Our older son is now 7.5 years old, and he expressed his interest in learning how to program. We had a Dutch translation of Scratch programming book for children, but before starting with the book, I made him program me. That is, I told him that “now I’m the robot, and I can only follow the instructions that you’ll issue, and I can do them exactly as you say, in the order you say, and nothing else. Now make this robot pick that toy from your brothers bed’s corner.” For both of us, it turned out to be a funny, as well as challenging exercise. In only a few minutes, he quickly realized how many things he takes for granted, and how even a seemingly super simple and straightforward task is composed of many intricate details. He also saw how things can go wrong, because he had to “debug” his robot-dad. He became also a little frustrated when I insisted doing exactly as he said without any interpretation. “Welcome to my world son!” was a natural reaction from me.

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After that exercise that didn’t involve touching any computers, we started with the actual Scratch programming environment. This was a very special moment for me, because having taught programming to many teenagers and kids using many programming environments for more than 10 years, including StarLogo, NetLogo, and previous versions of Scratch; now I’m able to experience the joy of exploration with my very own son, and also witness the evolution of such technologies and platforms throughout the last 15 years.

One of the things I’ve also realized is that, the iPad that can be seen on the photographs above is definitely not suitable. The authors of the book stressed this, and I fully agreed after having observed my son struggle with the UX on the iPad for using Scratch. This is why we’re continuing with an external keyboard and mouse attached to a laptop with a big screen.  We have a long journey awaiting us. He also started to take a special interest in my library, asking me questions about the Java and Python books (those were some of the languages also mentioned in the first few pages of that Scratch book). I wonder what kind of new programming environments he’ll face 15 years from now, when he’ll be in his 20s. I’m looking forward to our journey, and will be even more proud when the day will come of his teaching something new to me.

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