Children tinkering

2014-01-05 02:07 More posts about kids children tinker Hacking hacks
Years ago I decided that in case I got the same question for at least three times I would write down the answer and put it somewhere online in a more or less public location that I can link to. The latest question I got once too often came from daddies (mostly, sorry - not even a handful of moms around me, let alone moms who are into tech) looking for ways to get there children in touch with technology.

Of course every recommendation depends heavily on the age and interest of the little one in question. However most recommendations are based on using a child's love for games - see also a story on how a father accidentally turned his daughter into a dungeons and dragons fan for a bit more background on what I mean.

There are several obvious paths, including Lego Mindstorms, the programming kits by Fischertechnik, several electronics kits you get at your favourite shop, fun stuff like Makey, makey kits that can turn a banana into a controller. Also many games come with their own level designers (think Little Big Planet, though the older children might remember that even Far Cry, Doom and friends came with level designers).

In addition by now there are quite a few courses and hacking events that kids are invited to go to - like the FrogLabs co-located with FrosCon, the Chaos macht Schule initiative by CCC, meetups like the ones hosted by Open Tech School, Jugend Hackt. In addition quite a few universities collaborate with schools to bring pupils in touch with research (and oftentimes tech) - like e.g. at HU Berlin.

In addition there are a three more less typical recommendations:

  • As a child I loved programming a turtle (well, a white dot really) to move across the screen forward or backwards, to turn east, south, west or north, to paint or to stop painting. The slightly more advanced (both in a graphical as well as in an interactive sense of the word) version of that would be to go for Squeak (all smalltalk, first heard about it about a decade ago at the Chemnitzer Linuxtage) or Scratch (a geek dad kindly showed that to me years ago).
  • When it comes to hardware hacking one recommendation I can give from personal experience is to take part in one of the soldering courses by Mitch Altman - you know, the guy who invented the "TV-B-Gone". Really simple circuits, you solder yourself (no worries, the parts are large and robust enough that breaking them is really, really, really hard). What you end up with tends to be blinking and in some cases is programmable. As an aside: Those courses really aren't only interesting for little ones - I've seen adults attend, including people who are pretty deep into Java programming and barely ever touch circuits in their daily work.
  • If you are more into board games: Years ago one of my friends invited me to a RoboRally session. Essentially every player programs their little robot to move across the board.


When it comes to books one piece I can highly recommend (didn't know something like that existed until my colleagues came up with it) would be the book "Geek Mom" - there's also an edition called "Geek Dad". Be warned though, this is not tech only.

If you know of any other events, meetups, books or games that you think should really go on that list, let me know.