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Computer Programming for Kids

Are your kids spending too much time playing mindless computer games? Encourage them to use their minds and write their own computer games instead. Of course, they probably won’t be cranking out a competitor to “Angry Birds” right away, but that doesn’t mean kids won’t love to write programs. Just because they can’t play basketball like Michael Jordon doesn’t stop them from loving to play basketball. Computer programming is powerful and fun, and kids don’t need to become professional programmers to learn from the activity. Computer programming teaches kids problem solving, logical (computational) thinking, and determination, and it fosters creativity. The best part is you don’t have to know anything about computer programming to get your kids started. You simply head to the Internet for the software of your choice.

Scratch
Scratch (a programming language developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and supported by the National Science Foundation) is a free, fun, visual, programming language for kids from third grade on up. They can create games, interactive stories, animations, music, and art. They simply drag and drop the code blocks onto the programming area, and then they can instantly see the result. The different commands snap together. This avoids all the frustrating syntax errors of typing computer code while keeping all the mind expanding experiences of computer programming. You can view this short video to see what Scratch can do.

Kodu
Kodu (sponsored by Microsoft Research FuseLabs) is another free visual programming language for kids. It has a very specific video game focus. Kids begin with their own story and develop the characters, worlds, and actions to tell their story as a video game. In Kodu, the programming code is icon based. Kodu, which is Windows based, also has an Xbox 360 version available for a fee of 400 Points (about $5).

Ladybug Mazes
Ladybug Mazes (part of a Utah State University collection of interactive math manipulatives) introduces the concept of computer programming to kids as young as kindergarten. Kids make a plan for the ladybug to follow by choosing step blocks and turn blocks, which appear at the bottom of the screen. When they click the play button, the ladybug follows the command blocks they have chosen. Most kindergarteners need help getting started, but they generally catch on quickly.  Kids can play Ladybug Mazes online for free.

Programming software designed for kids is a great way to move your student from game player to game designer, from consumer to producer. Try one today; you will be glad you did.

America's Kids Not Catching Enough Z's

Is your child getting enough sleep each night? Many parents believe their child gets an adequate amount of sleep, but most actually do not. The National Sleep Foundation conducted a poll and found that a startling number of children are not getting enough sleep. School-aged children (those from 1st through 5th grade) are getting an average of 9.5 hours of sleep when 10–11 hours are recommended. This doesn’t seem like much of a difference, but it is a 3.5 hour sleep deficit each week. You can read a summary of the NSF poll at sleepforkids.org.

Children who get enough sleep tend to feel less sluggish during the day, perform better in school, and are less at risk for illness and obesity. Good sleep habits are clearly important for your child’s health and wellness. Here are some things that you can do to encourage a healthy amount of sleep for your child each night:

  • Make sleep a priority. Once you understand the importance of sleep and how it affects health, it’s easier to make sleep a priority for the family.
  • Determine how much sleep each person needs.
  • Take action to ensure everyone gets adequate rest.

There are many things you can do to help promote good sleep habits in your child:

  • Setting up a sleep ritual can be helpful. It’s comforting for a child to go to bed at the same time and follow the same bedtime rituals each night.
  • Removing computers and televisions from your child’s bedroom can also help. A TV, a computer, or a cell phone in your child’s bedroom may contribute to less sleep each night. Take steps to remove these sleep deterrents from your child’s room.
  • Cutting caffeine is another way to ensure better sleep. One quarter of school-aged children are drinking at least one caffeinated beverage each day, and many experts blame caffeine for sleep deficits in children. Cut caffeine out of your child’s diet.
  • Set a good example. Children whose parents have good habits and healthy sleep environments tend to have the same.

It can be difficult to find the time to get in enough sleep, especially as your child grows older and gets involved in more activities and homework. But the benefits of sleep are significant enough that adequate sleep needs to be a priority. Take some of the above steps to help your child (and you) get enough sleep each night.

Age-Appropriate Chores for Your Child

Trying to figure out exactly which chores you can expect your children to do? You may be surprised by how much even the smallest children are capable of. Use this list of age appropriate chores as a guide when creating chore charts for your children.

Ages 2 and 3

Many toddlers are eager to help with chores, and while you might not always “need” their “help,” you can appreciate their excitement and willingness and use the opportunity to cultivate great habits. They can complete their chores with you helping every step of the way. As you work together, children learn that helping others is important and that it is equally important to contribute to their home and family. Here are some things your littlest ones can do:

  • Help make the bed
  • Pick up toys and books
  • Take laundry to the laundry room
  • Help feed pets
  • Help wipe up messes
  • Dust with socks on their hands

Ages 4 and 5

Preschoolers still find helping to be an exciting venture and are usually thrilled when you take the time to teach them new chores. They are ready to do some chores without constant supervision. Rewards at this age are very motivating. A sticker chart that allows you to build up to bigger rewards can be appropriate. For some preschoolers, tying chores to an allowance is a great option and fosters independence in choosing a reward. Some things your preschooler can help with are:

Ages 6-8

These school age kids may or may not still have their childlike enthusiasm for completing chores. What they do have, however, is an overwhelming desire to be independent. Parents and caregivers can guide children to become independent in their chores, using chore charts to keep track of their responsibilities both completed and pending. Kids this age can also:

  • Vacuum and mop
  • Take out the trash
  • Fold and put away laundry
Ages 9-12

Find a system that works for your family, and do not change it without the input and support of the people it directly affects. Be sure you factor in rewards and consequences, and address those issues with your children. Let them know the consequences of not completing chores as well as the rewards for fulfilling their responsibilities. Additional things this age group can do are:

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