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Ask Slashdot: Best Computer For a 7-Year Old? 423

First time accepted submitter Boldizar writes "My son turns seven next month and I'd like to buy him a cheap computer. I'm looking for the Slashdot hivemind opinion on what would be the best computer for a child. I'm looking for a computer that will teach him basic computer literacy, and hopefully one wherein the guts are a bit exposed so that he can learn how a computer works rather than just treating it like a magic object (i.e., iPad) – but that would still keep him interested and without leaving him behind in school. For the same reason, I prefer a real keyboard so he can learn to type. I don't know enough about computers to frame the question intelligently. Perhaps something in the $300 range that would be the computer equivalent of an old mechanical car engine? Another way to think about it: I'm looking for the computer equivalent of teaching my son how to survive in the forest should the zombie apocalypse ever come."
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Ask Slashdot: Best Computer For a 7-Year Old?

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  • Raspberry Pi (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't the Raspberry Pi pretty much what you're looking for?

    • Re:Raspberry Pi (Score:4, Insightful)

      by gl4ss ( 559668 ) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @03:47PM (#41282191) Homepage Journal

      Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't the Raspberry Pi pretty much what you're looking for?

      fuck no, it's not. buying him a raspberry would be like buying someone a nes to get him into games industry. buying him a shitbox x86 and loading it with linux would work much better for all the things the rasp could teach him. with raspberry he'd be stuck with the apps there's on it, clunky gaming via clunky emulators and slow response time for just about everything. it's not like he's going to be doing anything soon with gpio pins and such.

      now, getting an used p4-era computer _and_ a raspberry might not be so bad.. but for a 7 year old, just get him some computer that's loaded with a real os and made of real parts. and some games, classic games.

      I'd go with a desktop box and some modern monitor, real keyboard etc. that way it's easier to keep tabs on him without spyware - and there's the possibility to teach about the parts when some part fails and needs to be replaced.

      • He's 7, chances are he doesn't know any better than 'clunky emulators' and 'slow response time'. FWIW, I say get him an old ZX-81/Spectrum/Amstrad and some magazines.
      • Re:Raspberry Pi (Score:4, Informative)

        by Sir_Sri ( 199544 ) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @04:01PM (#41282341)

        buying him a shitbox x86 and loading it with linux would work much better for all the things the rasp could teach him. with raspberry he'd be stuck with the apps there's on it,

        For 300 bucks it doesn't even need to be that terrible. A used or on sale dual core AMD machine or the like would be 'good enough', I'd put linux and windows 7 on it probably. Find a semi tech savvy friend and offer a couple of hundred bucks for their old machine when they're getting rid of it.

        Just be prepared to buy something better in a year or two, once he has some skills, or spends a lot of time on it, it becomes worth investing in a machine that can actually do a bit more (decent GPU, decent support for an SSD etc).

        There's nothing wrong with Raspberry Pi, but it's a whole other market segment - it's so cheap you don't ever want to do anything to it, because it's cheaper to buy a new one than repair an old one. If you're poor (really really poor), then Raspberry pi is the way to go. If you can afford 300 bucks then you'd be better served with a proper, albeit older, PC and maybe a raspberry pi on the side. You never know what the kid will take to, but he the Rasp is really really cheap for a reason.

        The best choices would be an old office computer from where the questioner works, or used machine from a friend, or a clearance sale/open box. Don't be afraid to spend 100 bucks on a 22 inch monitor, because that can last for 4 or 5 years if you treat it properly, and there aren't really user serviceable parts in a monitor (at least not for a 7 year old) anyway.

        • Re:Raspberry Pi (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Joce640k ( 829181 ) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @04:38PM (#41282613) Homepage

          If you're poor (really really poor), then Raspberry pi is the way to go....

          ...the best choices would be an old office computer from where the questioner works, or used machine from a friend, or a clearance sale/open box.

          Completely disagree.

          Seven-year-olds need toys. A seven-year-old is going to be way more interested in a cute little PCB that you can hold in your hand and plug things into than an old beige box from an office.

        • Hell I bought an AMD triple kit off of Tiger for $199 not 3 weeks ago, if you are spending that much get a kit for the kid and let him watch it being put together. Believe me kids love seeing inside the machines and when he is sitting there the questions will come a mile a minute. It will spark that imagination that was the first step for getting my boys into PCs.

          Now they both game on PCs they built and the oldest is often the "go to" guy for helping out the less computer literate at the local college.

      • Re:Raspberry Pi (Score:5, Informative)

        by pnot ( 96038 ) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @04:04PM (#41282367)

        Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't the Raspberry Pi pretty much what you're looking for?

        fuck no, it's not. buying him a raspberry would be like buying someone a nes to get him into games industry. buying him a shitbox x86 and loading it with linux would work much better for all the things the rasp could teach him.

        Saven-year-olds are already writing software using the Raspberry Pi. []. It's say it would be absolutely ideal.

      • fuck no, it's not. buying him a raspberry would be like buying someone a nes to get him into games industry. buying him a shitbox x86 and loading it with linux would work much better for all the things the rasp could teach him. with raspberry he'd be stuck with the apps there's on it, clunky gaming via clunky emulators and slow response time for just about everything. it's not like he's going to be doing anything soon with gpio pins and such.

