I Want To Teach My Kid How to Program

Computer programming is a practical skill that can be applied to many professions and hobbies besides software development. However, it can be intimidating to break into. This guide will help parents point their kids in the right direction to get started in programming. (And it is also useful for anyone to get into programming.)

The Gist

  • Kids as young as 9 (or even younger) can learn programming, it doesn't require math skills beyond basic arithmetic.
  • Making video games is the best way to learn programming and stay interested.
  • Python is one of the best programming languages to learn for a first language.
  • If your kid finds typing frustrating, then Scratch might be a better language to learn.
  • "Invent Your Own Computer Games with Python" is a free book that teaches programming to complete beginners in Python.
  • py2exe can help your kid share their programs with their friends.
  • When making your own games, computer version of board games or simple games of chance are a good starting point.

There is no "best" age to start programming; any age is fine. I'd recommend around 10 or 12 would be a good starting point, though I began teaching myself programming around 9. Perhaps before 8 would be "too young". Despite what you may think, programming does not require math skills beyond basic arithmetic. If your child is comfortable with addition, subtraction, and multiplication (maybe even division), then they will be fine. Programming is more about general problem solving and "recipe following" skills than mathematics.

Learning to program, like learning anything, is not about having a high IQ so much as being enthusiastic enough to practice and wanting to learn more. I think the best route to learning programming is by making video games.


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Code Comments Tutorial: Ink Spill - A "Flood It" Clone

Welcome to the Code Comments Tutorial for Ink Spill. Code Comments is a series of simple games with detailed comments in the source code, so you can see how the game works.

The text in between the triple-double-quotes are comments (technically they are multi-line strings, but Python uses them for multi-line comments). The Python interpreter ignores any text in between them, so we can add any comments about the source code without affecting the program. In general for Code Comments, the comments will describe the lines of code above the comment. It helps to view this file either on the Code Comments site or with a text editor that does "syntax highlighting", so that the comments appear in a separate color and are easier to distinguish from the code.

This Code Comments assumes you know some basic Python programming. If you are a beginner and would like to learn computer programming, there is a free book online called "Invent Your Own Computer Games with Python" at http://inventwithpython.com

The Code Comments programs make references to sections of this book throughout the program. This Code Comments can also teach you how to use the Pygame library to make your own games with graphics, animation, and sound. You can download Pygame from http://pygame.org and view its documentation.

UPDATE: I've since created a "fancy version" of the game that adds some nice images and variable board sizes and difficulty settings. The zip file can be downloaded below.

Ink Spill source code with comments.


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The Top 10 Pygame Tutorials

UPDATE: This is an old post, written before I finished my book entirely dedicated to Pygame. You can read a free online copy of "Making Games with Python & Pygame" at http://inventwithpython.com/pygame.

UPDATE: I've add Dr. Craven's excellent book and Horst JENS wiki.

I've scoured the web for some decent tutorials for Pygame, one of the best game engines for Python out there. Here's what I've found, ordered by (in my opinion) quality. Perhaps the most comprehensive guide to Pygame would be the Pygame documentation itself, or Beginning Game Development with Python and Pygame: From Novice to Professional by Will McGuan.

The Python Game Book

A great online wiki that covers many aspects of Python and Pygame.

Program Arcade Games With Python And Pygame

A book similar to my own. I recommend it.

1. Eli Bendersky's website: Writing a game in Python with Pygame

Possibly the best Pygame tutorial on the web. The game example he covers is original and touches on many different concepts. The writing is concise and to the point.

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV

2. Invent Your Own Computer Games with Python by Al Sweigart

This is my own tutorial for Pygame. The first three chapters cover the basics of Pygame's features, and the fourth chapter details the entire source code to a simple "Dodger" game.

Chapter 17 - Graphics and Animation
Chapter 18 - Collision Detection and Input
Chapter 19 - Sound and Images
Chapter 20 - The "Dodger" Game

UPDATE: I also have the rough draft completed copy for my Pygame-specific book available: Making Games with Python & Pygame


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Gorillas.py: A Remake of Gorillas.bas

Source code: gorillas.py

An entire generation of people remember the Gorilla.BAS game that came with Qbasic, where gorillas on top of buildings threw exploding bananas at each other. This is a Python remake of that game using the Pygame game engine, and is fairly heavily commented so you can explore the source. To play the game in your browser, there is also a Flash version of Gorillas.BAS.

My prime motivation behind creating this was to compare how much easier programming is today compared to a decade ago with Qbasic. Python makes a great first language to learn, and I have argued before how Python is the New BASIC. (The second motivation was to promote my (free) book on Python games and get people back into programming. :) )

To demonstrate: not counting blank lines and comments (and the multiline strings for the graphics), Qbasic's gorillas.bas is 784 lines of code while Python's gorillas.py is 544 lines of code (about 30% less code!) Every programmer's mileage may vary, but I think that makes a good case for Python's syntax being expressive and simple.

This game was written by the author of "Invent Your Own Computer Games with Python", a free book available under a Creative Commons license at http://inventwithpython.com. The book teaches Python to kid and adult beginners by giving the source code to several different games (along the lines of gorillas.py) and explaining them line by line. Learning to program this way is fun!

A print copy of the book is available (with free shipping) on Amazon.com for $25.

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"Invent with Python" Available in Print on Amazon

Invent Your Own Computer Games with Python, 2nd Edition, is now available in print on Amazon.com:

Buy "Invent Your Own Computer Games with Python" on Amazon.com

Of course, the book will still be available online, in full, for free under a Creative Commons license. If you like the book, but don't/can't buy the print version, go to Amazon and put in a review.

I'm very excited about this. Thanks to all the readers and people who have emailed me. Thanks!

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