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what's a good programming language for children?

my son wants to learn to program

     
5:39 am on Jul 5, 2010 (gmt 0)

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My six-year old son has recently discovered computer games. I knew that once Pandora's Box was opened it could never be shut, so I put it off for as long as possible. But anyway, he wants to make his own games. He loves pacman and has attempted to make his own "version" by creating the maze in MS Paint, hand-drawing the pacman and the ghosts, scanning them in and then inserting them into the maze. Then he wants to know how to make them move around!
I told him that he needed to know how to program computers to do that, so lately he's been asking to learn how to program.
Of course, making a version of pacman is not a beginner programming task, but still, right now he's very motivated so it might be good opportunity for him to learn some skills. The trouble is, I don't know of any "kids" programming languages or tools. Things like Perl, java, php and so on are really not suitable for someone who has only recently mastered subtraction ...and who still wears "Thomas and Friends" pajamas. Does anyone have any suggestions?
6:38 am on July 5, 2010 (gmt 0)

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I would find a game with a "level editor" interface. All the creative fun without any of the coding hassle.
8:46 am on July 5, 2010 (gmt 0)

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Basic?
9:16 am on July 5, 2010 (gmt 0)

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I also would recommend a game editor. Several years ago I tried one myself. They work quite simple: You create some sort of playfield with a custom background - like the drawn pacman field, and then insert objects or characters and simply assign events to them. For example that a character should bounce of, when it hits an object, or that the object should fall down and so on.

It was a lot of fun but I do not rememeber the name of the software anymore. Search for game editor or level editor.
10:00 am on July 5, 2010 (gmt 0)

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you could try him on javascript.
do you remember that little pacman game that google had on their homepage a while ago? (http://www.google.com/pacman/) i believe that was written with javascript.
obviously that would be too difficult for him, but you can start him off with some easy-peasy "guess the number" games.

a lot of the stuff you learn with javascript can be used in other languages when he progresses, because its got all the basics like loops and arrays in it

but maybe thats for when he gets a tiny bit older
10:14 am on July 5, 2010 (gmt 0)

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Might look at the old Duke Nukem (v1) game and the level editors that go with it. Bing it for both the game and the editors. Besides being a bit of retro fun, will teach good keyboard skills and creativity. The "violence" in this game is more than suitable for youngsters.
4:35 pm on July 5, 2010 (gmt 0)

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I learned on BASIC and LOGO.

My first ever function was in LOGO. I wrote a function to draw a square on screen using a repeat. My next was a circle. That was in grade 3... an APPLE 2e I think.

In BASIC we used to write "Choose your own adventure" story programs. The trouble with BASIC is it is very linear and it is tough to learn things like loops.
10:01 pm on July 8, 2010 (gmt 0)

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I got my oldest boy started with a program called 'Scratch' when he was 4 [scratch.mit.edu...]

He's got the attention span of a wet rag, so the fact that it can keep him occupied for as long as it does must mean it has something going for it. And it's free, so that's always good.

[edited by: tedster at 3:26 am (utc) on Jul 10, 2010]
[edit reason] made the link live [/edit]

11:07 pm on July 8, 2010 (gmt 0)

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I learned on BASIC and LOGO

Back in the early- to mid-80s when PCs were "all the rage" the math text book publisher I was working on a project for decided that each chaper in each grade had to have a computer programming lesson. Because you know, of course, if kids didn't know how to program they wouldn't be able to use a PC.

So that turned out to be one of my extra jobs. Decided to us LOGO for the early grades (K thru 4 maybe), and BASIC for the rest.

LOGO [en.wikipedia.org] was neat. It was based on or incorporated Turtle Graphics [en.wikipedia.org] and was very visual; there were a lot of exciting little projects for kids. And it looks like there are still quite a few flavors being used today.
6:06 pm on July 9, 2010 (gmt 0)

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a game making program designed specifically for kids is scratch, though even i find it difficult to use. i believe with some help your son could be learning to make games with the more advanced game maker. it is specified to build games such as pac-man, but as the user elevates his/her skill more advanced first person games can be developed later, with much skill. a pac-man type game could be created in about 1 hour of time with this program, it is at the following link :

www.yoyogames.com

it is a limited version, 20$ being the full price, but the features that come with the purchased version are not needed for anything your son should be producing anytime soon.
8:22 am on July 10, 2010 (gmt 0)

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Thanks everyone. Lots of great suggestions. I'm looking into scratch and may give that a go. I also like the game-specific editor idea, and may have to get him hooked on Duke Nukem!
10:42 pm on July 10, 2010 (gmt 0)

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oh I have a typo in my post, where it says "with much skill"
its supposed to say without much skill