My 7.5 yo ds is gifted in math, analytical ability, and also athletic ability and verbally in terms of putting complex ideas into words though he is grade level on reading and writing.
I'm not sure who it started with but both my dh and ds are very excited right now about ds learning computer programming. They would start with something designed for kids. While in general I like following ds's interests, I have serious concerns about this. In high school, some of my friends got so absorbed in computer programming I believe it interfered with their social lives and connection to the physical world. It seems to me that ds has tons of time to be in that abstract part of his brain and this is a good time to be in the more physical part. I imagine that whenever he wants to learn programming, he will learn it easily. If it were up to me, I'd just postpone, but dh very much wants to do this.
I'm curious if anyone here has introduced their child to programming at a similar age, and how it has gone.
Mama to DS (3/05 ), wife to DH , remembering and Spirit 1/07, Hope 5/09, Harmony 6/10, Love 5/11, Joy 6/11
It's actually something that DS is starting right now. He's also 7. My husband is a software architect. We're in a tech hub, so about every other person is a programmer of some sort or another. The only concern I have is for the strain on his eyes, but I'm pretty clear that he has to get up and do something non-screen periodically. In our particular case, DS does gymnastics and plays soccer, so he gets that physical activity weekly, and he does enjoy playing outside, too.
I don't have any worries about him becoming obsessed. I'm sure he will. DH does. Every programmer I know does, but it's not any different for me than a hobby like playing chess or building models. It requires significant concentration and strategy, and I think that's good. Aside from the screen-time issue, it's not like playing (most) video games. Duke offers programming camps for pretty young kids (8 is the youngest, I believe), and DS is already psyched about going next year. I actually think programming is great for socially-awkward smart kids.
Not quite the same thing, but my daughter studied for and got her amateur radio license just after she turned 8. She has been interested in electronics and radio for a while. It was a good outlet and challenge for her. We do make sure she remains balanced.
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When I was a little older (I think around 10) my family got our first computer and my sister and I used to crash it and then rebuild the hard drive for fun. My dad taught us basic programming (whatever worked on an MS DOS) and we had great fun with it! I think it can be a great activity for kids if they're so inclined.
Jean, feminist mama raising three boys: W (7), E (5) and L (2.15.13)
We've just started playing with scratch with the kids (8 & 5). Nice easy drag and drop blocks of code which they can use to make the sprites do various things, follow the mouse cursor, react to being clicked etc. It's fun to play with and work out the logic without actually having to lean all the syntax of a language.
Scratch is free to download and use http://scratch.mit.edu/ . I think there are some project ideas on there too.
Another freebie which my oldest has looked at is google sketchup, for making 3d drawings. I'm helping out at school with a group if kids using it and they seem to pick it up pretty quickly and really enjoy it.
I was that age when I started programming on the computer... of course, this was 3 decades ago on my Apple IIe. Not quite as fancy but lots of fun. My 11-year-old has been using scratch for a long while and enjoys programming lego mind-storm robots. It's actually made social interaction in middle school much easier because he can "speak the language." It's also a language I much rather he speak than violent video gaming and crass TV watching that he's not allowed but is quite common for his age. Knowledge of this stuff does bond kids. It can help bright boys find their niche and kindred spirits. It can give them a way to connect with kids they wouldn't normally be able to connect with.
The act of learning to program doesn't make a child anti-social. Sure, kids can abuse anything. In our own case, we find the kids will go through an obsessive spell and if we let them go with it, it does pass. For example, DS started minecraft with 3 of his buddies this summer. He spent HOURS... and I do mean HOURS everyday on it. The other moms and I made sure to get them out of the house. I took them to the beach one day. We went to a museum another day. There was laser tagging, movie parties, camping in the front yard sleep-overs. There were also "lets all sit around the table on 4 different laptops and play together for hours" too. Summer ended, school is back. Sports are back. Theatre is back. DS averages maybe an hour a week on minecraft without any limits placed by us.
If he's interested, let him learn it. If he's spending too much time on it, throw him outside for a couple hours.
My son is eight and has been interested in programming for two or three years. He's played around with Scratch and currently prefers GameMaker-- both are fun and don't require a knowledge of coding. Lego Mindstorms is also great-- my son is on a First Lego League team for the second time this year, and it has been a great experience-- socially as well as programming-wise. The kids do their robotics, problem solve together, work on a project together, and fit in lots of wrestling, nerf gun fights, and general goofing around :)
If he's keen to learn coding, take a look at the computer science tutorials on Khan Academy, or the stuff at codeyear.com-- all free, interactive, and pretty cool.
