Teaching programming concepts to kids

Michael Torrie torriem at chem.byu.edu
Sat Nov 11 11:26:33 MST 2006

On Sat, 2006-11-11 at 09:41 -0800, Gary Thornock wrote:
> --- "Dr. Scott S. Jones" <scott at fyrenice.com> wrote:
> > I have 3 boys, ages 10, 8 and 6. I'd love to find something
> > that would 1) teach them how to touch-type, and 2) introduce
> > them to programming
> That raises another question: What's a good age to start?  I'm
> fairly sure that it would be too early if I tried to teach
> programming to my 4-year-old.  (If nothing else, she needs to be
> able to read, spell and do simple addition first.)
> Dave mentioned that he started programming in high school.  So
> did my wife.  I started at about 7 or 8.  So maybe there's not
> a single right time.  But if not, what's the minimum, and how
> do you tell when a child is ready to enjoy learning simple
> programming?

I'm not sure.  I first began programming in 1st grade.  My parents
recognized that I was fascinated with the computer (an IBM PC) and
bought me a book that was for children, introducing me to simple loops
and if/then statements.  The book targeted Bill Gates' BASIC
interpreter, but also had versions available for Apple II and C64.  So
maybe it's just recognizing that a child might be interested in
something and help them learn a bit more about it and see where they go.
I think modern video gaming systems really do a lot to retard a child's
interest in really learning and discovering.  All I had was books and

My first program I wrote ever (I was 5 or 6) would ask for my age, then
print how many years it would be until  I went on a mission.  Eventually
we got CGA graphics and I enjoyed drawing lines.  It was about this time
(3rd grade) that I was using a logo program on our school's Apple IIs,
which I found out later had actually been written by my Uncle in Utah
(we were in Alberta -- not sure how the code migrated up there!).  I
learned a basic understanding of angles.  I was interested in what made
the program tick, so I tried to write my own logo implementation.
However I hit an immediate problem.  How does one plot a line at an
arbitrary angle using square coordinates?  This led me to discover
rudimentary trigonometry while still in elementary school.  Of course
BASIC trig functions are all in radians, which I had no concept of.  But
I did manage to hack together routines that would plot a line at an
arbitrary angle for an arbitrary distance.

Somehow if I could recapture that excitement and channel it into my
future children that will some day be great.


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