Last week, one of my readers reached out to me about how to keep his young daughters interested in technology. The conversation about the growing necessity of technical skills is not a quiet one, and I commend this father for realizing that and wanting to encourage his daughters to keep those doors open as they grow up. There’s no denying that technology plays an immediate role in children’s lives nowadays; kindergartners with smartphones, 13-year-olds making braille printers out of Lego, and toddlers skipping ads on YouTube before they can even talk are just a few examples. But even though devices are ever present, it’s often not the technology itself the kids are interested in, but the content they can consume with it, which largely does not stimulate critical thinking or mental growth (but that’s a whole other conversation). For those of you with kids, or who work with kids, or who could use a little fun yourself, here are five fun ways to spark an interest in technology for all the right reasons.
1. Introduce them to coding with made-for-kids tutorials and programming languages
Programming is NOT what it used to be. Parents, if the last thing you remember about programming involves punch cards or 2D Pong, forget everything you think you know about code. Today, coding is dynamic, it’s collaborative, and it’s absolutely accessible. There are some amazing resources out there to get kids started with programming, each targeted to a different age group or skill level. Here are just a few:
Scratch Programming – a visual programming language made by MIT for kids
Hour of Code with Elsa and Anna from Frozen – kids solve logic puzzles with Elsa and Anna from Frozen
Kodu Game Lab – build interactive 3D games using a simple programming interface
Code.org all-ages beginner’s tutorials – access over 20 hours of tutorials and lessons that introduce kids to logic and programming concepts in a fun and familiar setting
TouchDevelop by Microsoft Research – once they get the hang of logic, move to a more advanced yet still basic programming language and build apps, games and more in this free online environment. Projects can be shared across social media and published to all platforms – Android, iOS, Windows and web. How cool will it be when your little ones can say they’ve published an app?
2. Build kid-friendly robots using Lego Mindstorms
Lego Mindstorms puts a big spin on classic Lego building by combining everyone’s favourite building block with an easy and fun take on robotics. Mindstorms makes it easy to build and program robots and features a variety of sensors – light sensors, touch sensors, bumpers and more – that give your Lego creation what it needs to perceive the environment around it. My very first programming experience was with Lego Mindstorms when I was around 10, and the sheer excitement of building something with my dad and seeing it come to life was exhilarating.
3. Play Minecraft (no, really!)
Minecraft may look like just another game, but it’s a great way to explore creativity and learn. Building their virtual worlds block by block, kids can exercise their planning, problem solving and design skills while exploring limitless creation, playing with physics, and even building their own modifications. It’s like Lego all over again, except now you can have unlimited designs with you wherever you go, on your laptop, tablet or smartphone.
4. Take them to the science center
Science centers are awesome. They have grand, colourful exhibits that teach kids about how the world works in a fun and interactive way. Many exhibits have digital components or address how things are done, and learning the hows and whys of the world is a great way to boost critical thinking skills early on.
5. Watch Annedroids
With all the garbage on TV nowadays it is very rare to find quality media for kids. I love Annedroids because it paints science in a fun light and features a girl as the lead intelligent role. Anne is a pint-sized scientist with a knack for inventing. Along with her friends Nick and Shania, Anne builds Annedroids – thinking, feeling creations with big personalities. This show is one I wish had been around when I was a kid. Not only does it promote creativity and experimentation, it portrays a girl in this strong, intelligent role. Anne is the smart, talented, cool-for-all-the-right-reasons role model that young girls need, and she’s here to show both girls and boys that girls make rockstar technologists too.