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Ask Slashdot: How To Introduce a 7-Year-Old To Programming? 315

THE_WELL_HUNG_OYSTER writes I'm a professional programmer and have been programming since I was a small boy. I want to introduce this to my 7-year-son but know nothing about teaching this to children. Since he enjoys Roblox and Minecraft very much, and knows how to use computers already, I suspect teaching him to write his own small games would be a good starting point. I'm aware of lists like this one, but it's quite overwhelming. There are so many choices that I am overwhelmed where to start. Anyone in the Slashdot in the community have recent hands-on experience with such tools/systems that he/she would recommend?
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Ask Slashdot: How To Introduce a 7-Year-Old To Programming?

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  • scratch (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 09, 2015 @05:22PM (#49442147)

    Use scratch. It's mildly obnoxious for a real programmer, but has everything you need off hand, and program flow is very easy to visualize.

  • BASIC (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Orgasmatron ( 8103 ) on Thursday April 09, 2015 @05:23PM (#49442161)

    Did BASIC get uninvented recently? Why do people not start there?

    • Re:BASIC (Score:5, Insightful)

      by dbrueck ( 1872018 ) on Thursday April 09, 2015 @05:44PM (#49442373)

      I guess in some ways I got into programming because computers were a novelty and there wasn't an endless supply of free stuff, so in many ways programming was the entertainment. But now there is gobs of relatively high quality and free stuff to entertain that also /sort of/ scratches the builder itch (as I write this, my son is sitting nearby on the free-to-play Robocraft).

      So the "problem" is that there is an endless stream of stuff competing for my kids' attention that (a) is of a quality leagues beyond anything they can hope to do anytime soon and (b) gives /some/ of the same "fix" I get from programming. Back in the olden days the gap between what you could do with e.g. BASIC and what you saw in commercial apps looked a lot smaller.

      I'm always searching for something that does a good job of being an intermediate level - I can get my kids to do a lot of the intro / visual programming stuff and they like it, but then they run into this seemingly huge chasm when they try to go beyond that. It's like, "ok, so now you made a rudimentary game that runs inside this special environment on some website. You want to advance to something more flexible? Ok, um, now we need to talk about files and directories and a whole slew of tools and junk you never knew existed or were needed. Also, prepare to start typing a lot and using all those punctuation characters you rarely use in school assignments. And don't get me started if you want to get your little game onto a device so you can show your friends!"

      On the one hand I think it's just part of getting into "real" programming and they just have to suck it up and deal with it. But I really think one or two of my kids could really get into programming and really like it, but I've yet to help them get over that hump from super basic stuff.

      • You might try looking at some of these projects []. They're fairly simple, but still are interesting enough. (Note: don't follow the text, it's somewhat unreadable, but the projects are interesting).

        Also, always be on the lookout for simple effects that have visual interest. Maybe like flashing the entire screen in a single bright light, cycling through colors. When I think of how much entertainment I got from a simple 'goto' loop that filled the screen with text, it amazes me.
      • I'm always searching for something that does a good job of being an intermediate level - I can get my kids to do a lot of the intro / visual programming stuff and they like it, but then they run into this seemingly huge chasm when they try to go beyond that.

        One option for this is Arduino. It's exciting to make stuff in the real world happen, plus they'll learn other skills like soldering. The gap between commercial stuff and what you're doing is either smaller or non-existent (if no commercial solution does what you want).

    • Re:BASIC (Score:5, Interesting)

      by AK Marc ( 707885 ) on Thursday April 09, 2015 @06:03PM (#49442533)
      Because Apple IIC C64 and others had BASIC essentially built in. And there were piles of magazines with BASIC programs to make and try. Now, the basic command line editors are not included in Windows. You can't drop to a command line and edlin yourself a working program. Maybe you can, if you download and install an editor, but doing that is the same as installing a compiler for C++, so the low barrier of entry to BASIC is gone. It's no longer any easier than any other language.
      • by caseih ( 160668 )

        QB64 is only a download away and presents a classic QB4.5 style text ide with an integrated compiler and debugger. It's as close to an out of box learning environment as you can get. And it can do graphics in an SDL window. Might be a perfect start for some budding programmer. Just encourage structured programming and you should be fine.

