Computer excitement for a smart kid?
January 3, 2012 12:40 PM   Subscribe

Looking for computer/internet recommendations for my 10 year old friend. What are the coolest, most interesting, and least consumerist activities, websites, and other digital/virtual things that I can introduce this kid to? What did you like to do with computers / the internet when you were that age? Bonus internet safety questions inside!


The kid is the youngest sibling of my boyfriend, whose parents don't really use computers themselves and have given us permission to teach the kid how to do fun things and be responsible on the computer.

The kid already plays Moshi Monsters, but I am trying to avoid more of that kind of thing because they will find out about them from other kids anyway and also because the "want to do this cool thing that all your virtual friends are doing? pay to upgrade!" model is pretty uninspiring.

What does the kid like?:

Things the kid likes include but are not limited to: making art, sewing stuffed animals, playing silly computer games, animals, geology, and anything liked by kid's three older siblings. On the computer, previous hits have been:
- Having an email account*
- The idea of emoticons (+ links to some Wikipedia tables of them)
- various fun pictures / videos of animals
- The idea of a Chatterbot
- The Single Lane Superhighway
- cyriak was a little too weird, but similar things would probably be enjoyed.

The kinds of things I'm hoping to find:

I think the kid would enjoy some kind of simple coding game, but I don't know where to start with that (at that age I was using LogoWriter on Apple IIs, but that's obviously not a possibility anymore...)

A simple-to-use animation program would probably go over well too, but again I don't know where to start with that.

Perhaps a narrative blog to follow regularly? (I still remember an early exposure I had to that kind of thing).

Kid-appropriate webcomics?

Do well-supervised email penpal services exist?

Anything, anything, anything to help create an awareness of things like deceptive internet advertising, spammers, identity theft, privacy, and general internet safety.

I also welcome any warnings or horror stories!

*I also have some concerns about introducing the kid to email, which are not central to this question but are related enough to include, I think:

With permission from boyfriend's parents, we started up an email account for the kid. This account is, just because we figured that account name would be good to have and wouldn't be around forever. Taught them about passphrases vs. passwords, which they thought was super cool. All incoming emails forward to my account, so that we can keep an eye on things. It's been working well—lots of cute emails back and forth between the kid and me/boyfriend, a little bit of gchat.

But I am concerned about (1) the safety of having a kid use an email account with their real name attached to it, (2) how to teach email etiquette & street smarts, (3) how to handle the kid's desire to send email to random public figures — and especially how to deal with all of these issues without being a killjoy!
posted by bubukaba to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
The FTC has a booklet (.pdf) about kids staying safe online.
posted by JoanArkham at 12:49 PM on January 3, 2012

Minecraft. Find or set up a server. My 9 1/2 year old is completely obsessed with it. He follows YouTube videos that teach him how to build things like train switching yards and calculators within the game. He and a friend are currently working on a treehouse city, which they build while using video chat on Skype. My son lives in the future I always dreamed about.

Also, Skype.

Other stuff: Linerider, Lego Digital Designer.

He also just started teaching himself Python, though I haven't yet found a good kid's tutorial for that.
posted by bondcliff at 1:05 PM on January 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

That's probably about the age when I started learning to program with Hypercard which, like LogoWriter, sadly is no longer an option. From what I've done with it, I think Hackety Hack might be a good option. It teaches Ruby programming with a fun little interactive tutorial.

A standout blog for kids is The Kid Should See This which is an awesome, curated collection of kid-friendly videos. There's lots of amazing nature and science content, and well as art and miscellany.
posted by duien at 1:16 PM on January 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

Google earth is pretty amazing.
posted by demiurge at 1:26 PM on January 3, 2012

I was using the Internet a fair amount when I was 10 (mostly playing HorseLand), but the Internet in 1999 was a whole lot different than it is now. I had an e-mail penpal in Ireland when I was younger than that (through my parents' iquest e-mail) that we found on some website for kids and really enjoyed -- one of my favorite parts was that we would make short .wav files of us saying words that weren't familiar to the other and send them. Your best bet for a well-supervised penpalship at this point might be trying to arrange one through someone you know -- the kid or younger sibling or something of a friend of yours who lives in a different part of the country or another English-speaking country or something. Skyping at some point could be cool.

A non-real-name e-mail account might be good if he gets into communicating with people he doesn't know (and you don't either).

