Over lunch today and before I head off to my afternoon meetings, I read a good post today, Visualization is Child's Play, from Joshua Allen in Microsoft DPE (whom I had the pleasure of meeting in person this past weekend) on the http://visitmix.com/ site…
"A recurring topic of conversation among parents here at Microsoft is, "how do I teach my children to program?" This desire is motivated in part by the belief that programming ability was important to our own career success, as this funny comic from xkcd.com illustrates. Confirming this diagnosis is the fact that parents often tend to look back to their own introductions to programming for clues to motivating their kids -- whether you started with Logo, GW-Basic, HyperCard, or Perl; chances are that is one of the first places you're tempted to look when predicting what would be useful in teaching your children.
"Children are naturally drawn to other creative pursuits on the computer; kids will spend hours with painting programs, 3D modeling tools like SketchUp, and creating stories or slide shows. But they tend to be less drawn to writing code. Unspoken in many parents' desire to "get my children interested in programming" is an implicit assumption that these other creative pursuits are less valuable than coding. This assumption is, in my opinion, fundamentally incorrect.
"Children have higher standards, and far more powerful machines to crunch data than we had. Communicating difficult data visually will be a valuable skill, and will require creativity and craftsmanship."
I think that Joshua is right on target.
As I noted, there’s every reason to expose your kids to engineering and in some cases programming. It all depends on interest and aptitude. These are critical skills that are needed to help spur critical thinking, help build imaginations... and as Bill Gates said, "to maintain a competitive edge in technology innovation."
Kids are surrounded by an incredible culture built and supported by new technology. Growing up in such a culture, the ones who will be successful in the future are the ones with a working knowledge of the technology and engineering behind it. But many schools don't challenge children: Gates said in a 2007 senate education hearing that our children are "digital natives" caught up in an industrial-age learning model," which does not prepare them for future challenges… challenges that many other countries realize are the underpinnings of future success.
Kids should experience many different skills, including good trades. They should be comfortable with a hammer just as they are able to read and draft the plans that map out future innovations. My kids eagerly await the project from Microsoft Research called Kodu. Having attended Gamemaker and other engineering camps, this will be another tool in their arsenal that provides them a broad education that will hopefully give them the skills they need to be successful. (OK, they've got some of my geeky genes, but they also rock.)
Also available via http://tinyurl.com/bffk8v