What to teach the kids?

A friend pointed me to this article by Eugene Wallingford titled “I Just Need A Programmer“.

The Slashdot entry sums it up best:

“As head of the CS Department at the University of Northern Iowa, Eugene Wallingford often receives e-mail and phone calls from eager entrepreneurs with The Next Great Idea. They want to change the world, and they want Prof. Wallingford to help them. They just need a programmer. ‘Many idea people,’ observes Wallingford, ‘tend to think most or all of the value [of a product] inheres to having the idea. Programmers are a commodity, pulled off the shelf to clean up the details. It’s just a small matter of programming, right?’ Wrong. ‘Writing the program is the ingredient the idea people are missing,’ he adds. ‘They are doing the right thing to seek it out. I wonder what it would be like if more people could implement their own ideas.'”

The interesting thing was, before reading this article my friend and I were talking about teaching kids how to program. He’s been studying this nifty 2D graphics library and given how well-written it was, maybe he’d be able to use it to teach his son how to program. Maybe, but the problem I saw there was there was still too much other stuff to deal with, like the language issues, because the first time you try to figure out pointers in C/C++/Objective-C well… it’s mind-bending. 🙂

The thing that hit me was the last sentence of the Slashdot summary:

I wonder what it would be like if more people could implement their own ideas.

And as I was thinking about teaching our kids I realized what we need to give them are the tools that enable them to realize their ideas.

One cool thing about programming computers is computers are such general purpose tools, that with a little work you can get them to do almost anything you want. Such is a great thing about learning to program. But kids tend to not see that, they just see they want to play a game. So if they want to write a game, give them those tools.

Daughter is very artsy, so we ensure she has a constant supply of art and craft materials. For example, yesterday morning, inspired by the movie “Tangled”, she took some paper plates and painted some really neat stuff on them. We have to keep brushes, paint, pencils, paper, and all sorts of art supplies around at all times for the kids. I’ve even bought software for them to help them be creative. In fact, I think our Christmas card this year is going to be one designed and assembled on the computer by Daughter.

Or if the idea your child has is to create music, ensure they have instruments or other tools to create their music… even software like GarageBand.

The point is, in whatever realm the kids are having their ideas, don’t let them just dream about their ideas coming true; give them the means to make their dreams come true. And that includes a lot of encouragement and support.

3 thoughts on “What to teach the kids?

  1. Back in my horse training days, I gave riding lessons to a young teenage (12-13) girl. She had “always wanted a horse” so her parents finally gave in and bought her a horse, and paid me to give her lessons. This girl was TALENTED, and in a very short time, she signed up for 4-H horsemanship. I went with her and her mother to the first 4-H horse show. I coached her through her warm-up exercises and then, as she was about to enter the ring for her first class, I went to sit with her mother. I started explaining to Mother that, since Daughter had a “backyard” horse, and not a $10,000+ professionally-trained show horse, that she might execute the class very well and still not place very high. She would probably need some encouragement afterward, to feel good about how well she did and not worry about how high (or not) she placed.

    And her mother turned to me and said, “I just hope she hates it so much that she never wants to come back.”

    It wasn’t long after that they stopped coming to me for lessons.

    It seems to me that it takes both ingredients, the tools and the encouragement. If you encourage your kids to follow their dreams, but never give them the tools to do so, they’ll never get any farther than if you give them the tools, but not the encouragement.

  2. Pingback: Learning to program « Stuff From Hsoi

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