Programming for kids?

Just got done reading Jason Fry’s WSJ article about TV shows for kids, where he discusses Magic School Bus (From PET to Net).  The really thought provoking part is his remising about the commodore PET.  We all wrote programs like this when we were kids.

10 PRINT ‘JASON IS GREAT’
20 GOTO 10
RUN

My personal favorite on the PET was ASCII art graphics to make rocket ships with flames (*** patterns). 

The real thinking part is what about modern computers can make kids have the same sense of discovery that many of us had as kids…  I worry that most kids would look at my ASCII art and wonder why it wasn’t as visually rich as their latest XBOX game.  When kids are drawing pictures of things they go from crude to fairly refined over time (depending on talent/patience/etc..)  Some of that is they start drawing from 2 years old and by the time they are able to think critically about their pictures they’ve already built the base talents. 

When it comes to computers…  by the time you’ve already had a reasonable exposure to software to have higher expectations…  So, how does one go about making software development fun for kids? 

Some of my random ideas:

  • Break out the Apple ][+ from it’s storage and just let them play.  The hard part is there is no community of other kids doing the same exploration.
  • Lego Mindstorms — it’s a cool platform.  But, I have to wonder if the visual programming (data flow model) is just too abstract.  I didn’t have any problem with Muse software’s RobotWars as a kid.
  • LOGO or BASIC — is there any good kid friendly versions of these left around?  Visual basic is way too much for a seven year old.  LOGO has the rapid discovery that’s interesting…
  • KPL, just discovered this from there website it feels like a  modern approach to LOGO/BASIC.
  • Of course there’s always the HTML/AJAX thought…  It’s available it’s something that’s easy to show off.

Other ideas, or experiences…