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Ask HN: Are there any children's websites that teach coding or coding concepts?
39 points by brewgardn 465 days ago | comments
My 5th grade daughter is on Spring Break this week. I'd really like to expose her to the basics of coding, and start planting some seeds. Any resources?


stiff 465 days ago | link

I first learned some programming being 8 year old and typing BASIC programs in an editor. Somewhat surprisingly, I think it was easier to get started then than it is now, BASIC was then included among the initial program set of the computer, complete with an IDE and if you ever got to that level it included graphics routines etc. and everything was described in a single book. I now have been seriously programming for more than 10 years, including 7 professionally, but whenever I want to do some fun graphics or sound stuff I still struggle a lot to pick libraries, install them, actually make them work etc.

I would love some recommendations for programming languages + runtimes that you install with one click and immediately have at your disposal a decent language + IDE without weird quirks together with good graphics and sound primitives. I don't think this should be specifically for kids. It should simply be free of ridiculous language issues (PHP and JavaScript are out) and ridiculous runtime issues (managing a thousand and one libraries). Then it will be as good for kids as for adults (as if there was some magic gap between them!) willing to prototype. Actually, I think it is a great project idea, the few existing projects that target this are not all that great I believe.

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aethertap 464 days ago | link

You know, I've been having thoughts along this line for a while too. I actually miss the days of the 8088 in some ways. A lot of the excitement and discovery of computing seems be diluted by having so much stuff to work with. The job changes somehow from one of creating to one of assembling. Not sure exactly what the difference was, but somehow it seems like it's easier to get in touch with the essence of what makes code fun when it's just you and the machine. I was more excited by my simple text-only calculator programs back at the beginning than I am by my big complicated 3d graphics stuff today.

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EdwardMSmith 465 days ago | link

Just re-introduced my kids (8 and 10) to Scratch:

http://scratch.mit.edu/

Drag and drop visual programming. Its good for kids because it allows them to quickly create things that they're used to seeing/using (graphics, animations, sounds), but still uses real programming concepts.

At 5 you're going to have to sit with her and help guide her on concepts, but she'll pick it up quick.

Edit: Err, 5th grade, I see, not 5yo... sorry.

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jbattle 465 days ago | link

My son loved Scratch. The other thing that is great about Scratch is the built-in mechanisms for sharing your creations with friends. Tapping in to that popularity contest mentality can either be a motivation or a distraction depending on the kid, but it's there as an option not a core part of the tool.

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masterponomo 465 days ago | link

This is not a website, but my kids LOVED The Art of Computer Programming (1st edition, when they still had the Maurice Sendak illustrations). The pictures in the volume on Sorting and Searching, though, are not recommended for kids under the age of 9.

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brudgers 464 days ago | link

This. The Wiggles DVD is better for children ages 2 through 7.

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brewgardn 464 days ago | link

The 1st edition of this?? http://amzn.to/179DGr8

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masterponomo 464 days ago | link

Yes, but back in the day it was only vols 1-3. No Sendak in later volumes/editions:-(

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nicolethenerd 465 days ago | link

Since nobody's mentioned it yet, StarLogo TNG - http://education.mit.edu/projects/starlogo-tng

StarLogo TNG is similar to Scratch, perhaps a little bit less intuitive, but it's 3-D and lets you do some pretty cool stuff. I'm a bit biased, because I worked on StarLogo TNG, but not biased enough that I won't admit that Khan Academy has by far the best programming tool for kids I've seen so far. I can't say enough good things about it.

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sopooneo 465 days ago | link

I always thought the game "lightbot" might be good as part of a intro course.

http://armorgames.com/play/2205/light-bot

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dyarosla 464 days ago | link

Thank you for mentioning light-bot! I am the creator of the game and know of many teachers who use it to introduce the concepts of basic functional programming, particularly calling procedures. There is a light-bot 2.0 as well (a little more complicated and includes recursion and a form of conditionals), and there is also a new light-bot in the works (see light-bot.com). Hope your daughter enjoys it!

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alecdbrooks 465 days ago | link

Interesting. I particularly like how it teaches decomposition. I don't know how understandable it would be to non-programmers, particularly children. They may need a parent or teacher on hand, at least at first.

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nutmeg 464 days ago | link

Cargo-Bot (http://twolivesleft.com/CargoBot/) on the iPad is also very similar in teaching programming.

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tianshuo 464 days ago | link

The later Cargo-Bot levels esp. those with recursion are difficult for even the most proficient programmers.

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geichel 464 days ago | link

I always use the first lightbot as an introduction to functions. The best part is when one student figures out the concept I encourage the class to 'cheat' from each other. I have them show each other the concept of functions. Its great fun to explain to the class that not only are they learning core computer science concepts but also that it is OK to build on others ideas and work together. Concepts that the schools to their best to knock out of our children for the sake of independent evaluation.

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jbellis 465 days ago | link

http://www.crunchzilla.com/code-monster

Also, +1 recommendation for Scratch.

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webwanderings 464 days ago | link

Thanks, this looks like a winner. My son and I are using Scratch and Khan Academy. We'll add this as well (I'm not a programmer).

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bink-lynch 465 days ago | link

My daughter 5/6th grade was using Khan Academy:

https://www.khanacademy.org/cs/tutorials/programming-basics

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russelluresti 465 days ago | link

Yeah, the Khan Academy stuff was specifically targeted towards teaching children. I'd say it's a good place to start.

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gorrillamcd 465 days ago | link

Khan Academy is great. I was teaching my cousin (12) when I was home for Christmas and even my niece (7) was learning writing her own snippets to draw smiley faces and such. Definitely is a good resource for teaching the basics of programing (variables, functions, syntax, etc).

