Here are links to some free programming environments & tools geared towards elementary & middle school kids. I introduced them in the order listed:
Note: My 3rd grade daughter plays with Scratch, so younger kids can do it. It just depends on the kid. My experience at a local elementary school was that 5th graders seem to pick it up easier than 4th graders, but the 4th graders got it with a little more help. For the best way to learn Scratch using free web resources, see my Scratch Tutorial.
Middle School (6th – 8th grade)
- GameMaker 8.1 Lite : Stay tuned for a GameMaker tutorial on the best way to learn GameMaker using free web resources, but, in the meantime, here is a good book for learning GameMaker: The Game Maker’s Apprentice: Game Development for Beginners (Book & CD)
- Alice : Stay tuned for an Alice tutorial on the best way to learn Alice using free web resources, as well as a list of recommended book(s) for those who want to learn the old fashioned way .
Once your child has a good grasp on programming with these tools, you could introduce them to Arduino which is, basically, a programmable microprocessor/circuit board. It’s not free ($85), but it is way COOL! My geek momness is coming out…. We purchased ARDX – v1.3 Experimentation Kit for Arduino for my 11 year old son. Ben had a lot of fun building and coding the blinking LED. Coming soon… an Arduino tutorial on the best way of learning to use and program the Arduino utilizing free web resources.