande and Carter Sande (, highly recommended. Gets into graphics via Pygame.

  • QBasic (Score:3, Interesting)

    by katchup ( 2753329 ) on Tuesday October 16, 2012 @01:20AM (#41666153)
    I started programming at 8 or 9 years old with QBasic on an old computer. My dad just showed me how to do one or two simple programs (simple loops), but I learned pretty much everything by myself with the included documentation. I know QBasic is a really shitty language for real projects, but it's fun for a kid because it has a lot of basic functionalities included, he can easily do simple I/O, draw graphics, etc. A few years later I moved to php, and then to C and C++. I've forgotten pretty much everything about basic, but I know how to code. So just give him a QBasic environment, QB64 provides an IDE that looks and behaves like the original QBasic/QuickBasic IDE, and runs on modern hardware/software. It should be perfect. (Though I don't know how good the documentation is)

The intelligence of any discussion diminishes with the square of the number of participants. -- Adam Walinsky