Sometime in 1980 or 1981, I asked for an Atari Game System for Christmas, After all, EVERYONE else had one. Beyond the expensive price tag, I specifically remember my Dad and Mom’s other rationale for not buying an Atari: “all you can do is play games.” Their rationale didn’t sit well with me because all I wanted to do was play games. A bit more background into my childhood of outside play, building, creating, experiential/hands-on learning, camping, and travel reinforces my parent’s concern about screen time and the sedentary nature of playing Atari.
I think it was in 1982, my Dad and Mom finally relented. But, rather than going with the Atari, they purchased a Texas Instruments TI-99/4A home computer. While not an Atari, I warmed up to the purchase after I learned it had game cartridge and joystick capabilities. We hooked it up to our TV through the VHS antenna and played games.
Games such as Parsec, TI Invaders, and Tombstone City were added to our system, but in addition, a book titled Beginner’s Basic was purchased. The book was a step-by-step hands-on approach to learning the fun and power of programming the TI BASIC language.
Admittedly, my brother Tim and I still spent plenty of hours playing games but we also spent hours and days writing programs and code. Some "ready-made" programs were keyed into the computer as one would read the lines of code from a book while the other would key in the entries. We would run the programs and sometime they would work and sometimes they would not. When the programs didn’t work, we had to figure out why. After changes were made, we would try it again. The program was then saved to a cassette tape in a portable cassette tape player/recorder. Yes, files were saved to a cassette tape. Needless to say, retrieving the files was not always successful.
Today, my brother and I are both in technology-related positions. While we each took some unique paths to get to our current positions, I believe we benefitted greatly from some early coding experiences. Even more important, we were provided opportunities to learn problem-solving and critical thinking skills.
“Coding is more about the process of breaking down problems rather than coming up with complicated algorithms.” - Makinde Adeagbo
"Everybody in this country should learn how to program a computer...because it teaches you how to think." - Steve Jobs
It turns out, one of the best Christmas gifts I received was NOT receiving the Atari. I appreciate my Dad and Mom sticking to their principles to give some gifts associated with play, creativity, problem-solving, and critical thinking.
What kinds of gifts are you giving for Christmas this year? Have you considered some engaging gifts for kids associated with a STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) focus? How about Ozobots, Spheros, Little Bits, Snap Circuits, Makey Makey, Lego's, etc.? Give a gift that keeps on giving long after the gift becomes unusable, forgotten about or irrelevant.