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gorrillamcd 465 days ago | link

There's also [Hackety-Hack](http://hackety.com/), which was made to help introduce kids to programming with ruby. It uses a DSL I believe. I'm sad to say though, it looks like it hasn't seen much activity recently (only 2 blog posts total and last commit was a year ago).

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SurfScore 465 days ago | link

It's not a website, but we created an iPad game called Kodable that teaches kids programming concepts. As an added bonus, its pretty damn cute! We target 5-7, but most young kids tend to enjoy it.

We're also creating a curriculum to integrate it directly in elementary schools.

http://www.surfscore.com

Email me if you'd like a coupon code for the IAP (jon at surfscore)

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cwhittle 465 days ago | link

Depends on whether she has an innate interest or whether you're trying to spark interest, but I think this is the best/most fun way to start any kid with the basics: http://drtechniko.com/2012/04/09/how-to-train-your-robot/

My six year old just started with Blockly, which is similar to Scratch:

http://blockly-demo.appspot.com/static/apps/turtle/en.html

But we're going to try http://kidsruby.com/ as soon as he's got enough written language under his belt. Probably will work great for a 5th grader though.

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brewgardn 465 days ago | link

Great point. She is definitely more in the "spark interest" camp. Probably, naturally more suited to the design field, but I want her to be exposed to coding early so she can make an informed decision, instead of being intimidated by the prospect at a later stage (like her dad). Also, she's a great leader and I've got two more coming up behind her, so if she takes to it, I might have a hacker family on my hands :)

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newsreader 464 days ago | link

A couple of free courses from Pluralsight:

http://pluralsight.com/training/Courses/Description/teaching...

http://pluralsight.com/training/Courses/Description/learning...

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arikrak 463 days ago | link

I collected some resources on this here: http://www.zappable.com/2012/11/chart-for-learning-a-program...

There are some programs for kids or to make games for various languages:

Java - Greenfoot

Python - Invent Your Own Computer Games (book)

Ruby - Hackety-Hack, Ruby4Kids

Javascript - CodeAvengers

If they're not yet ready to write real code, they can look at these programs from MIT:

General - Scratch

Android - AppInventor

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jessriedel 465 days ago | link

Shameless plug for my buddy's Bay-area summer camp for middle schoolers:

http://www.sfbasecamp.com/

They teach kids to code games in Python. Last summer was very successful.

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zpj5005 465 days ago | link

She should really look into http://codehs.com

I've gone through most of the lessons and while they do a really good job of breaking coding concepts down into real world scenarios involving dogs and tennis balls.

I think they also provide live chat based help if you pay extra.

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carlsednaoui 465 days ago | link

If you're in the NYC area, you should come to our next CoderDojo session (free programming classes for kids, I'm the NYC co-founder): http://coderdojonyc.com/

If you're somewhere else, definitely take a look at http://coderdojo.com/ and see if there is any Dojo near you.

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vijayr 464 days ago | link

FYI - this page is throwing an error http://coderdojonyc.com/volunteer/

Awesome idea. What languages do you teach?

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carlsednaoui 464 days ago | link

Strange, thanks for the heads up, I'll tell my co-founder about it (she runs the site) -- here is the correct path: http://coderdojonyc.com/help/volunteer/.

We've taught everything from CSS to HTML to JS to Scratch to AppInventor (Android App Dev). We welcome kids from 7 - 17 yrs old (and their parents of course).

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draegtun 465 days ago | link

ClubCompy - https://clubcompy.com/

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skanga 464 days ago | link

If you have kids who are into Minecraft then check out https://blogs.oracle.com/arungupta/entry/introducing_kids_to...

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jcl 464 days ago | link

Or you can install the ComputerCraft mod, which lets you build and program computers (and turtle robots!) within the game using Lua.

http://computercraft.info/wiki/Main_Page

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VPrime 462 days ago | link

We're actually working on an iPad app that lets people make games. Our behaviour system is not exactly programming, but it does teach about logic and help understand the concepts of programming. We have variables, loops, ifs.. then make it fun allowing you to make a game.

I posted about it a few days ago. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5466311

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OZUNhviJLr8

We will be releasing at the end of April.

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paul7986 465 days ago | link

Check out http://CodePupil.com.

It teaches HTML/CSS thru visual exercises and games.

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minussohn 465 days ago | link

Putting the meta tags out of head?

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jmeyer2k 464 days ago | link

Check out some resources and this tutorial on my blog here: http://www.raywenderlich.com/24252/beginning-game-programmin... I'm 12 years old and I write for raywenderlich.com just for this purpose.

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stickhandle 464 days ago | link

I recommend "Python for Kids" from O'reilly

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g-mark 464 days ago | link

I have been teaching 6th through 8th graders Processing (processing.org). They love the creative, visual aspect of it. It's essentially Java, with a layer of ease so you can very quickly get things done. The quick code-run-tweak cycles are an advantage (similar to Scratch in that respect). Because it's Java, all the programming fundamentals (functions, variables, loops, branching, objects) can be taught - but with the purpose of creating something interesting. There are a number of tutorials and books available for teaching (see www.learningprocessing.com), and you can code entirely online at sketchpad.cc.

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andrewtbham 465 days ago | link

http://www.codecademy.com/

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groundCode 464 days ago | link

What about Ruby for kids? http://ruby4kids.com/ruby4kids

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bigdata123 465 days ago | link

robomind.net : I was able to teach my 4 year old daughter and keep her interest with this simple free application.

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