Kids tend to connect around mutual interests, so if yours is keen on computers odds are he will eventually find like-minded peers-- I agree with the pp's comment: "Knowledge of this stuff does bond kids. It can help bright boys find their niche and kindred spirits. It can give them a way to connect with kids they wouldn't normally be able to connect with."
Writing, reading, unschooling.
Like Laughing Hyena, our kids used Scratch this last year (the youngest child was 8) and my older kids used a modified game creation program my husband made for them when they were 5 and 6 respectively. Nobody is obsessed (even my obsession prone kid on the autistic spectrum) and my own DH learned to program on a Commodore 64 at about age 7. While he likes computers, he
is not obsessed. He did end up working as a computer engineer, and just as happily changed careers and became a nurse. I've done a little game coding on MUDDS, myself, when I was younger. Anyway, point being, I think kids are more likely to get obsessed about a computer game than about programming. Enjoying programming is more akin to enjoying learning a new language or liking puzzle solving. I started from a place of thinking kids should stay very low (or no) technology before age 10 (came from a Waldorf stand point) but I started re-thinking it when I saw that I had kids that enjoyed creativity from more analytical realms. I see learning about programming (or web design, or design programs or any number of high tech tools) as learning a new creative medium. What really should be avoided more often is fully formed products that don't allow for much creative stretch.
Busy keeping up with three children and an awful lot of chickens!
My 6 year old will be doing scratch as part of his coursework in the gifted program at our school this year. The kids get to pick 3 out of 12 things per semester and I was surprised at his choices. I know nothing about computer programing but it seems to be a good intro for kids.
My 8yo is in a gifted program that is using Scratch, too. I did hold off until this year because I was concerned he wouldn't have the focus for it. I don't worry about him obsessing. If it's not this, it will be something else. I almost wish he'd move on to another obsession (and off of Legos ;) )
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We showed our just turned 9 year old twins some computer programming a few months ago. They were interested for a weekend, but things got busy...and well...they just have lots of other interests! But I don't think there is anything wrong with introducing it young, as long as they have the time.
There's no doubt a child this age is capable of working with tools like Scratch. As to whether it's advisable to introduce from a sort of "balanced global development" standpoint will depend on your particular child and your philosophy. I have four kids; my eldest is now an adult. Over the years I've come to believe that it's important to honour who your child is from a temperament and personality standpoint by allowing him to pursue whatever quirky style of learning and challenge really suits him. For my eldest this meant supporting and valuing her predilection to live "in her own head" through music and literature. At the same time I put lots of energy into activities and opportunities that I hoped would provide some balance for those other facets. I didn't necessarily expect her to fall naturally in love with all those other things, but I kept offering and modelling balance. So, while I provided her with tools and resources to nurture her interests in literature and music, I also kept expecting her to get outside in the forest every day, to come on family hikes, to participate in family games, to try whatever sports were being offered through our community's very limited after-school programs, etc..
One of the advantages of having a child get involved in computer programming at age 7 is that you as a parent can still have a lot of control and influence over how he allocates his time. If you find he's involved on the computer at the expense of social, imaginative and athletic pursuits, you can just redirect and limit. That's much harder to do with teenagers! So you have five years here when you can actively teach the sort of balance you hope he will eventually adopt himself as a teen and young adult.
Mountain mama to two great kids and two great grown-ups
Thank you very much everyone for the thoughtful answers.
We have limited his screen time in the past--screen time being movie/tv and video games (very limited on the video games). As I read this, I noticed I was attracted to the idea that if we are going to do this not limiting it. Let him dive in all the way and let him play out. I suspect that the limits we have put on other screen time have made it more attractive. But then he is very exacting with language and he likes to know exactly how much time he has and to get to choose how to use it. I really like what momminmamma just said about modeling balance. I also realize some of my concern here is because dh, who ds greatly admires, does not always model that balance so well, especially when it comes to being on the computer. Very complex! I appreciate your thoughts.
Mama to DS (3/05 ), wife to DH , remembering and Spirit 1/07, Hope 5/09, Harmony 6/10, Love 5/11, Joy 6/11
Another recommendation for scratch! My 8 year old did a week long Scratch camp this summer and it was a huge hit. He now works on it at home several times a week... he doesn't play a lot of video games and really they use it more as an artistic tool... to make animated shorts. And I've noticed that this can be a social pursuit for children... playing video games and programming... they talk about it while they are doing it. It has been very good for us. :)