handmade.network » Forums » Any parents thinking about their kids' computer literacy?
15 posts
#21514 Any parents thinking about their kids' computer literacy?
4 weeks ago Edited by winnythefoo on Aug. 25, 2019, 6:11 p.m. Reason: Initial post

I have the impression Handmade Network is currently a younger crowd (although I'm happy to be surprised). But still seems like a good theme to bring up here. I did a quick forum search for "parenting" and "child" and found only references to data structures. :)

Dad-hood is imminent for me, and one of the many existential thoughts I'm having is how to introduce my kid(s) to computers in a way that's empowering, encourages curiosity, etc. They don't have to be programmers if it's not their thing, but whether they choose that career or not, knowing programming basics seems essential for kids growing up today. There's so much software out there whose job is at least partially to manipulate users for profit. I can't keep my kids away from that stuff forever, so better to give them the skills and knowledge to see through it, and know that computers aren't magical.

I don't know where I'll start though. Computers are a lot harder to understand than they used to be.


In a sense, Javascript is today's BASIC -- turn on your computer and you can easily get a Javascript REPL. Every computer can run it, and stuff you make in it is easy to share with your friends.

However, it also teaches you very little about how computers actually work, and it comes with oodles of complexity that aren't worth knowing in any other context. And that's before you add in transpiling different dialects, using React, etc.


From the little I've seen, visual programming platforms like this seem like a good way for kids to learn algorithmic thinking, without the accidental complexity of Javascript or other high-concept languages. Not much experience here though.

Emulated simpler computer?

Raspberry Pi, Arduino?


I guess the specifics all depend on what they show interest in. Partly I'm just wondering if anyone has experience to share related to these questions.
Oliver Marsh
142 posts / 3 projects

A budding game developer and programmer

#21520 Any parents thinking about their kids' computer literacy?
4 weeks ago Edited by Oliver Marsh on Aug. 26, 2019, 9:59 a.m.

Rasberry pi is good in that you can incorporate physical projects with it as well, like building a weather station etc. I know there is a JavaScript/processing 'playground' on khan academy where you share your games/creations. There's also things like making a Minecraft server on the rasberry pi, if they get into Minecraft.

The best success I've had is just doing stuff you enjoy, and usually they'll come over and ask questions and want to be involved somehow. We've been making a fairy game with our daughter, where she comes up with new ideas for the game, which has been good, and she is very interested in it.

I'd also say is don't put all your eggs in one basket for one particular project, try a range of things and take their lead in what interests them.

Hope this helps in some way :)
15 posts
#21522 Any parents thinking about their kids' computer literacy?
3 weeks, 6 days ago

Thanks Oliver! All good points. I love the idea of your daughter as game designer. :) Also, I think projects with more physical components are great for using comp sci to learn other domains at the same time (I wish my schooling included more of that).
Taylor Robbins
34 posts / 1 project

I love programming and the joy that comes from creating useful things. I'm the author of Const Port. I like to make toy games as a hobby.

#21532 Any parents thinking about their kids' computer literacy?
3 weeks, 5 days ago Edited by Taylor Robbins on Aug. 27, 2019, 11:03 p.m.

I am not a parent yet but I hope to be some day. This is one of the things I think about a lot. I don't ever want to force my kids to learn programming just because I enjoy it but I would love if I can find ways to encourage them and test how much they actually like it.

I remember when I was a kid my Dad took me and my brothers to Microsoft for a "take your kid to work day" thing. The only thing he really ever taught us directly was binary numbers. And even then it would be a while before I really appreciated what he was talking about. I'm not sure if many people's experience was like this but I learned most of my programming knowledge from the internet through making games. My dad was a developer/programmer at Microsoft but he never really directly taught me programming. However, I think the main thing that he did do is teach me how to tackle problems and be interested in the world. He taught me a way of thinking that meshed really well with programming so that when I did start to learn it came somewhat naturally. I think one of the main ways you can help is just by talking to your son/daughter about complicated topics as they grow up and developing a good understanding and relationship. And I believe that their interest in programming will probably stem from their interest in interacting with the world and making their own things. That's the way I think about it at least, just from my own experience growing up.

I wish you the best of luck! And I would love to hear about anything you find on the topic or anything that other parents have to say.

EDIT: One thing I have done is try to teach my younger brother (9) and separately my younger sister (18) some programming. One great activity that I've found to do that gets their feet wet with game-like stuff is making screensavers. Letting them come up with ideas about what they want on the screen and showing them how to do simple rendering tasks is a great way to introduce them to how the monitor works and a little bit of graphics pipeline stuff.

-Professor Sil
15 posts
#21543 Any parents thinking about their kids' computer literacy?
3 weeks, 4 days ago

Hi ProfessorSil, what you said rings very true. When learning anything, it's way better if it's out of an intrinsic interest, and that happens in its own time.

I'll post here again if I find any good resources :)

Screensavers is a great idea I haven't thought of. It's funny how little I've thought of them lately, I paid so much more attention to screensavers in general in the 1995-2005 era. Do you have any good resources that you can share on making them?

P.S. Your avatar is great! Big Calvin & Hobbes fan.
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Ben Visness
29 posts

HMN technical staff, Handmade Math contributor, web developer, etc.

#21560 Any parents thinking about their kids' computer literacy?
2 weeks, 6 days ago

I've taught Scratch to a few kids and they always love it. It slips right past kids' filters - they start out excited to make little animations, and before long they're doing remarkably sophisticated logic. It really allows kids to easily express their creativity, which I think is the most important part when they're getting started. (Kids love to make annoying sounds!!!)

Scratch also scales up astonishingly well. If you look at my old Scratch profile, you can see that I started out with really simple remixes of built-in projects, but moved onto more advanced projects over time. People who know what they're doing have even made 3D multiplayer games.

LEGO Mindstorms kits are also a great option, although more expensive. I learned to program on a Mindstorms NXT kit. The current-generation kit is the EV3, which is just as good (and the brick is slightly less horribly underpowered).