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Re: Debian for kids (long)

On Thu, 3 Feb 2000, Andreas Tille wrote:
> Ben Armstrong wrote:
> > Naturally, kids are going to want to customize their desktops as
> > much as parents enjoy doing.  I think if we could help themes.org
> > categorize some "kid-friendly" themes, rather than go on a theme-packaging
> > rampage, our efforts would benefit a broader range of people and not be
> > Debian-centric.
> > ...
> Please be careful: Design is a hard job.  I'm not really sure if a
> desktop design developed by a kid is well suited for kids.  Don't understand
> me wrong that I do not rate the skills of a kid right.  But look:  There
> are so many people who think they could do good paperworks with their
> fancy wordprocessors and they like their strange font very much.  They could
> not imagine that others consider it to be ugly.

Hm ... I wasn't suggesting that kids design desktops, but rather that we
look at *existing* themes and sort through them and evaluate them to
categories those which are appealing to kids.  I agree wholeheartedly
that good designs are difficult and require more skill than (young)
children typically have.

> So I would say that we take kids as "testers" for such designs instead
> as designers.


> Hmmm, personally I thought about how to teach my son programming
> techniques.  In my opinion I could teach best if I know the programming
> language myself well.  This reduces the set of possibilities quite
> much.  In the end I thougt that C has proven to be good over several
> years and coding simple algorithms is no problem.  The more tricky things
> can be done later.

My children are younger, and C, I think, is largely beyond them.  As a
child, my own father taught me Pascal first.  But I realize that C has
long since superceded Pascal as a "first" language to teach at the
university level.  Today, Java is gaining in popularity.  All of this
motion from one beginning language to the next is as much motivated by
political and business concerns as it is by practical concerns.  I'm
left confused now about what language would be "best" to introduce to
my kids first.  At one time in my life I would have said "Logo" without
hesitation.  I guess I'll have to look closely at what SEUL-EDU has
undoubtedly already discussed on this topic.

> The question is: What algorithms?
> OK, children want to play.  That's why a game seems to be apropriate.
> I found the simple game "Schiffe versenken" [German = guess coordinates
> of ships in a 2 dimensional field].

Ah, the english version is "Battleship".  When chosing a simple beginning
project for me in Pascal, my father chose Conway's game of life.  I fondly
recall watching the teletype terminal at the university rattle off
generation after generation produced from my code. :)

> A raw input and output on text console works yet.  The first primitive
> game is ready and can be played.  Now we have to teach
> the rules better (how to place the ships) and do some friendlier
> userinterface.  First I discuss the algorithm and tell my son where
> to write what.  He is typing himself.  Sometimes I ask him for
> suggestions what to do next and let him implement his suggestions
> even if they are wrong.  After getting an error I explain why it
> was wrong.
> We do such sessions once a week for about one or two hours.

That's inspiring!  I hope when my kids reach the age where I feel
comfortable guiding them through their first programming projects, that I
will have such success.

> Ben Armstrong wrote:
> > - speech interfaces (i mentioned CMU Sphinx already ... programs
> >   that speak & listen are standard fare on Windows now.  we need
> >   more of this sort of thing) 
> Disagreed.  In my opinion this is importand for the future but
> kids who are familiar with "the basics" can cope with this things
> easily.  I want to teach my son to *work* with a computer and to
> make him feel that it is a *tool* not a *game*.  This can be done
> by playing to get some skills but speaking & listening he can
> learn better by playing with his friends or talking to his grandma.

Well, I think it's largely an age-related thing.  Some of my kids are
older and work reasonably well now with a keyboard.  But they do express
frustration with it.  Speech interfaces give them a bit of relief.  I
don't think speech interfaces facilitate developing speaking/listening
skills.  I agree that this is best done with family members.  But they
do provide a fun and easy-to-use way of interacting with the keyboard,
especially for the younger ones who find entering text via the keyboard so
laborious and frustrating.

> Ben Armstrong wrote:
> > Andreas Tille wrote:
> > > Even the wumpus game, which I tried some days ago with him made him
> > > trouble at first time.
> > Sorry to hear that.  Frustrating I am sure.
> I think about translating the few text lines and may be I'll extract
> a bsd-i18n-wumpus or bsd-i18n-games from the bsdgames to make the first
> step.


> Not to have any Win 9x at home is more or less a pragmatic decision:
> I have no time to maintain two different systems.  Win 9x needs
> maintainance, but if there is near zero usage for it why should I
> do that?  I don't know any program that I would consider to be
> *necessary* for my son.  May be this is a lack of knowledge ...

The Reader Rabbit series educational games were gifts from grandparents. 
They are treasured games by both the kids and ourselves.  They are
engaging, skill-building, and I think occupy an important niche in the
world of kids' software that Linux has yet to fill.  That being said, the
existence of Win9x in the house is now a "default" choice.  The software
is there and we like it.  Therefore, the OS continues to be used whenever
we use those apps.  If we didn't have those games I don't think I'd run
out and get them, the household would be "Win9x free" and I'm sure life
would go on quite happily without them.  We'd find other things for the
kids to play and learn with instead.  But having seen them and watched
the kids interact with them, I truly wish there were something like that
for Linux.

> Ben Armstrong wrote:
> > But let's not get distracted from the first task at hand ... if this is
> > going to be an organized collective effort, let's put together a plan, put
> > up some web pages, and get the ball rolling towards meeting some specific
> > goals.
> I think it would help very much to set up a simple Web-Site which
> list all kids related Debian packages (links to the package description)
> on one side and not packaged things on the other side.  If this is done
> things will move from the wrong side to the right side step by step
> sooner or later.

Yup.  Maybe this weekend I'll find the time to get some help with setting
up an area for debian-kids on the www.debian.org site and a mailing list
as well.  This list will be one of the first, and easiest resources to get
started on that site.

    nSLUG       http://www.nslug.ns.ca      synrg@sanctuary.nslug.ns.ca
    Debian      http://www.debian.org       synrg@debian.org
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