An ongoing question from many parents and grandparents is: ‘How can I get my kids interested in computers’ or ‘How can I give my kids an edge?’ Believe it or not, there are many free or reasonable ways to let your kids try technology and see if they have an interest or talent. For brevity I have chosen two projects — Raspberry Pi and AppInventor.
Raspberry Pi was started specifically as a way to get simple, inexpensive computers into the hands of children and the impoverished. You can read the complete story at http://raspberrypi.org/about . Professors at Cambridge University were concerned about the decline of quality computer science students and so the idea for an inexpensive computer for everyone was born.
After much planning and design, the first Raspberry Pi computers were released for sale. Since their original release there has been a second revision. Currently there are still two versions - A and B. I would suggest the B model as it has built-in network connection and is only $35.
There are many projects that have been created around the Raspberry Pi. It is used as a home theater PC, video game machine, home security brain, and many other things. A check of the Pi website above or a quick search will help you find a project that might be of interest. The Pi board and a quick trip to Radio Shack could spark your kids or maybe even you!
MIT AppInventor (http://appinventor.mit.edu) is a free project designed to help people design applications (apps) for the Android system. Android is the free operating system created by Google which is used on many phones and tablets.
I recently took an Android course at SIU-C which used AppInventor as the way to program apps as assignments. Fortunately there are many, many YouTube videos which will walk you through creating simple apps step by step.