I offered to participate at my kid's pre-school for various activities (yes, I'm crazy like that), and one of them is to help them discover extra-curricular (big word for a pre-school, but by lack of a better one... :)) hobbies, which may or may not relate to a professional activity.
At first I thought that it wouldn't be really easy to have pre-schoolers relate to programming or the internal workings of a computer system in general (and I'm more used to teaching middle-school to university-level students), but then I thought there must be a way. So I'm trying to figure out ways to introduce very young kids (3yo) to computer systems in a fun and preferably educational way.
Of course, I don't expect them to start smashing the stack for fun and profit right away (or at least not voluntarily, though I could use the occasion for some toddler tests...), but I'm confident there must be ways to get them interested in both:
- using the systems,
- becoming curious about understanding what they do,
- interacting with the systems to modify them.
I guess this setting is not really relevant after all, it's pretty much the same as if you were aiming to achieve the same for your own kids at home.
Considering we're talking 3yo pre-schoolers here, and that at this age some kids are already quite confident using a mouse (some even a keyboard, if not for typing, at least to press some buttons they've come to associate with actions) while others have not yet had any interaction with computers of any kind, it needs to be:
- rather basic,
- demonstrated and played with in less then 5 or 10 minutes,
- doable in in groups or alone,
- scalable and extendable in complexity to accommodate their varying abilities.
The obvious options are:
- basic smallish games to play with,
- interactive systems like LOGO, Kojo, Squeak and clones (possibly even simpler than that), or thngs like Lego Systems.
I guess it can be a thing to reflect on both at the software and the hardware levels: it could be done with a desktop or laptop machine, a tablet, a smartphone (or a crap-phone, for that matter, as long as you can modify it), or even get down to building something from scratch (Raspberry Pi and Arduino being popular options at the moment).
I can probably be in the form of games, funny visualizations (which are pretty much games) w/ Prototype, virtual worlds to explore. I also thought on the moment (and I hope this won't offend anyone) that some approaches to teaching pets could work (reward systems, haptic feedback and such things could quickly point a kid in the right direction to understanding how things work, in a similar fashion - I'm not suggesting to shock the kids!).
Hmm, Is There an Actual Question in There?
- What type of systems do you think might be a good fit, both in terms of hardware and software?
- Do you have seen such systems, or have anything in mind to work on?
- Are you aware of some research in this domain, with tangible results?
Any input is welcome. It's not that I don't see options: there are tons, but I have a harder time pinpointing a more concrete and definite type of project/activity, so I figure some have valuable ideas or existing ones.
Note: I am not advocating that every kid should learn to program, be interested in computer systems, or that all of them in a class would even care enough to follow such an introduction with more than a blank stare. I don't buy into the "everybody would benefit from learning to program" thing. Wouldn't hurt, but not necessary in any way. But if I can walk out of there with a few of them having smiled using the thing (or heck, cried because others took them away from them), that'd be good enough.
Questions I've seen and that seem to complement what I'm looking for, but not exactly for the same age groups or with the same goals: