I’ve been focusing a lot on “what did you create today” as being the metric to measure kids on, not “how much screen time”. I mean if a kid is enjoying learning math and it’s helping them to center themselves, is a computer a *bad* thing?
There are plenty of “scams” out there. For instance according to my kids “Cool Math Games” is not about math, they’re just video games with a name that makes parents think they’re doing something educational.
Here’s a list of places that we send kids to “create”:
Every child should learn how to program. You learn so many important rules of logic when programming.
- Scratch and GameSalad are both easy to get started, free programming environments. My kids have made mazes and “shoot-em-ups”. They learn basic computer theories such as “if then” and loops and timing. Scratch has a (very basic) built in drawing program, which makes it *slightly* more full featured, although Game Salad has some basic objects which allows you to “spawn” instances of an object (i.e. multiple bullets with one “chunk of code”). Both very cool though. I’ve done some basic lessons to 1st-3rd graders at the public schools and can usually get 19 out of 20 kids to “get it” enough that they’re going off and “hacking” it themselves by changing variables and speed and such within 30-40 minutes.
- Sketchup I find that 3D modeling comes VERY naturally to most kids and this free tool is actually used by a very large number of professional architects around the world. There are plenty of YouTube “starter” videos out there. I’ve done some basic lessons to 1st-3rd graders at the public schools. When demoing to 1st-3rd graders at the local schools I can usually get everyone to understand the basic tools and build “something” cool within 20-30 minutes, at which point they’re ready to explore more. There are also online libraries which can be used as started sets. So kids can (for instance) download a Fighter Jet, or Grand Central Station, and then modify it themselves. This is great to learn how “lots of little parts go together to form something bigger”.
- Blender 3d – I suggest you get a good foundation in the two tools above before diving into this, but it allows you to come up with some amazing renderings and animation of your 3D models.
- Max has been deconstructing StarCraft maps and setting up triggers and spawns so he can create his own campaign. It’s all visual programming and COMPLETELY undocumented, but it’s learnable, and the skills he learns are completely transferable to any sort of programming.
- We’ve also done some YouTube searches for “build your own Minecraft mods”. The kids have written a few of their own recipes, but the learning curve is VERY steep. You’re learning to program in Java, but the tutorials online tend not to be very pedagogally sound (is that a word?).
Videos to learn from
Ian learned how to read when he was 4 by watching a video called “Talking Word Factory” by Leapfrog. (Just to be clear, my goal wasn’t for any of my kids to learn to read at a young age, but he LOVED decoding words and so the video gave him what he needed to do cool stuff).
Here are some places that we’ve gone to learn:
- Nerdy Nummies “geeky cooking show”. Ian (6) can make up a pretty solid cake recipe from scratch, mostly because he’s watched enough of these videos, so he knows (for instance) that “baking powder helps cakes rise”. And they have cool things like “minion cupcakes”
- Anything from Harvard or MIT in terms of MOOGs or podcasts are cool. Just find a subject that your kids enjoy (fashion, cooking, history, etc.) and let it rip! MIT has a “theory of game design” series for example, which starts out by asking “What makes a game? What makes it fun?” Great for long car rides and available on iTunes university if you have an iDevice in your car.
- Smarter Every Day which is probably most famous for it’s slow motion video of flipping cats in the air.
- Veritasium – “The Element of Truth” with great videos such as: How to destroy a magnet and how much does a shadow weigh
- Vsauce has some great videos like: What if everyone on the planet jumped at the same time and guns in space.
- There’s also TED talks. My favorite being the one by the founder of Khan Academy where he talks about creating his cool “badge based” math tutor software that kids can “play” which means learning a lot of math. I tend to think it’s important that kids of ALL ages get exposed to education pedagogy. If a kid can’t explain WHY they’re at the school they’re at, and WHY they’re learning what they’re learning there is NO WAY they can maximize their learning.
Bonus: Krista Fargeorge Vermeal suggested I check out Storybird “It’s a site where kids can write a book based on artwork that they find on the site. They can even order it bound into a book to keep or just print it themselves.”