I recently discovered (thanks to the Blue) Jake's Bones, a weekly blog a ten-year-old Scottish boy keeps about his bone collection. I really enjoyed reading it, and imagine it would be even cooler if I was closer to Jake in age. There are probably also other blogs out there kept by cool kids who are interested in specific things, so he might find one more in line with some of his interests. There are also kids' groups on a lot of interest-related social networking websites like Ravelry and Goodreads (to name two I spend time on); this might be true for other things as well.

Throughout my childhood, I dabbled with programming -- mostly Logo, but I also devoted a fair amount of time to HTML and enjoyed creating websites about random things. (And making my HorseLand profile SUPER COOL.)

Also, I'd recommend being honest with him about how people lie on the Internet and people can make up personas and stuff, but it's probably not necessary to use the scare tactic-y stories that 60 Minutes specials are made of. Just let him know that there's a lot of advertising, don't give out personal information, and if people are trying to give you things for free, there's probably a catch. (And basic Internet manners: type in a way that's intelligible, say please and thank you, don't use capslock.)
posted by naturalog at 1:40 PM on January 3, 2012

Seconding Minecraft.
posted by empath at 1:42 PM on January 3, 2012

The Dreamland Chronicles is a kid-safe fantasy webcomic. Its style is a little funky because it's actually rendered in 3d for each panel, so the earlier pages are pretty dated looking at this point, but it has a great epic plot with lots of fun characters and the creator actually writes it with their young sons.

ZooBorns is a never-ending onslaught of adorable baby animals with bonus educational information, if there's someone around to help explain big words and unknown concepts.
posted by Mizu at 1:43 PM on January 3, 2012

Seconding Skype and Lego Digital Designer. you can design whatever you want and order it custom from Lego now. I would have sold my sister for that power when I was 10.

Gaming in general can be a fraught issue with kids, especially with the crap you run into on any online multiplayer game.

If you decide to let the kid play Minecraft, it might be fun to eventually get them involved with the Metafilter-spawned gaming group MeFightClub. They run their own server and generally keep it reasonably clean. PG13ish anyway, especially if the mods know a certain user is young.

Good kid-friendly webcomics include Sheldon and Girl Genius (Although you should check out GG first/ask the parents to see if it passes your/their own filter. It includes mild violence and the occasional victorian undergarment, and the storyline might be a bit complex for a 10-year-old, although I know I would have LOVED the jagers when I was 10.)
posted by Wretch729 at 1:50 PM on January 3, 2012

They run their own server and generally keep it reasonably clean.

The Aporkalypse is not meant to be kid-friendly, although they tend to keep the cursing to a minimum.
posted by empath at 1:57 PM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

+1 for Minecraft, so much cool stuff has been done with redmine circuits and lots of different way to play.

Also if they wants to try out programming, processing maybe worth a look, some decent tutorials exist or you could sign up for Code Year.

If they want to go more hardware oriented, getting a cheap Arduino could be fun and make a weather station or something, Make has more ideas (also Craft).

I guessing they are a little young for Cory Doctorow YA titles, I was thinking about Little Brother in particular but also For The Win
posted by Z303 at 2:25 PM on January 3, 2012

My kids love They have quite a few flash-based games that are based around logic puzzles using point-and-click mechanics. One caveat: although 90% of the games are kid-friendly there are a few that aren't - they contain blood and violence. You might want to look at the games first and make a list of DO NOT PLAY games.
posted by tacodave at 3:25 PM on January 3, 2012

tacodave reminded me of Launchball, a nice physics based game
posted by Z303 at 3:31 PM on January 3, 2012

At 10-12, I was mad about Neopets. I'm not sure what it's like nowadays, but in essence it should be what it was ten years ago: you have pets! and you can play games! and buy stuff for your pets!

My cousin (who is around that age) is really into Club Penguin which is similar.
posted by Xany at 4:57 PM on January 3, 2012

Anything, anything, anything to help create an awareness of things like deceptive internet advertising, spammers, identity theft, privacy, and general internet safety.

When my younger siblings started going online (around the same age, if not younger) I threw them links to and and told them to check any potential spam (read: everything that comes doesn't come from people you know in real life) or email forwards (i.e. bonsai kittens, You Won A Free Amazing Something!, petition to help save baby with cancer) on these sites. "Always verify before forwarding."

I also once watched a Futurama movie with them (Bender's Big Score), which was about online scammers/spammers, and saw the opportunity to sneak in a "So remember kids, never give out any personal information online..."
posted by pimli at 2:27 AM on January 4, 2012

« Older Can I share the (marshmallow) love?   |   Find me a home (with space enough) where the... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.