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Embracing programming at an early age

January 10th, 2006 · 6 Comments

or at least a programming book

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In the same week that our Squeak programming book arrived from Amazon, Jill at misbehaving.net pointed to statistics on kids and women in computers, ending her post with the admonition: Buy your daughters computers!. That same week also Nat Torkington noted my desire for interviews with hackers and posted a series of stories describing how people got started in programming. Here’s the start of his story:

When I was a kid in New Zealand, my parents were dirt-poor, with my Dad subsistence fishing. While Mum was pregnant with my sister, they saved and saved, and in the year of my 8th birthday I got not only a little sister but also a Commodore 64. I began playing games, and rapidly learned programming. I was fascinated by text adventures and platform games, and still have a warm spot in my heart for Infocom, Manic Miner, and Impossible Mission.

I’m grateful for Nathan’s enthusiasm and I’m grateful he got the ball rolling, so to speak – glimpse at Technorati to see other bloggers who shared their stories too. Ted posted his experience. I hope more continue to tell how they became interested in programming. And, of course, as the mother of three daughters, I’m especially interested in hearing stories of girls growing up and learning to program.

As for our girls, they have switched to Squeak since I wrote my post, thanks to Todd Blanchard’s suggestion in my comments. When the book arrived, Abigail embraced it, reading it aloud to me as we drove around town. For an afternoon or two, Michaela and Abigail have programmed the robots, using instructions in Stephane Ducasse’s book. The interface was more fun than the Python one they were using.

Abigail’s stopped hugging the book, but I do hope she and her sisters continue to enjoy programming. Then again, I thought the comment left on my post by Elliot Lee, a college student and cousin of ours, was astute:

Is it about getting children interested in what their parents are interested in? Somehow, computers are something I developed a passion for not because I saw anyone else interested in it, but because of the nature of computing itself and the way it was so conducive to things I personally loved: creativity, logic, design, gadgets, toys.

Most of all I want my daughters, like Elliot, to have a passion for discovery, creativity, logic and design, and to love learning, whether it is Squeak or Python or a language or book yet to be written.


Brian Bailey’s Teaching Programming to Kids post and comments feature more ideas, including game-making software.

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6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Drakenza // Jan 10, 2006 at 8:12 pm

    Heh heh heh,
    I’m 13, and I know C, C++, Java, HTML, VB, VB.NET, J# and a little bit of others.
    I support the idea all right!

  • 2 Todd Blanchard // Jan 12, 2006 at 4:34 pm

    I’m glad that it is working for you.

  • 3 Bryan Zug // Jan 12, 2006 at 9:12 pm

    Thanks for the posts on this Julie — I’ve been mentioning to Jen that I want to find creative ways to expose our daughter Ruthie (nearly 3) to using the computer as a tool of creation — after reading these threads, Jen’s not rolling her eyes at me nearly as much 😉

  • 4 Ducasse // Jan 13, 2006 at 1:52 am


    I’m happy that my book help you having fun with your kids.
    I’m preparing another one. I’m planning to put some extra material on the web such as fractal drawing and the like.

    I really suggest you to have a look at Squeak (the entry level is quite high but this is really rewarding).

    Have fun.


    PS: I think that this is not important to know several complex languages, just ***really*** understanding a simple one is enough. I’m teaching Squeak at all levels and I see that people have a general and pretty light understanding of what programming is.

  • 5 jennyonthespot // Jan 14, 2006 at 6:07 am

    This is so cool Julie, yet it overwhelms me beyond belief!!! I do not have a technical mind (in natural interest or understading) and I am intimidated by all that is out there and how to open this world to my kids. You and Ted are amazing 🙂

  • 6 Lisa Canter // Feb 5, 2006 at 10:26 pm

    I am reacting to this way late as I have been cleaning out my aggregator. Thanks for the info. I would love to have my daughters eventually learn some programming. Today I tried to introduce the recorder to Mimi as her hands are just getting big enough. She doesn’t take to my teaching her very well – I had to back way off as she didn’t seem to want to listen. Which is a shame as she is very musical and I would love to teach her how to play – we could play duets! It may also be that her hands/mind are not ready yet. She seems more receptive to other people teaching her. Do you have any of this with your kids? This is my big fear of homeschooling – which I am not planning on doing. At the same time – I do think we need to be able to be supplementing and correcting any missing areas from any education that goes on.

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