How should a teenager learn to code

Learning to program for children and young people - use free offers

The future is digital and tablets, smartphones and PCs have become an integral part of our everyday lives - whether for games, school or work. If you want to be successful later in your job and in life in general, it is best to understand what is behind all the apps, games and programs. But while children in Great Britain are introduced to programming in primary school, computer science is rarely on the curriculum in Germany, and then mostly only in higher grades. Children and young people in particular learn particularly easily, approach digital media as so-called digital natives and should therefore get a taste of programming at an early stage. In addition, children and young people are particularly game-loving and often very enthusiastic when they can program computer games themselves at some point. At this point, you can quickly arouse interest in programming.

But what opportunities are there for children and young people to learn programming? Isn't that too complicated, especially if the parents don't have any programming skills? If you search the World Wide Web, you will find many different ways in which children can be introduced to programming. The best free offers are featured in this article.

Scratch - the colorful introduction with programming modules

Scratch was developed by the famous MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) to introduce children and adolescents between the ages of 8 and 16 to programming in a playful way. Scratch is visual or graphical programming, which makes the whole thing particularly easy and clear for children, so that successes can be achieved quickly and motivate them to continue.

With Scratch, smaller games and animations can be programmed directly in the browser, free of charge and without advertising, and then shared and edited with other users. Whether a ghost should haunt a castle or a shark should hunt for small prey fish, that is entirely up to the child's or young person's imagination. The commands are not entered as code that is confusing for children, but colored programming blocks are put together intuitively like puzzle pieces by drag-and-drop to form a program, whereby basic reading and arithmetic skills are required. With Scratch, children and young people learn to think creatively and to act strategically. They also develop an understanding of how a programming language works. This will make it easier for you to switch to a real programming language later.

Scratch is available in German and an online community, the Scratch Wiki or online tutorials will help if you get stuck. In order to use Scratch, the child or young person simply has to register on the platform with a user name and can start immediately.

ScratchJr - Wordless programming for the little ones

As an offshoot of Scratch, there is now the junior version ScratchJr for younger children aged 5–7, which was specially developed for use on tablets. Reading skills are not required for this variant, everything is made clear via program blocks with icons and different colors. And if text is required for speech balloons, for example, it can simply be recorded with the microphone and then output by the app via the loudspeaker.

ScratchJR can be downloaded free of charge from the corresponding app stores for iPads or Android tablets.

Open Roberta - programming robots made easy

Open Roberta was - inspired by Scratch - developed by the Fraunhofer Institute for Intelligent Analysis and Information Systems (IAIS) for children from around 10 to 16 years of age. The “Open Roberta Lab” cloud programming platform is available free of charge on the web and can be used with any standard browser; no program needs to be installed on your own PC or laptop.

As with Scratch, Open Roberta also uses colorful program blocks, but to program motors, sensors and processors. It is possible to program three-dimensional robots such as Lego Mindstorms EV3 or a two-dimensional virtual robot model on the screen in a simulation environment without additional costs.

Open Roberta is available in German and also offers an online wiki for assistance. To use Open Roberta, the child or young person can simply go to the website.

AntMe! - the ant computer game to program yourself

AntMe! is a free computer program for Windows operating systems, with which children and young people from approx. 10 years of age can be introduced to the professional programming language C # (pronounced: C-Sharp) or optionally Visual Basic in a fun way. The aim of the program is to program the artificial intelligence of an ant colony and thereby advance the game. For example, the ants are programmed to collect sugar and fight beetles. In contrast to Scratch and Open Roberta, real professional program code is used, so that the children and young people can later use their newly acquired knowledge in other projects outside of AntMe! can implement. Especially for teenagers who would like to learn a real programming language, AntMe! therefore particularly interesting.

After registering for free, AntMe! download it from the website, unzip it and copy it to another directory. You also need the .NET Framework and a development environment such as the free Microsoft Visual Studio. Children will likely need help with the complete installation of all components.

For AntMe! there is a German website that offers a wiki and tutorials in addition to the download.

