How Do I Introduce My 8-Year-Old Minecraft Nut To Computer Programming?
August 11, 2015 7:43 AM   Subscribe

My 8-year-old son is obsessed with Minecraft, and has announced that he would like to create video games when he grows up. My own IT skills topped out around 1982 when I learned to write programs in Basic that printed my name in an endless goto loop. What technologies/languages/apps can I introduce him to in order to leverage his enthusiasm and channel it to something that teaches him age-appropriate programming skills? Assume second-grade math and logic skills and no programming background whatsoever.
posted by A Long and Troublesome Lameness to Technology (15 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
MIT's Scratch project is an attempt to ease young children (8-16) into programming. Give it a look?
posted by JoeZydeco at 7:51 AM on August 11, 2015 [3 favorites]

I know someone who volunteers for CoderDojo, and a couple of topics that are popular in our area are Scratch and HTML/CSS.
posted by neushoorn at 7:52 AM on August 11, 2015

Hour of Code could be a great resource.
posted by Hermione Granger at 7:57 AM on August 11, 2015

Also, if he loves Minecraft, Minecraft mods are written in Java, which is one of the most widely used languages in the world. Learning Java will probably be pretty tough for an 8-year-old, but it might not be a bad place to go after he gets the hang of some more basic resources (like Scratch), plus if he wants to make video games being able to make his own Minecraft mods will be a great motivator.
posted by Itaxpica at 8:00 AM on August 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

There are groups out there (Youth Digital) with videos and a "how to program Minecraft" application/course that might be a bit above him yet (or not!).

Another idea might be to wait on code and try on concepts first, using Project Spark.
posted by tilde at 8:11 AM on August 11, 2015

I have a less ambitious suggestion, since he already likes Minecraft and there are already so many good ideas for more "real" programming stuff in this thread. Does he know how to use the command block?

It wouldn't be programming per se, but it might be a good introduction to the idea that the game is governed by rules that can be changed or turned off. Command blocks in combination with redstone circuitry and sensor blocks can set up all kinds of if/then logic. ("If it's dark, spawn a giant at coordinates xyz" or "if this switch is set to off, mob spawning is disabled.") Command blocks are used by a lot of people who create RPG-style Minecraft maps for download that have custom monster spawners and dungeon traps and so on.

You can build logic gates and computers out of redstone but I suspect that would be pretty boring for an 8 year old, and not super productive in terms of practical programming.
posted by Wretch729 at 8:34 AM on August 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

My son is 8, and he has really liked and
posted by umbĂș at 9:20 AM on August 11, 2015

I got this for my Minecraft-obsessed nephew for his 9th birthday. I know he's started it, but I haven't checked in with him about how far he's gotten.
posted by feistycakes at 9:46 AM on August 11, 2015

8 may be a bit young (sorry, don't know much about kids), but something like arduino might be fun, particularly if you explore it together. an arduino is a little computer that you can connect to electrical circuits and then program - basically make lights flash on and off, motors run, etc. just searching for "arduino" online should get you lots of info.
posted by andrewcooke at 9:49 AM on August 11, 2015

There is a great combo of both, if you want to fork out for a Raspberry PI. You can get a version of Minecraft that is scriptable using Python. This would allow them to do fairly simple bits of code that have obvious effects in the Minecraft world, and will merge with their interest in the game.
posted by doozer_ex_machina at 10:06 AM on August 11, 2015 [4 favorites]

The ComputerCraft mod is pretty cool too. It lets you program in-game "turtles" with Lua scripting.
posted by neckro23 at 10:20 AM on August 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

I recommend Inform for any highly literate youngsters looking to get a first taste of games programming.
posted by 256 at 10:53 AM on August 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

I strongly agree with doozer_ex_machina: get a RaspberryPi. Scratch is available and you can try that but Python is probably a better choice, even if not right away. Minecraft can be programmed as was mentioned earlier. The Pi was designed to get kids involved. There are a lot of resources available. I suggest you download the free copies of The MagPi magazine. Lots of information, projects and so on.
posted by PickeringPete at 12:39 PM on August 11, 2015

I've successfully led game design workshops for kids as young as your son. Here's a mini-brain dump of Things I've Learned (not including the fact that curious 8-year-olds are exhausting. You already know that...)

1) Many of the kids around this age in my workshops were very interested in making visible things (hence the love for Minecraft), and less interested in the boring details (code) that makes these visible things work. So most of the younger boys in my workshops would rather spend the time simply playing with a sprite editor and making goofy things like hamburger rockets.

A good tool for this kind of playing/learning is Game Maker, and especially its sprite editor. You can download drop-dead simple tutorial games, and he can plug in the sprites he's created.

2) Once they're bored with the visuals, Game Maker has a relatively simple drag & drop code editor. (Not as simple as Scratch or Scratch Jr, but still pretty easy.) Unfortunately, GM really requires you to build all the game-related functionality before you can do much of anything.

3) My 9-year-old niece LOVESLOVESLOVES Scratch Jr, which her dad installed on an old iPad for her. She's starting to work in regular Scratch now, after basically exhausting every option in Scratch Jr. I love Scratch Jr, because it was easy to create little animations or movies (again, the visuals). Plus, Scratch will be useful if you want to get into Arduino stuff.

4) If your son wants to build maps really simply, an excellent engine is RPG Maker, obviously geared toward role-playing games. But the map editor is super easy, and you can have a multi-map environment built in an hour or so. Unfortunately, RPGM's scripting is less than obvious, so it's not going to be a good tool for learning coding. But for getting an environment built, I think it's easier than Game Maker. RPGM also automatically builds in a lot of game functionality (like moving between maps), so in that respect, it's easier to get something built (especially just for exploration) than Game Maker.

5) I've tried Alice (page doesn't seem to want to load, so here's the Wikipedia on it) and it's a little too fiddly for me. YMMV.

6) Unity might be an option down the road, but probably too overwhelming for a youngster.

7) Robot Turtles is a board game that teaches the concepts of programming. Probably skews too young for your son, but just in case.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 8:14 AM on August 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Seconding the recommendation of the ComputerCraft mod for Minecraft. I haven't played with in in about a year, but it was really fun and straightforward back then and I see it's actively maintained. There's teacher support too.
posted by Nelson at 10:01 AM on August 12, 2015

« Older Purgatory's kind of like the in betweeny one.   |   Nesting in Prague Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.