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What is a good framework to teach kids programming? For several years, I and my son were playing with Scratch. We have been making a slow progress and finally reached a point of understanding basic concepts. Scratch is a great environment, which hides a lot of implementation details from you. You have a few basic graphic primitives (the stage and the sprites) and a bunch of functions to manipulate them. Coding is easy because you create scripts by drag-and-dropping basic programming primitives: loops, conditionals, etc... Overall, Scratch is a powerful framework that allows one to create simple games/programs quickly (implementation speed is important here!).

The Scratch paradigm is not exactly event-driven programming. Yet, it involves parallel processing. For example, if one sprite (a hero) bumps into another sprite (a villain), it is easy to detect and process this event. However, there will be one script that controls the behavior of the hero and another script that controls the behavior of the villain. There are "naturally" occurring events (e.g, one sprite touches another) and programmatically initiated messages (broadcasts).

If you want to start with Scratch, there is a good project book. Beware, though, that there seems to be bugs in the program descriptions: be prepared to debug and fix them.

One big problem with the Scratch is that it is all parallel. As many of you know full well, parallelism entails race conditions. This is truly bad news, because even full-grown bearded software programmers have troubles with race conditions. How can we expect kids to tackle them easily? This is why it may be easier to start with a (mostly) single-thread programming.

There is a good a review of platforms/languages that can be taught after or instead of the Scratch (via Greg Linden). One option it suggests is JavaScript. After pondering for a while, I think this option is best. JavaScript is not terribly hard, there are exceptional interactive tutorials, and it is a production language, which is used in Web-development.

The latter reason seems to be quite appealing. Teens like to do cool things. And what can be cooler than an interactive HTML page that you create yourself?

UPDATE: interestingly, it seems that we will be studying Python instead. In that, it seems that the Code Academy is a good place to start.


I find that JavaScript makes it hard to tell what is happening. It has a tendency to fail silently. And cross-browser compatibility is hard.

>It has a tendency to fail silently.
That is probably true. Yet, has an appeal of a real language. We'll see how cross-browser compatibility is working out. Because, the overall process is rather slow, we won't have updates for more than a year.

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