Oct 17

Nat Torkington

Nat Torkington

Hacking for Kids

I want software and a book that'll help me get my 4-6 year old kids into programming. Gerv wants something similar but for twelve year olds. In my best of all possible worlds, there'd be an O'Reilly Radar reader out there with kids who wants to teach them how to program. That person would then document what works in book form for us. This site tells what to expect as an author if you think you're that person.

tags: affordances  | comments: 25   | Sphere It

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Comments: 25

  Aneesha Bakharia [10.17.05 04:32 AM]

This might be worth a look. Kids learn to program by controling a robot.

  ziller [10.17.05 06:05 AM]

i strongly recommend you to have a lool at LOGO :

i've started with this one!

  david parmet [10.17.05 06:44 AM]

I have a six year old and three year old twins. I'd love for them to have more to do than point and click and listen and watch.

Where do I sign up to write?

  emad [10.17.05 09:12 AM]

Sign me up as well. Somehow, explaining how to program in Klingon using Damian's modules didn't click with my 3.5 year-old (who was 10 months old at the time).
but then again, it didn't click with some of the 30+ year-olds I know either. :-)

  David Upton [10.17.05 09:23 AM]

My two sons (aged 10 and 8) write games with Gamemaker, a programme by Mark Overmars. See my url for more information. It has given them a first class introduction to object oriented thinking and good software practice... and they just think it's cool.

  Jeff Carroll [10.17.05 09:27 AM]

I assume you're familiar with Friedman & Felleisen.

No idea whether it works well or not - I don't have kids (unless you count my 31-year-old stepson).

  Phil [10.17.05 11:40 AM]

But wait, didn't O'Reilly just publish a book like this? "How to program" by Chris Pine?

  Alex [10.17.05 01:12 PM]

There is a french software game called ceebot that you might check out ...

My kids enjoy getting the robot to do stuff in a very logo turtle like environment but they get to tell it to shoot things which for some reason seems to appeal more than having a turtle draw flowers.


  Steve [10.17.05 03:18 PM]

In the meantime, see David Bau's Haaarg, world! about writing a simple game with his six year-old son in Python:

  Phil [10.17.05 04:49 PM]

sorry, the title is "Learn to Program: a guide for the future programmer" by Chris Pine and here it is in O'Reilly's catalog:

I haven't seen the book, so perhaps it isn't appropriate for the lower end of the age scale, but it should be fine for 12-year-olds.

  Kathy Sierra [10.17.05 05:46 PM]

An old but still valuable book:
Minds in Play that talks about teaching kids to program-- but with a twist--as a context for learning something *other* than programming. It's about having kids learn Logo, for the express purpose of developing "teaching games" that teach other kids an important topic.

  that dawn person [10.17.05 07:18 PM]

Based on Boy's experience, 4 may be a bit on the young side for the strength and skill of building but Lego Mindstorms are a pretty cool way to learn programming basics.

  Andrew Wooldridge [10.17.05 09:02 PM]

The single most impressive piece of software I've seen for kids has been Alice:

It's great for teaching programming in a way that gets immediate feedback and makes things fun for kids.

  rone [10.18.05 12:44 AM]

Oh, yes, nothing i'd like better than to doom my children to a future of all-night coding runs and a caffeine dependency.

"Sir, your child has been called to my office because he claims he is a hacker, and that you encourage this."

Nothin' but doom.

  Matthias [10.18.05 01:17 AM]

Have a good look at the Squeak EToys system, it's a whole world
There are interactive screen objects that you can animate, that can react to mouse click or do things when bouncing into each other. Super simple drag'n'drop scripting, sound, 3D etc.

My son and I have built a simple burglar alarm like this: 1) place a circle on the playfield 2) give it a script: if mouse pointer is outside circle, then play alarm sound 3) place the mouse pointer inside the circle 4) connect the mouse chord to the door knob using a ribbon.

There are lots more example projects at You can share projects over the internet.

The whole system is built on top of Squeak, a Smalltalk implementation. Squeak is open in many ways, open source right down to the virtual machine, the whole object system can be inspected, extended, changed on the fly.

  mark simpkins [10.18.05 06:18 AM]

My son is 4 and loves playing on the computer, he has one of my old iBooks (a blue one) and also loves playing on the computer at pre-school.