        In a different vein, installing Python and IDLE isn't hard and gets you running very quickly.

      • The number of entry points into programming that are available on the internet is staggering to someone like me who learned basic on a Apple II. The only "problem" these days is picking the entry point. Minecraft is a great pick for a child but not if the kid isn't interested.
    • I learned programming using GW-BASIC when I was 8 year old so I am quite partial to BASIC. SmallBASIC [] is quite good for teaching kids about BASIC. Rich scope for creating graphics and it has the turtle graphics primitives from LOGO too.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 09, 2015 @05:24PM (#49442171)

    They were about that age.

    I eased the process so, that I made them design the game story and visual look. Later on, they looked and gave input as I churned the code during the next few days. After it was done, and they wanted to change something about it, they had to do it themselves -- I left several 'little annoying things' that are easy to fix there, so that they would ask and would want them changed.

    Being able to do noticeable effect with little changes made code less mysterious to them, and they were able to change little things on their own later on.

    They don't want to be good at coding, and are interested in other things. But atleast now they have experience of that as well.

  • Get a Raspberry Pi. There are lots of free tools including a good version of BASIC. There are tutorials for writing simple games. Avoids all the problems of trying to write for a desktop PC.

  • Kodu (Score:4, Interesting)

    by x0n ( 120596 ) <> on Thursday April 09, 2015 @05:24PM (#49442175) Homepage Journal

    Kodu from MSR is excellent. []

    "Kodu is a new visual programming language made specifically for creating games. It is designed to be accessible for children and enjoyable for anyone. The programming environment runs on the Xbox, allowing rapid design iteration using only a game controller for input."

  • Scratch (Score:4, Informative)

    by NaiveBayes ( 2008210 ) on Thursday April 09, 2015 @05:25PM (#49442185)
    Use Scratch - [] It's what CoderDojo uses when teaching kids programming. It has a fun, immediately responsive interface. Bright colours and cartoon characters to attract kids, is easy to make basic games which makes it more fun, and still teaches programming logic.
  • I hear "Hello World!" works quite well, in the language of your choice since you're going to have to explain it to him.
  • When my daughter was younger and one day she said she wanted to do what daddy was doing I bought Toontalk. []

    It is more like playing a game than programming, it teaches looping as well as some maths and includes flashcards.
  • I haven't used this personally, but: []
  • Give the kid a computer, and programming book.
    Install an electronic lock on the door with an interface to the computer.

    Give them simple instructions.

    Write a program to unlock the door.

    If you get out, you can eat again.

    If you can't, you will die in this room.

    A person typically dies without water in 7 days, and without food in 14 days.

    Good luck.

    • by Krishnoid ( 984597 ) on Thursday April 09, 2015 @05:45PM (#49442389) Journal

      That's a bit draconian. Try this instead:

      • Write a program to unlock this box.
      • If you can unlock it, you can get your smartphone out of it.
      • You can't use your smartphone until you get it out of there.
      • A person typically goes insane without smartphone use in 7 hours, and comatose in 14 hours. Shorter for teenagers.
      • Good luck.
    • You die rather in 3 days without water, depending on heat/environment; and without food you easy survive 40 days or longer, depending how FAT you are.

    • Gosh, in my day proto-programmers would quibble those facts:

      "But I never drink water, only Jolt cola, yet I'm still alive!"

      "But I wager that I can go longer than 7 days with water - Soup is a food, so food alone it is for me"

      "Is an ice cube food or water - it is after all a solid", quickly followed with "well, I'ld like to see you last longer than 7 days on just steam".

      "Can I drink from the dehumidifier i my room? Can I use evaporation to purify my urine?"

      "what do you mean 'and' in 'without water in 7 day

  • by RingDev ( 879105 ) on Thursday April 09, 2015 @05:35PM (#49442279) Homepage Journal

    My kid loves this one: []

    I got him started on it when he was 10, and he completed all of the free levels in two weeks with minimal help after I worked with him through the first few.

