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Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Frugal living: Kids education - programming

DS1 has a keen interest in computers and is a good reader for his age (7), so I thought I'd have a go at teaching him computer programming. I quite like QBasic as a programming tool as its very quick and easy to type in a few lines of code and immediately run it to see what happens. There wasn't QBasic installed on my laptop (running Windows XP) so I downloaded QBasic.zip off the internet. Microsoft made QBasic public domain last century, so there are plenty of places to download it, here for example. Next step was to find a suitable programming tutorial for a seven year old. One that seems quite good is QBASIC Programming for Kids by Ted Felix. I helped DS1 work through the first six chapters last night, and he was so keen that he then sat down and read through the remainder of the 55-pages of the book on his own before he went to bed! Tonight he worked through Chapter 7 and I then gave him a simple programming assignment based on the first 6 chapters to help reinforce yesterday's lessons. Here's his first "very own" computer program:

CLS
INPUT "Enter your name: ", Name1$
INPUT "Enter your mothers name: ", Name2$
DO
PRINT Name1$, "loves ", Name2$
LOOP

DS1 seems to love computer programming - kids are empowered when they can do something "grown ups" do, and the computer has infinite patience while he slowly picks out the commands on the keyboard and fixes his typos. DS1 also loves to play the game LUDO with his grandparents, so I've told him we'll work together on a project to create his own computerised version "QUDO" once he's worked his way through all the exercises in the QBasic tutorial. QBasic has sufficient ability to handles graphics and sound to make such a project feasible, and the way Ted Felix has organised the tutorials provides an "object oriented" and structured approach to programming. (He doesn't even mention the dreaded "GOTO" command except in reference to error handling!).

All in all, provided you already have a computer, you can provide your kid with a good entry-level course in computer programming for $0. Ted recommends kids start off with LOGO first, and then progress to QBasic when they're around ten. DS1 had no trouble leaping straight into QBasic, but his reading is a couple of grades ahead of his class average, so most kids would probably enjoy this course when they're 8-10 years old.

Later on there are plenty of more advanced tutorials available on line that can be used to learn game design, 3D graphics, animation etc. When the limits of QBasic are reached it is easy to migrate to Visual Basic.

Enough Wealth

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