March 10, 2015

Introduction


This is a blog about the adventures I have with my daughter Kaisla as we learn to code and do other computer related stuff. She is 5 years old (at the time of writing this in March 2015) and we have been doing little "computer exercises" for a while already, mostly inspired by the Girls Can't Code blog and with some iPad apps etc. In this introduction post I will go through what kind of things we have already done together and what we have learned along the way.

I think it was a little over a year ago when we first started. She seemed quite interested whenever she saw me working on my computer and sometimes asked if she could "write on daddy's computer". I let her type with Word (put CapsLock on, big font size and pink color) and she would happily spend 20 minutes typing big bright letters on the screen.

After a while we started to really use the computer and I created a profile for her on my Ubuntu laptop. She was quite excited to pick her own password and desktop background image (nice butterfly we found using Google image search). Then we fired up the Terminal and started to explore the wonders of command-line. We learned how to create and edit text files with nano and I also created an alias "sano" (Finnish for "say") to espeak with Finnish language switch so we could make the computer speak. This was really exciting and would provide lots of fun for many "lessons".

And of course we explored the true power of Unix command-line by combining our skills with the pipe operator, we saved words to a file with nano and then piped that to "sano" which would then speak the file contents. Oh, what a joy when the file from earlier computer lesson would still be there next time and could be spoken out again. Our favourite one was a file with "1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 täältä tullaan" (Finnish for "here I come", what you say after counting when playing hide and seek).

Getting started with programming


After a while it was time to get our hands dirty and start coding. I think the first programming we ever did was with Turtle Roy, a nice browser based programming environment where you can make a turtle (or other characters) move and draw on the screen. It is text based programming, but we were already quite used to typing commands as text after using the command-line. We have also used other, more graphical programming environments like Scratch and Lightbot game on the iPad. I have listed these and more links in Resources page.

She really likes Lightbot and has gotten pretty good at it, last time we did a recursive function which was loads of fun. We also go back to Turtle Roy every now and then, it's nice how it's so visual even though it's text based programming and every time she wants to draw more complex shapes with it so we have to learn some geometry to get all the shapes and angles right etc.

Taking things apart

Hardware work with little sister.

Many people today, even young people who use computers every day and are thought to be computer savvy, don't really know how they work inside. When I was a kid we always assembled our computers together with my dad. And we learned a lot about how they work while doing that. Today when people have their iPads and MacBooks, it's not that easy to really get a look inside a computer and take it apart. Luckily there are thinks like the Raspberry Pi that don't try to hide the computer inside a pretty shell that cannot be opened.

After we had started saving files on the computer, we started talking about how the computer memory and hard drive works. This naturally led to me promising her that we'll open up a computer and look inside. We first dismantled an old desktop computer to get a better look at how everything is wired together and discussed what each component does. Later I also let Kaisla and her little sister take apart my old laptop which wasn't working any more (picture above).

Game development


Once we started exploring Scratch, it didn't take long until she started thinking about developing a game. You can read more about our first game in a separate post.

We are currently developing our second game and I think I need to write at least a few posts about that too (Update: From idea to owl - designing our second Scratch game). Developing games together has been very entertaining and we have learned a lot. More info coming in future posts. Another dad developing Scratch games with his son has also inspired me to create this blog, so check out Games by Devon.

Closing thoughts


Learning about computers and coding has been very educational and we have had a lot of fun together, but most importantly I have spent time together with my daughter. Obviously it's not the only thing we do together and sometimes there are weeks or even a month when we don't do anything with computers, but so far we have always come back, either by her request or by my suggestion. It's something that I am interested in, and she enjoys it also. Programming is not for everyone and I'm not saying every parent with 5 year old kids should teach them programming, especially if the kid does not seem interested in it. But it's a great way to spend time together and learn new things if it's something that both enjoy.

If you have any thoughts, experiences with similar things or just comments about anything, please leave a comment below. And check back later for new posts.

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