    Lots of other great recommendations here: []

    The board game one I've heard is good for younger kids, but once they have it down it's rather boring.


  • Simple answer ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by angel'o'sphere ( 80593 ) on Thursday April 09, 2015 @05:36PM (#49442289) Journal


    Why the heck are you supposing a 7 year old one should/could/want do that?

    Can he write already? Read? (Likely yes) ... how is he in math? And why the funk do you want him to exercise his hobby behind a computer instead of playing outdoors with other kids, a dog or hanging in a rocking chair and reading, if he can read ...

    Coding is a nice word to camouflage all the variations of developing, programming, software engineering, computer science ... what actually do you mean with coding?

    Why don't you let him practice cooking and read a cook book and then let him experiment with cooking and write his own cooking book? That is far more "coding" than most "coders" ever do in their job.

    • by T.E.D. ( 34228 )

      And why the funk do you want him to exercise his hobby behind a computer instead of playing outdoors with other kids, a dog or...

      Interestingly, this is my /. quote of the day at the bottom of the page:

      "Life begins when you can spend your spare time programming instead of watching television." -- Cal Keegan

      So clearly he wants the kid to do that so that his 7 year old's life can finally begin. Are you anti-life, sir?

    • Tech is an ANSWER not a QUESTION.

      Tech is for older kids. Challenge and experiment at this age. Lego to make a bridge that the cat can cross . Draw a picture that Auntie thinks actually looks like a Badger not a [insert vague animal here] Create a birthday invitation card that has fizz. Ask 1,000,000,000 questions you don't know the answers to.

    • by msobkow ( 48369 )

      I agree 100%.

      Far too many parents push their kids way too damned hard and way too damned fast.

      Let the kid be a kid while he can! He has plenty of time in life for becoming a programmer, a doctor, a pianist, or whatever fucked up projection of your own hopes and dreams you want to foist on his poor life.

    • Why the hate? I see nothing wrong in letting a kid spend half an hour a day learning things that will probably be needed one way or another in her or his adult life. Especially if the kid's interested (and they usually are when the see parents work on a computer). There's plenty of time (s)he can spend playing outside anyway.
  • My then 8 year old wanted to learn Lua script so he could build original content in Roblox. I tried to convince him to learn to code something easier to teach first. That was HARD, harder than I thought, to convince him to try to learn to think in code before he tried to code in Lua.

    One night, he came out of his room long after bedtime crying and told me that earlier he copied someone's script into a level he made in Roblox, and now he was sure he was going to get banned because the game thought he was
    • the AK processing tutorials are excellent. please don't show it to your kids, though. 'cos i want mine to have a better chance in the job market.

  • Don't! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by EmeraldBot ( 3513925 ) on Thursday April 09, 2015 @05:39PM (#49442319)

    Unless you're kid truly displays a passion for it, I would not advise pushing him onto it. It's very likely that it'll overwhelm him, and then he'll never want to touch it again. If you are dead set on doing something like that, I would recommend starting with a LOGO implementation: those are usually pretty easy for most kids to handle, and indeed I got my start with it.

    But seriously, playing Minecraft and Robolox != enjoying programming. If anything, it shows that he likes building things, but that does not mean he is a programmer. Give him small and short steps, if at all; if you force this on him, he is going to hate it for the rest of his life. And if programming doesn't work out for him (and I highly suspect it might not), try giving him something practical or more physical; building models sounds like something he would enjoy, and LEGO's (if he doesn't have them already) would probably interest him.

    Do keep in mind, he might be playing Robolox and Minecraft for the social element behind them. It's very well possible he's playing them to make things, but a bunch of kids I've seen play it do so because it's an activity to do together, and I don't know they'd do it alone. Obviously, you are going to have to make that decision and I can't, but it's something to keep in mind.

    I don't mean to sound scary or anything, but you really want to make sure this is something your kid enjoys before exposing him to the full brunt of it. If he doesn't have a natural liking for it, it's going to be very stressful for the both of you. A lot like if your father ever made you play sports when you were younger - make sure gently stroking his interest does not turn to squashing it.

