I know what you’re thinking. Of course I have an 8 year old that makes Roblox Games, his dad started a company that teaches kids how to code. While those facts are indisputable, I want to point out that it doesn’t require having a dad with 2 engineering degrees or owning a kids coding company for your kids to also learn how to build with technology.
My 8 year old has been a builder his entire life. He started with Legos and he still spends quite a bit of time making physical Lego structures. Prior to even learning how to read, he could follow the instructions in the box to create Lego models.
A few years later, he begin experimenting with Minecraft. His good friend was a fan and he introduced him to this game on a computer. Now he could build structures digitally. My son loved the creative process of digitally building all sorts of structures in Minecraft.
Within the last 2 years, my son began taking coding classes. We started with the Scratch programming language because it is a great way to teach kids the fundamentals of computation. Through the process of building simple games and animations using conditional statements, loops, and variables, students can quickly gain insight into how the different pieces come together.
As we entered the pandemic, my son began to engage more with his Minecraft friend virtually. We relaxed our typical limits on screen time because we wanted him to have some social engagement. Within the last few weeks, my son began telling me about the games he has been making in Roblox.
Initially I asked a few questions but I was careful not to disrupt the path that he was going down. You see he is subtly switching from a consumer to a creator mindset. He is curious about how various aspects of the game work and how he can customize them to build an idea that he’s interested in.
Since I haven’t been working with him directly, I asked who was doing the coding. Initially he said he was doing the coding but that his older brother and sister help him from time to time. Great! This means that he has figured out his own network of support.
This past weekend, he came to me with a problem that neither he or his siblings could solve. He wanted to make it so the pool that he built could be entered when the character came into contact with it. Once we had the code and it worked then he wanted to add that functionality to other objects within the game.
Roblox is an amazing platform for modifying existing games with a repeatable, self-guided development process. In fact, it’s easy enough for an 8 year old to understand it. Instead of sitting down with him to go through every line of code, it was good enough for him to see the functionality because now he know that anything is possible with code. I have no doubt that a few more weeks will pass and he will build something new and different. And, at some point, he will again ask for help.
The challenge when you see potential is to jump in and guide with specifics. But, in some ways, we can destroy the interest and motivation that comes from the joy of simply building without any clear boundary conditions. The process that my 8 year old son is going down has great potential for developing a real skill in building with technology. Even if that doesn’t occur, I’ll be happy that he is taking on something new to gain an understanding of how it works on his own. So, keep making games little one. The sky is the limit when you learn how technology works!