Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Review / Python for Kids: A Playful Introduction to Programming

There are many resources out there for Python, but I've recently had the opportunity to enjoy a fully colour printed book on the topic.  Sure, it's called Python for Kids, but that doesn't mean the young at heart can't benefit from it, too.

The book follows the traditional trajectory for learning programming by introducing the fundamental concepts individually before putting them together in two game projects.  The first chapters briefly introduce Python itself, variables, data types, control flow, functions and modules, drawing, and even classes and objects.  None goes much deeper than 'need-to-know,' but perhaps that is a good thing given that the most fun stuff comes later.  The second half of the book guides you through making a game where you bounce a ball on a paddle (like breakout without the bricks) as well as a stick man game.

Where this book shines is in its language.  Tyler DeWitt encourages science teachers to make science fun in his popular TEDx talk, embedded below.  He emphasizes the use of simple terminology and the use of stories.

Jason Briggs achieves just the right tone in Python for Kids, explaining programming concepts with words everyone can understand, and throwing in jokes and amusing references wherever he can.  It doesn't come across as childish; it's just plain fun.  The full-colour illustrations also add a lot to the overall aesthetic.

Although I do like what is actually in the book, I can't help but feel like Briggs missed some huge opportunities.  Too often in the first half of the book there are tiny, isolated examples that feel meaningless.  Why not motivate the concepts as you learn them? He could have started with the games, or better yet, connected the what better to the why using real world problems that kids can still relate to.  Another criticism is that the pictures, while fun, don't do anything to illustrate the concepts being discussed.

Regardless of the downsides, I will most definitely be hanging onto this book to work through with my (currently 1.5 year old) daughter when she's older.  I can't wait.


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