    Whatever happens, just keep an open mind and be sure he knows he can say what he wants. I wish nothing but the best of luck for you and your son!

    • Excellent points. Thank you very much for your insight.
    • The slashdot fortune at the bottom of the page is especially relevant today:

      "Life begins when you can spend your spare time programming instead of watching television." -- Cal Keegan

      How will he know if he has a passion for programming if he doesn't get over the learning curve to the fun part?

  • tell him to go build the biggest sand castle he has ever built before. But it has to be twice as big as the sandbox he has to work with. Tell him there must be an individual entry way and a window for every toy he has in his toy box. It must be ready and meet your expectations by next monday, so no time with family or friends during this hussle. Also you will be out of town on vacation for the rest of the week, so monday is the first review/LAUNCH. Offer him a quarter to get the work done. If he compla

  • Oyster,

    Personally, I would say seven is a bit young to start introducing him to programming. I don't know what your background is and what you expect from him but my biggest piece of advice is tread carefully. He has quite a few years to become interested/fascinated in programming as well as mature the thinking and analytic skills needed to be a successful programmer. Pushing too hard or introducing it before he's ready could result in him getting a negative attitude about programming. My recommendation

  • I'd suggest just getting a Raspberry Pi with Scratch. The bonus is there is some minor assembly required (the case) and all the wizbangery hardware is visible. And if the little tyke smashes it against the wall in a fit of rage against your efforts to force him to be a programmer, you're only out $50 (not counting the cost of the therapy sessions).
  • Bad idea (Score:4, Informative)

    by Jiro ( 131519 ) on Thursday April 09, 2015 @05:56PM (#49442475)

    Children aren't clones of their parents. (And even when we discover a way to make clones, they still won't be this kind of clones.)

    "I would have benefitted from learning programming early" or even "I did benefit from learning programming early" are terrible reasons to teach your kid programming early unless the benefits apply to most people, not just to you. And they don't.

    This is just a variation of the "how do I get my kid interested in sci-fi" [] or "how do I get my daughter interested in programming" [] questions we've had before, and the answer is the same.

    • That's a good point, but no reason to see if the boy's uninterested. In fact, I got my love of programming from my own father. The key is to know when to recognize there's no interest and to back off.
  • play chess with them — it strips away all the semantic crap that will change from language to language, and gets it right down to developing the sort of critical thinking that is required to think logically and consistently in programming.

    just chess.
    that's all.

    john p

  • Two words - LEGO Midstorms - it would be so awesome if they were around when I was seven... but I am thirty four. Anyway - LEGO Mindstorms - I can't think about better way to show how seemingly simple drag and drop programing can influence real world objects (robots man!).

  • It's a mod where you get little consoles, you craft them

    then you can program them with the simple scripting language Lua to automate actions in Minecraft: mine, fight, farm, etc

    it's good because they are programming *in* the Minecraft world: you're piggybacking on their love of the Minecraft universe to get them into programming [] []

  • I think 7 is too early. The kid should be outside playing and using his imagination with real world objects at that time.

    I also recommend using C. It's simple and C-derived compilers typically support some version of it.

    I learned to program in BASIC for the Atari and the Sinclair ZX-80 when I was 8 and a half. I don't recommend using numbered line BASIC or any BASIC, at all. If I could go back and somehow influence how I was taught, I would tell my parents to find something that supports parameterized funct

    • Also, I took a look at that list and: no.

      Don't teach him a useless joke / toy language like these ones on this list. It'll build a bad habit and the kid will be one of these losers saying "I don't know how to program but I got code::blocks and here's my console emulator, shouts out to the one guy who gave me that voo doo asm to build in line and make it work real fast, everybody please stop sending me e-mails about getting root kitted, this thing totally passes a virus scan."

      If you want something that has a

  • Get a Kano []. Yes, it's just a Raspberry Pi, but first off, your kid has to assemble it (hardware!), and it comes loaded with many of the products already mentioned here, such as Scratch, a Scratch-modifiable version of Minecraft, and a couple of others. I got it for my kid when he was 10, but it is really geared towards younger children. Age seven should be just perfect.
  • the fact that LOGO is not on the list the author linked to [] kind of makes me feel a little perturbed. like, wtf is wrong with people? there's a mention of "brick logo" as a footnote in some other language's paragraph, and "c" is mentioned as "educational" (wtf?) but not one shout out to LOGO.

    did anybody else feel any sort of reaction to that? or did everybody just not even notice it?

