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How could I try to explain programming to a child, about 6 to 8 years old?

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closed as off topic by Mark Trapp Nov 11 '11 at 20:01

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15 Answers 15

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You could have the child tell you how to do something (this should be a task that the child fully understands how to do). Then play the following game:

  • Ask the kid to give you very specific instructions.
  • Follow the instructions the child gives you, as he/she says them.
  • If you feel that his/her instructions are too high-level, ask for clarification.
  • Deliberately mis-interpret vague instructions.

This should help to explain how you instruct a computer to these certain tasks. You can then explain that once you teach the computer how to do something, it can repeat that task over and over again, very quickly:

Imagine if you could teach a computer to clean your room for you!

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8  
Such an example was given on stackoverflow.com a while back, which I used to great success. Get a jar of jam, knife, and a loaf of sliced bread, and ask them to tell you how to make a sandwich. So many opportunities for mis-interpreting them. eg.g "Put the jam on the bread" = picking up the entire jar and putting it on the slice; "twist the lid" = twist the lid... without holding the jar (so the whole thing twists), etc. –  Smashery Oct 26 '10 at 2:12
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Depends on what level of detail you want to go into. By 6, most kids are able to understand the concept of computer programs, or at least video games. You can explain programming by saying that it's about creating computer programs by making lists of instructions for the computer to follow.

If you want to introduce concepts like formal logic and bugs, try an analogy. It's like that robot on the TV shows who will always do exactly what the bad guy tells it to do--you know the one--and when the bad guy doesn't get his instructions just right, the robot does something silly.

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+1 for "lists of instructions for the computer to follow." and for analogies. –  asfallows Jul 28 '11 at 17:15
    
I wrote my first computer program when I was 6. It was a dancing ASCII robot transcribed from a textbook, but I was very proud of myself :) –  configurator Jul 29 '11 at 12:04
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Let him play Light-Bot 2.0 or 1.0: http://armorgames.com/play/6061/light-bot-20 Worked for my kid even when he was just 3 years old! :) Amazing game! Kids can discover basics of procedural programming, recursion and conditionals themselves without any explanation from you! ;)

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Haha, light-bot's amazing :) –  dutt Oct 11 '10 at 11:11
    
Funny game :p Even in 15 years :) –  genesis Jul 28 '11 at 17:04
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Teach him to cook.

You can do cooking by following written instructions, step by step, just like a simple computer does while following a piece of software.

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My first contact with programming was with Logo. And I still have a good feeling about it today.

I think the "turtle" is the key to get your kids interested in the stuff. Showing them line of code will not make them exited ;)

They want to move the turtle !

Logo is also much more adapted since kids of 6 years old. They are learning how to read and write at that age.

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I hated logo in school because it was so simple it feels completely pointless. Might have just been the way I was taught, but what got me into programming was making Flash games and working with actionscript. Depends on the child's age I guess too –  rmx Oct 11 '10 at 10:16
    
Depends on your age I think. For a 6 year old kid, I think it's perfect. He is starting to learn to read at that age. A more complicated language may not be appropriate. Logo is very simple and actions easy to memorize. –  user2567 Oct 11 '10 at 10:21
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Depends on the 6 year old.

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If this 6-year-old is anything like me, just giving them a C-64 and a copy of the Programmer's Guide and a few disks with games on them will be enough. :) –  greyfade Oct 11 '10 at 2:20
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Not sure about when I was 6, but I remember 'programming' in QBASIC when I was 8. So how about "the thing you're doing right now." –  Joren Oct 11 '10 at 3:35
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I'd explain it as making a list of things that you want the computer to do. Then explain that computers speak a different language so you have to type the list in one of the languages computers can speak.

That seems simple enough for even a small child to understand.

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Don't bother, play football with them instead. :o)

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Though the question is rather interesting to me as a father, I fully agree that children should first have a childhood! :) –  Yan Sklyarenko Oct 26 '10 at 7:01
    
How is football more of a childhood than programming? Some of my fondest memories of childhood were about "playing" on the computer with my dad -- and even now when programming I use things he taught me back then. –  Joe May 8 '12 at 20:55
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try explaining how did the calculator get it's digit displayed.

one

I
I

two

_ _
_ _ I
I_ _

three

_ _
_ _ I
_ _ I

eight

  _ _
I _ _ I
I _ _ I

Someting like, when one press key 8 all the lights get turned on for number 8. When pressing key 1, 2 lights are turned on for number 1, etc.

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You might consider introducing the child to Scratch, which is specifically designed to get children involved/interested in programming.

My son started to plya with it around 7, although he was mostly just playing with the interface - making things larger or smaller, duplicating sprites, that sort of thing.

He's 9 now, and going much deeper, with a developing understanding of the event model and changing the behaviour of the components. He wants to know why things don't work the way he wants and what can be done about that.

He plays with it when he wants for as long as he wants, with encouragement (admittedly) from me, but no pressure.

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When someone doesn't know how to talk to a computer, they tell me and then I tell the computer what to do.

I've been asked this same question by adults and I'm tempted to give this answer because my current answer seems to be way over their head (at least the expression on their face seems to indicate that.).

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You can give Lego NXT a try. Fun for the kids to build a simple robot and give it simple instructions to complete simple tasks using their UI-based programming interface.

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I picked this up a couple of years ago: C-Jump Boardgame. My son is 7 so I think he still has some time before he's truly interested in programming. If and when that happens hopefully the game will help.

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Try to find a reference that makes sense to the persons specific frame of mind.

You can make comparisons with other tasks that involves controlling something through instructions, like writing musical notes or cooking recepies, or working as a football coach or an ochestra conductor.

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Don't try explaining it to them... let them ask! Instead, focus on trying to inspire them.

I'm a programmer because I found a BASIC manual in the drawer beside my dad's brand-new XT when I was 8. After realizing that I could make the computer do stuff by typing the commands in that book, I was inspired, and have been ever since. My dad never explained anything!

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