Each one of us wants to provide the best education for our child and, as most of you know, today it includes IT. As informatics is still quite undervalued in official Croatian education system this is a guide for those of you who want to know how to introduce your child to the wonderful world of programming. What I want to emphasize is that programming, as well as mathematics, promotes a new way of thinking. Regardless of whether one day your child will be engaged in art or wants to be a doctor, programming creates certain thought processes with children that will come handy in their lives.

 

If you are wondering how old a child must be to start learning about programming, the right answer actually doesn’t exist. Sometimes a child will show interest at the age of 6 and sometimes when they are 14 years old.

World of electronics

Electronics are the most interesting way to introduce the child to computing. I’m sure you remember your first experiments with a small light that’s been directly connected to the battery. As much as that was interesting to us when we were young, trust me it will interest your child today as well.

What is important to point out for the child in this experiment is that when the light is on, it is 1, when turned off, it’s 0. This is the base for the entire computing: the manipulation of electricity through electronic circuits and logic gates.

If you’re wondering if this experiment can interest your child for more than 10 minutes, the next step is to show what else you can do with electricity. How about if you create a robot together? At first, sure it sounds almost impossible, however, almost everyone has some old PC or discarded cell phone. So why not use their parts to make simple robot, one  that even six years old can create? I guarantee it will bring a smile to your face through the process of making one.

Scribbler robot

For the first experiment use a battery, a fan from an old computer (or electric motor), 4 markers and the goal is to make a robot that will draw by itself.

After a very simple instruction shown in this video, your child will quickly become the proud owner of its first robot.

Micro bug robot

For second experiment use a part of an old mobile phone, we’re talking about a vibration motor, and this video will show how to use it for the next robot.

Several of these experiments will be enough for your child to get interested in the world of computers and to ask you: “But how can I make these robots to do what I want?”

Ha! We’ve been waiting for that question!

Welcome to the world of programming

Remember those 1 and 0 from the first trial? The whole informatics really comes down to constant questioning whether something is 0 or 1 and the electricity manipulation based on the responses.

So, your first example of the code for your child shall read as follows:

If you wrote your homework, you can watch TV; if not, you are going to bed early.

This code can also be written as:

IF homework=written THEN you watch_tv OTHERWISE sleep_in_8

Or like this:

This is an image from scratch, the first program made to meet child’s need for programming. It consists of visual blocks that child uses to build a program. Scratch is enough for your children to learn to program, and one day when someone puts in front of them something like this:

IF task = 1 THEN tv = 1 ELSE tv = 0

Something will be very familiar in this code for them. 🙂

Scratch consists of almost all the essential elements of programming (except blocks are being used as codes that gives a child basic tutorials about programming. Although there are a series of tutorials a child can play with, I repeat what is important, is to give the child a project that would be interesting to do. And what is more interesting for a child than the games?

Games have to be very simple, and yet the child needs to enjoy them and be able to show friends that they made one of the games themselves. Given that the same problem had first game developers not because of the simplicity of programming but for hardware limitations. Remember how simple games were  on our first computer and mobile phone?

Snake

This is a game we used to play at the very beginning of personal computers, but also at the very beginning of  cell phones. Just think how many countless hours you have spent playing this game on old Nokia because it was the only way to kill time before the Internet age.

The game is very easy to do and this brief tutorial will show you just how easy it is:

Other games that we were all happy to play was Pong. I think it will also be easy for you to programme it with a child. Wondering how to do that? Just see it in this video – also in the video.

This is enough as far as Scratch – everything else a child will catch on its own and, if interested, you will very quickly see it by the way it changes and adds elements to the game.

The next step is to get your child out of the blocks to the real code. For this is perfect recently made portal and initiative HourOfCode. By using it you can program exactly the same way as with the Scratch, but this time the children can step into the world of its most interesting games. So by using blocks child can move their heroes and have interaction with the game which they have made. But what is most important at this website and where it’s different from Scratch, is that they can look at what exactly is under the blocks that have worked so far. It is essential that you as a parent encourage child that every time they make a block of code, also see what lies beneath. With time, they will begin to see the patterns. Javascript below the block is actually one of the most widely used programming languages.

For those who want to know more

Back at a time when we were learning how to program, there wasn’t a lot of feedback from the environment – we wrote some code, pressed a button and get a result. Today, however, because of IoT (Internet of Things) and the availability of electronic components, sensors and small computers, it gets really interesting. Take, for example Raspberry Pi.

Raspberry Pi is very small, but quite strong computer, which you can get for about $30. It contains all the necessary components and connections as well as your laptop, and it is very convenient because you can use it for a lot of things, from robots to cars and even for smart homes. On this page you have a number of projects and ideas that you can do with it, but for start it is best  to use it with  what the child already knows, and that’s Scratch. Remember that introduction about the lamp? Through simple program you can demonstrate it to the child – to turn on the lamp through the code.

There are a number of programs that can work together, but the end result is that you have child code translated into the real world. Whether you are working together on the car remote control or finding work solution for smart home – these are all projects that can keep children interested for a very, very long time.
All in all, children need to learn programming through the game – if they make games, car models and robots, they will gladly accept it. But if you set a code before them and expect them to learn something, you can forget that will happen.

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