  • Firstly, I would look to see if there is a CoderDojo - [] - in your area.
    CoderDojo is a global volunteer-led community of free programming clubs for young people. These young people, between 7 and 17, learn how to code, develop websites, apps, programs, games and explore technology. In addition to learning to code attendees meet like minded people and get to show off what they’ve been working on.

    Secondly, I would look at introductory language we use - Scratch - []

  • Robo Rally [] is like a multiplayer boardgame version of LOGO...

    Robot Turtles [] is even better for younger players

    Micro Adventures [] were some of the books that I started with as a kid

  • by MetricT ( 128876 ) on Thursday April 09, 2015 @06:58PM (#49442855)

    I'm as geeky as they come. Most of a Ph.D. in theoretical physics, and have spent over a decade working in high-performance computing.

    When I was 7 years old, I was wandering through the woods, looking under rocks for creepy crawlies, playing hide-and-seek, and playing baseball with my brother and cousins. Not only did it *not* set me back in anyway, but it is some of my fondest memories of being a child.

    Let kids be kids for goodness sake. Take him to a science museum, and let *him* tell *you* what interests you. When I was a kid and hyped about computers, my dad thought computers were a fad only used to play Pac-Man. Not only do I have a good-paying career, but any time dad can't connect to the internet, I get an emergency telephone call.

    Let your child steer his future. He's the one who has to live it.

    • by havana9 ( 101033 )

      When I was 7 years old, I was wandering through the woods, looking under rocks for creepy crawlies, playing hide-and-seek, and playing baseball with my brother and cousins. Not only did it *not* set me back in anyway, but it is some of my fondest memories of being a child.

      Let kids be kids for goodness sake.

      When I was 7 years oold the only computer I've seen were the ones on books or on sci-fi tv serials, that I watched on a black-and-white televison, with only two programmes that started at 5 pm. I wandered in the woods or went to the library to read. I remember that when I was a niner I visited a fair, there was a Commodore dealer. I stayed all the afternoon watching these machines and typing on the keyboards. Not that changed by child attitude. By the way I think that a Raspberry PI with mouse and keyboard

  • It's a program AND it teaches how to deal with Murphy (nothing worse than getting bumped and watching the rest of your program walk you into a pit or heavy laser fire).

    After that, it depends on the child's interests. Robots? Mindstorms.

    "Real" computers? Pick up an old Apple II or Amiga and use the Basic to access the display.

  • []
    That is all.
  • I think it's an admirable goal to get your kid interested in computers and coding. But it seems like /. gets this question every week, sometimes multiple times a week. You can't swing a dead cat around here without hitting some variant of "How can I teach my [son/daughter/nephew/[2-/3-/4-/5-/6-/7-/10-]year-old/3rd grade class/nation's kindergarteners] how to code?" Can we just sticky this to the sidebar somewhere?
  • Can we get a FAQ please? Here are the common answers:

    * Visually with Angry Birds characters: []
    * Scratch []
    * []
    * Minecraft mods
    * []
    * []
    * []
    * []
    * []
    * []
    * []
    * []
    * BASIC
    * Vic-20 C64 Compute! [] magazine
    * Raspberry Pi
    * Arduino
    * Logo

  • This may be what you want. []

    To give you an overview, it's an intro to programming using Javascript and a little image manipulation library. Each page has a series of problems with boilerplate code that you edit and click a button to run.

    Head straight to Week 2's lessons ( and go through it with him.