Python - if you want it to be a real programming language

If you want to learn a correct programming language right from the start, you quickly ask yourself which of the many different so-called script or programming languages ​​to start with: C, Java, JavaScript, Python, PHP, Ruby? In principle, all programming languages ​​have a similar structure. So anyone who knows one programming language quickly learns the next. Therefore, it does not initially matter which programming language you learn first. However, some programming languages ​​are considered particularly easy to learn or offer components that make it particularly easy to get started.

A good example of this is the Python programming language with its graphics-oriented Python Turtle module developed for children. With the Turtle module, programming commands are used to run a turtle across the screen, which in turn draws colored lines behind it. This allows you to gradually create beautiful images on the screen. This makes it easy to get started and a smooth transition to correct programming with Python is possible. Python is also used in the business environment and is by no means just children's stuff.

Python is open source, so it is freely available and can be installed on all operating systems. The language also provides an interactive interpreter for trying out and testing. However, it takes a little search on the Internet for understandable German tutorials to deal with Python and the many possibilities, which is why Python is more recommended for teenagers as an introduction to programming. Children would likely need adult support.

Tip: If you have a few euros to spare, you can also get a child-friendly programming book. There are various good books on the market that are especially designed to introduce children and young people step by step to Python or other programming languages.

HTML - the markup language for the web

Even if HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) is not a programming language, but a so-called markup language, it should be mentioned here. Because some children or young people are not interested in programming animation or computer games, but would rather be involved in creating websites. And that's where HTML comes in. Because with HTML, the content of a website is structured in terms of content. The HTML document can then be displayed by a web browser, whereby for an appealing website there are usually additional languages ​​such as CSS (Cascading Style Sheet) for formatting, PHP (originally: Personal Home Page Tools) for dynamic websites and interaction with the user etc. have to be added. Many people have already found their way into professional scripting and programming languages ​​via HTML.

There are numerous tutorials and websites available on the web to teach yourself HTML. We recommend the child-like website HTMLing.net in German and especially for children and the somewhat sober but very detailed website SELFHTML.org for young people, which offers extensive German documentation, a helpful forum and a blog.

App Inventor - develop modern apps for smartphones

For teenagers in particular, a smartphone is often part of their life like the air they breathe. So if you prefer to program apps for smartphones or tablets, we recommend the Inventor app, which was originally developed by Google. As with the Scratch program, drag-and-drop graphic programming is also used in the cloud-based App Inventor. The result is actually executable apps for Android devices and over time even more complex applications can be developed with them.

The App Inventor, its tutorials and its forum are only available in English, which is why sufficient knowledge of English is required. The App Inventor can therefore be recommended for young people from around 13 years of age. In addition, the App Inventor can only be used with a Google account.

Conclusion

If you want to keep up in today's digital world, you should start programming at an early stage. Today there are various ways for children to find a playful introduction to programming. The offers presented are briefly summarized below:

  • Scratch - intuitive online programming of animations and small games on the PC using colorful, labeled program blocks via drag-and-drop, for children and young people from 8 to 16 years
  • ScratchJr - intuitive online programming of animations and small games on the tablet using colorful program blocks with icons by drag-and-drop, no reading skills required, for children from 5 to 7 years
  • Open Roberta - intuitive online programming of robots (e.g. Lego Mindstorms) or robot simulations on the PC using colorful, labeled program blocks via drag and drop, for children and young people from 10 to 16 years
  • AntMe! - PC game for free download, programming of an ant colony with the professional programming language C # or Visual Basic, for children and adolescents from approx. 10 years (for the installation of the development environment, support from an adult may be required)
  • Python - professional open source programming language with child's play Turtle graphics module and included interpreter for testing the code, smooth transition from Turtle to professional Python code possible, for young people from approx. 12 years of age (for installation and entry, possibly support from an adult required)
  • HTML - markup language, not a programming language, recommended as an introduction to website creation, then easier transition to real programming languages, for children and adolescents from approx. 10 years
  • App Inventor - intuitive online programming of apps for Android smartphones and tablets, knowledge of English required, therefore only recommended for young people aged 13 and over

The good thing is: All of the offers mentioned are available on the Internet for free, so that you can simply try out which type of programming is particularly fun for the child or young person. Only then will the ambitious young programmer really stay on the ball. And if you actually get stuck, you will find numerous video tutorials on almost every language on YouTube. So nothing stands in the way of entering a digital future!

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