He currently plays the games on the BBC Cebebies website as well as some other characters (Thomas the Tank engine etc). He has on occasion said 'i love my computer'.

But at the moment he does not play with code. This is something I want him to do, at least to understand how a computer works. This is what I did, with my ZX81 when I was 10 (and now my 4 year old has something running Mac OS X). I learnt BASIC then Fortran then C / C++ followed Java, Perl, PHP and others.

I would love to see a book like this, written as a journey to discover the various tools as well as investigate how to engage the idea with my son or maybe to find out why he may not engage with it.

Mark Pesce's playful world gives me a good few pointers on how things are chainging. The geosphere that he envisages, a toy for a child to play with an ecosphere, to experiment and understand their world may be more powerful a 'toy' than some level of underlying programming language learning (then are the techniques we teach more to do with simulation and modelling, NetLogo etc. but instead of, for me learning how to programme the computer to that end, they are learning to modify the simulation, experiment there).

Please someone write it. (or I will, lol )...


  mark simpkins [10.19.05 03:55 AM]

has some good links.

This could be a fun journey.


  Colin [10.20.05 06:42 AM]

This is a joke, right? I have a 3 year old and I want her doing what she does now: playing with other children, "reading," and playing outside. Sometimes she "types" on my laptop for a couple of minutes. But that's about it.

I don't want her chained to a screen of any variety until it's actually worth her while. And she's interested.

  Kevin Marks [10.21.05 04:16 AM]

Hi gnat,
I blogged some recommendations a while back. Zoombinis and Sockworks are still around; try this site for Cocoa (if not ping me and I'll dig out a copy).
My boys are now 8 and 10, and while still building games with Cocoa, have moved on to Python graphics with DrawBot.
If you want a book outline, you know where to find me.
Oh, also, get them playing Bartog. The idea that you can change the rules while you're playing is key.

  Monty Zukowski [10.21.05 03:14 PM]

This one is really cool--introduces advanced concepts of concurrent programming in an intuitive way.

  mark simpkins [10.24.05 04:23 AM]

I don't think this is a joke. Why not have learning about the computer, or logic or the process of being able to make your 'own' stuff rather than just buy things at an early age.

That is what we are talking about, it does not have to be all the time and at the expense of playing, running about (inside and out) and shouldn't but maybe instead of just playing with one of the Flash games my son could sit down (with me) and write his own.

I just spent part of the weekend with him at a model train exhibition, he loved every second of it, watching the trains, copying sounds and spotting things in the models. Already I have ideas to 'encourage' him to work on making something himself with the computer that will involve trains (ok, when we have moved he can have his own train set and then the 'Make' style work can start as well).

I don't think that this is going to replace anything he really wants to do, he is always adamant about what activities he wants to spend his time on, but having this in the 'toy box' would be cool.

And hell, I sat down and thought about it. The change in computers from when I had my ZX81 at 10 to my son and his iBook at 3. He will have a physical object printer by 10. He will be able to 'make' his own toys, things and maybe he won't be as tied into consumerism as sometimes i feel that I am if i let my guard down.

I don't think the aim is this exercise is specifically 'to teach/learn' programming but to be shown the possibilities of being able to build and control a computer programme yourself.

(yes, I have been reading 'Fab' by Neil Gershenfeld, yes I do think that this is actually one of the most important social/political books of recent years and yes I think there is a connection between this and teaching my son 'how to hack').

It will be fun as well.....


  Arvid Halma [09.01.07 02:45 AM]

Take a look at RoboMind:

It's a very simple educational programming environment where kids are able to program their own robot. Freely available for personal use!

  Anonymous [01.10.08 01:33 PM]

Kids that are 4 don't have the skills to really learn how to program. You need to know a little bit of algebra have a big attention span really want to learn it and know how to use a computer.

  christian [06.11.08 02:32 AM]

all i wanna know is how does my son(aged 10)can be an awesome game hacker.Ya son plays this game called and needs money on it and he watches news sometimes and does not like to read but he likes 2 hack

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