    Kids find it pretty cool that they can change some numbers and that will have an effect on the picture. I did this with my ni

  • Python (Score:5, Interesting)

    by codetricity ( 4051143 ) on Thursday April 09, 2015 @08:24PM (#49443309)
    I have researched this subject extensively over the last several years. Most importantly, I have exposure to children between ages 6 and 14 that can program successfully with a text editor or IDE. The short answer is go straight to Python. You can read about my personal experience with my own children here: [] The main child is now 10 and using Python with IDLE and PyCharm. Also suggest you research this site: [] which I also have experience with by sending my own kid to the class. Note the Minecraft plugins from grade 4. Definitely wish I had started my eldest kid earlier as I think that age 8 would have been fine. There's a kid in my daughter's class that is 6 years old and completely killing it with PyGame. I think that I'm going to drop down from PyGame to Python Turtle (logo) with my daughter for a while. Good luck. Feel free to send me a note with your progress. I love hearing from parents with children under age 14 that are using text editors or IDEs.
    • I wish I saw this post, I just posted above about my eight year old daughter's experience with Python. It is a great language for children, very easy to use and none of the confusing (for kids) brackets to explain. We're writing console applications such as hangman and having tons of fun. Kids don't need all the attention-grabbing flashy graphics that markets lure them with like candy. They do need something intellectually stimulating, and seeing for the first time that you can call your sister cute with th
  • My 7 year old daughter really enjoys The puzzles are fun and the site works great on her HP Stream that she got for xmas. Having her very own computer also helped and that laptop was well worth the $200.
  • Sketch [] is a very visual system for learning to program.
  • Make learning programming fundamentals a blocks toy. Kid can stack program blocks a certain way, the physical block pattern gets scanned into the computer, turned into code. Point is to make it an interesting hands-on toy which makes the obvious connection between what the kid does with the toy and what happens on the computer. Once the kid makes the connection to building with pieces, they'll want to go directly to building on the computer, by-passing the simple to use but less powerful blocks.

  • My son is just about to turn nine, and he is really enjoying the programming section on Khan Academy []. The site was originally designed as a math curriculum but is rapidly expanding into other fields. It is free, and it uses JavaScript with immediate visual feedback while teaching them the basic concepts of programming. There are step by step instructions and helpful hints to help guide them through the concepts, but having some occasional parental help is sometimes required. Overall, though, I have been p

  • Point them at the Scratch website [] and then tell them to never look at it again because it's naughty. Just kidding about the second part, but Scratch is a good way to get them started.
  • LOGO is still around. I didn't get to see it until my early teens but if I'd had access to a computer before then I'd say LOGO would have been a much easier way to start than Applesoft BASIC.
  • I didn't read beyond the article's title , but I'm sure that tells me everything that is needed.

    How to Introduce a 7 Year Old to Programming.
    Using "Kevin" as a sample name, you do an introduction like this:

    Hello, Programming, may I present my son, Kevin?
    (assuming yes)
    Programming, I would like you to meet my son, Kevin
    Kevin, this is Programming.

    The rule is the senior one receives the first introduction.
    Remember to make eye contact with each person as you speak to them.

    You should have prepared your son to mak

  • As others said, don't force your hobby on him. But a child always mimics its parents. If you are coding at home and your son sees you and sits next to you and watches you, just don't tell him to leave you alone because he disrupts your focus. Answer his questions, try to explain what you are doing, ask what would he like to make, do a first few projects for him and with him. It may take time until he shows the initiative but it should be up to him how fast and how far he wants to go. Your role is to support
  • Apart from deciding on a coding environment, does anyone have suggestions on a simple set of challenges to address in the programs we create? My kids are a bit older and love Scratch but I have not seen a nice progression of problems to solve that would gradually address major programming concepts.

    Other than that, to those saying kids should not program at this age - nobody says they will do it more than say 2 hours a week with Dad, where is the loss of social skills in that? And second - if you do not ge

  • Take a look at Lightbot []. It's an educational game where you program a robot to turn on lights on the board. It's very nice. My 4 year old daughter loves it and is able to solve simpler levels by herself. I introduce more complex ideas (procedures, loops) when we have some time to play together. It reminds me a bit of LOGO and turtle graphics - that's how I got started and I thinkg turtle graphics in one of modern editions is also one of good first steps.

"When anyone says `theoretically,' they really mean `not really.'" -- David Parnas