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Now that summer is in full swing and the kids are out of school, many parents find themselves scrambling for ideas on what to do together as a family—projects that capture a diverse set of interests and maturity levels, as well as activities that strike that ideal balance between educational and fun.
It makes sense for parents to want to include their kids in activities and interests they can share and—good news—there are a ton of resources out there for introducing your kiddo to tech. Sure, you can definitely spark an interest in programming, but even if your child doesn’t grow up to be the next Steve Jobs, learning to love learning, think critically, and stay curious (just like mom and dad) will help your kids succeed in any field they may choose to focus on.
For all you Udacity parents out there, we’ve gathered the most fun projects from around the web for you to add to your parental Bag of Holding this summer. So grab your sunscreen (and iPads) and let’s get this party started!
DIY.org: Club-Style Activities and Camp for Kids to Do Cool Things and Earn Badges
DIY.org is one of my hands-down favorite sites for kid activities. This safe, closely monitored community lets kids try their hand at a variety of different projects—ranging from archery to acting, from doodling to front- and back-end development. There’s truly something for every kid, including projects in business, design, data science, and engineering. That’s what’s great about this site—it presents new ideas and areas of inquiry like a smorgasbord that kids can sample from. You might gently encourage your child to try out the back end dev skillset, but if that doesn’t excite or interest them, there’s always baking, chemistry, or entomology to try.
Kids tackle projects and earn badges for completing them—meanwhile parents help with guidance, documenting progress, and monitoring their child’s activity on the site. You can even order stickers and old-school physical badges for skillsets they’ve completed.
Kids who can read can probably get started on most projects without an adult, but younger kids might need grown-up help with DIY.org projects. Having previewed a few of them, I can confirm that it might be wise to sit down with your kid the first few times anyway. You’ll be spending time together and fostering a sense of independence and accomplishment.
Play Games, Get Skills
If gaming appeals to you and your kids and you’re not playing Minecraft together, you’re missing out—not only on some fun, but also on educational opportunities. The game, developed by Swedish company Majong, has been trending strongly the past few years and owes its appeal to the challenging and creative applications kids (and adults) can use it for.
Play a game with your kid and trick them into learning to code by using a mod like SciptCraft, along with The Young Person’s Guide to Programming in Minecraft (bonus: it’s hosted on GitHub, so your kids get experience navigating that site). Or purchase Learn to Mod, which lets kids mod their worlds by programming with blocks when they’re getting started, and Java Script once they’re comfortable writing code.
Kano and Raspberry Pi: Introducing Your Kids to Tech
Kano: A Computer You Build with Your Kids
Kano launched late last year after a successful Kickstarter run raised 1.5 million dollars. It comes packaged in an attractive box with easy-to-read instructions that kids can follow to, literally, build their own computer. Included components are a Raspberry Pi–powered microcomputer with a speaker and case (that kids put together), a wireless keyboard with trackpad, and an SD card preloaded with Kano OS—a linux-based operating system. You’ll need to help your kids hook it up to a monitor, but once they’re up and running, your kids will go through the steps of setting up their own computer.
The magic of Kano, though, is in the included games, which subtly teach programming by prompting your kids through coding, creating, and playing games from Pong to Minecraft.
The kit retails in the neighborhood of $150, so this isn’t necessarily a budget-conscious project for some families, but if you’re considering an entry-level solution for introducing your kids to tech, you can’t go wrong with Kano.
Raspberry Pi Fun: A Tiny Computer with Big Implications
If you’re happy to offer more guidance, and your kids are more into hands-on fun than building from a kit, you can find a ton of great projects for the same Raspberry Pi processor that runs Kano—and starting around $40-50.
Once you’ve got one, what can you do with it? First, you might want to build a case for your new computer out of Legos. After that, the Raspberry Pi Foundation has a ton of resources on their site, for both learning and tackling fun projects. For starters, you could help your kids create a tech blog by setting up a web server and WordPress on their Raspberry Pi to document their progress as junior coders.
Don’t think your kids need to spend all summer trapped inside a room coding. You can set up your Raspberry Pi to monitor the weather, and—I loved this idea, which combines geekery with family road-tripping—you can build it out (converting it to a Cacheberry Pi) for geocaching.
Not all the applications are child’s play, per se. Mom and dad can experience the nostalgia of retro gaming and introduce the kids to the bygone era of the arcade with Raspberry Pi, a bit of tech savvy, and some elbow grease.
Get Out and See the World, Share Your Interests
If beach trips and amusement parks don’t appeal, you might be interested in knowing that there are travel resources out there for more…esoteric family vacations. Nerdy Day Trips is a community-driven catalog of interesting sites, eclectic museums, and various ports of interest all around the world. For example, did you know Ithaca, New York, is home to the Carl Sagan Planet Walk? Or that you can visit (and climb upon) the world’s largest electric shovel in West Mineral, Kansas? Take your Cacheberry Pi out with you for double-family fun (need some ideas on how to involve kids in geocaching? These tips were the best).
If you’re looking for a more traditional vacation with special tech interest flair, how about flying the family out to Silicon Valley to tour the sites and take in the scenery. This write up of ten must-see attractions in San Jose includes a lot that would appeal to younger kids. While you’re there, maybe leave a resume or two in a couple of the tech giants’ mailboxes.
If you’re just wanting to out-tech the Pinterest moms (and dads), here are a few projects that really blew us away:
This tech mom built a self-balancing Segway-like scooter for her son that she called “The Halfway.”
This dad built a spaceship for his son’s bedroom:
Playroom overflowing? Build a Rube Goldberg Device like these intrepid team of inventors did:
Wrapping Up and Tips for Success
Kids tend to get excited about the things their parents get excited about—whether for you that’s coding, gadgets, science, math, or whatever else, share your enthusiasm by talking about your work, studies, projects, interesting news and events. You might spark an interest in a field that they would have otherwise had no exposure to. Show them what’s possible with a bit of curiosity, a dash of determination, and the wealth of resources on the internet by being a maker and a doer yourself.
Choose projects that are age-appropriate, but that you can happily do with them. Toddlers and very young kids might not be able to write out code or perform complex critical problem solving, but they can build with blocks, make decisions, learn about cause and effect, and push buttons (figurative and actual). Include your kids as they’re old enough, and able enough, to be involved.
And finally, if their interests lie elsewhere, don’t be offended. Kids’ interests change as they grow, meet new people, learn new concepts, and are exposed to a broader world. Try not to take it too personally if your junior hacker decides someday that oil painting or writing poetry are more exciting. The skills they learned with you will continue to serve them as they navigate an increasingly technical world—plus you’ll always have those memories of the cool projects you worked on together.