A kid has to start programming

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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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How can a group of kids multiply their creativity by learning to code?

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Recently we have decided to put Belgium on the map by introducing computer programming to kids by using the wonderful and child-friendly, multilingual Scratch programming environment. And what time could be better than the International Scratch Day 2012 for this mission? Thanks to the facilities and support provided by Antwerp International School, not only the students from this school, but also children from other parts of the Antwerp were able to join this one-day introductory workshop.

I had a lot of fun by watching the immense creativity of children from 9-year olds to 13-year olds. Before the workshop started I had some doubts, but the enthusiasm of the children, especially after learning the simplest programming concepts, and seeing that they could easily apply these to colorful graphics and sounds, had a powerful and multiplying effect on them. Another nice aspect of the event was the collaboration between children, between boys and girls; in order to help each other overcome some technical challenges. You can visit http://scratch.mit.edu/users/scratchdaybelgium12 to see a sample of the projects created by the children during the day.

One of the many projects created on the International Scratch Day 2012 @ Antwerp, Belgium

One of the many projects created on the International Scratch Day 2012 @ Antwerp, Belgium

The event lasted slightly more than 3 hours, and it turned out to be above my expectations: at the end of the day, we had to scratch the kids off the computers so that they could go home, and of course continue coding there, using what they learned that day and what they are going to learn in the upcoming days, with the help of Scratch community.

I hope this event is going to inspire similar events, because I believe in the importance of introducing computational thinking concepts and patterns to children from a very early age, so that they can be computational problem solvers in any field they choose to study in the future. I think this also means going beyond merely being a “digital  native”, and becoming a producer of ideas and implementations rather than just being a passive consumer of Internet entertainment and data explosion.

Let’s put Belgium on the map: International Scratch Day 2012 @ Antwerp

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Let’s put Belgium on the map: International Scratch Day 2012 @ Antwerp, Belgium

This is a free workshop for kids who want to step into the wonderful world of programming, creativity and computational thinking. For more information please visit http://day.scratch.mit.edu/event/593

International Scratch Day 2012 @ Antwerp, Belgium

International Scratch Day 2012 @ Antwerp, Belgium

International Scratch Day 2012 @ Antwerp, Belgium

International Scratch Day 2012 @ Antwerp, Belgium

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