        There's electronics toys for kids that let you build simple circuits, and with a very small amount of hardware (e.g. a breakout box) some of them could be interfaced to the computer and probably controlled with squeak or something, I haven't fiddled with my GPIO pins as I've spent all my time with my Raspberry Pi getting my eGalax-clone touchscreen working, which I finally managed once I found a nice article on how to cross-compile the kernel, which wasn't something I'd done using packages before, I've only

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Read Acted ( 2691917 )
        RaspberryPi *is* a cheap linux machine. And it is designed for children to program. It uses several different Linux distros compiled for the ARM processor from Broadcom. I have one. Kids love them. Check out
      • fuck no, it's not.

        I'm interested to know, do you own a Raspberry Pi...?

    • Another way to think about it: I'm looking for the computer equivalent of teaching my son how to survive in the forest should the zombie apocalypse ever come.

      It sounds like he just needs to drop off the little tyke in the middle of nowhere with a slide-ruler, a compass, and a map.

    • Re:Raspberry Pi (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Joce640k ( 829181 ) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @04:29PM (#41282557) Homepage

      Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't the Raspberry Pi pretty much what you're looking for?

      Two weeks ago I'd have said "no", but last week I got one of my own and I'm not so sure. They have far more potential than I would have imagined from the raw specs.

      Today I'm going to say "yes", for three reasons:
      a) You get a very visual, direct contact with the machine, you can even see/touch the PCB! (after grounding yourself...) Very good for zombie apocalypse.
      b) You're also not going to be treated as a pure consumer of apps. Hands-on is essential (be prepared to help with the apt-get side of things).
      c) If it doesn't work out like you imagined you only lost $35, it's no big deal. The keyboard/monitor will be useful for other things or you can cobble together a PC from old parts and he'll have a Pi and a PC to play with.

    • by methano ( 519830 )
      That's a great idea. Life is confusing and frustrating and you never have enough of what you need to do what you want. Might as well learn that early.
    • You're wrong... (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Get him a programmable Lego kit that will actually provide some feedback for him that a 7 yr-old would like. It's robot, he can control it, it has a language-like LISP (last time I checked) compiler that allows him to issue commands and construct sets of instructinons that will illicit specific behavior for which he's responsible.

      And it's limitation is its strength. You're handing him a complex, task specific apparatus that's fun and offers little built in avenues for distraction. It requires some degree of

  • x86 netbook (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Small and light, with small keyboard, cheap and still quite capable. Pick one that comes with Windows 7 but that also supports Linux. That way if one OS doesn't work, you're not stuck.

  • Small keyboard (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 09, 2012 @03:36PM (#41282105)

    Since you probably want your child to learn touch typing (using all fingers, always the same finger for the same key) you should get one with a smaller keyboard (netbook?) since touch typing is not possible if your hands are too small for a regular keyboard. (OTOH this could be problematic if he has to use full sized keyboards at school)

    • by spauldo ( 118058 )

      I doubt that's necessary.

      I hunt-and-pecked from the age of 7 on a Commodore 64 and an Atari 800 (I loved the 800's keyboard). I took a typing class in high school (using actual typewriters) and had no trouble picking up touch-typing.

      Besides, look at piano lessons - they don't put 7-year-olds on Schroeder-sized pianos. The kids adjust as their hands grow.

  • First...why? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MindPrison ( 864299 ) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @03:42PM (#41282143) Journal

    Firstly, I'd ask you WHY you'd want him to learn anything in particular, than - everything?

    A computer is just ONE part of his life, if you want him to be "computer smart", you know...understand todays technology, just give into his curiosity, it's very dangerous to "force" a kid into anything, it's better to just let them stumble upon anything in their way, and support them there any way you can.

    I'm sure it will come naturally. If he's a gamer, let him play with consoles.
    If he's curious how these things are made, introduce him to a computer with a simple Programming IDE set up for Python and SDL. (Just like we grew up with C64 and basic, you know...)


    • by cowboy76Spain ( 815442 ) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @06:51PM (#41283435)

      I strongly disagree. The OP is right, since someday in the future the kid will be a computer user, he need to learn now computer architecture. Everyone knows that without knowing computer architecture you cannot use a computer!

      I did the same to my son when it came to the car; until the time he was able to explain me internal combustion engine and the operation of gas vs diesel motors, I did not allow him to use the car; I would be driving it and he would run by my side.

      He still has not convinced me that he knows well enough about central heating, though. Until that, he is sleeping outside. I really hope he learns it before winter settles in.

  • by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @03:42PM (#41282145) Journal

    Get him started off programming BASIC, and then inlining bits of machine code. He'll be a natural in no time.

  • by mTor ( 18585 ) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @03:43PM (#41282151)

    My two kids (ages 3 and 5) have access to 6 computers in our household which are running various operating systems (Linux, FreeBSD, Windows, OS X) and yet they use iPads the most. I actually had to buy the second iPad for them because they were fighting over the first one all the time.

    Why do they love iPads? Apps. iPad has more apps for kids than any other platform I know of. And it's easy to use too.

    • My neighbor's kids (ages 4,8,12) all have the same issue with their mom's Kindle Fire ... as well as their mom's iPod Touch. And all but the 4 year old have their own dedicated PCs. And they have a Wii and other gaming systems, as well ... but it's the Kindle Fire the older two argue about, and they've all been known to try to walk off with it when no one's looking.

      (the one down side -- after various children have managed to buy new apps on it, passwords were set up on it ... yet, it seems that there's so

    • by Kergan ( 780543 )

      +1. TFS's reason for not wanting an iPad left me skeptical.

      Educational apps are second only to games in numbers. Both of these app store categories cater tremendously to kids. Some of the edu apps are really great.

      If you want the kid to play with code, toss in Codea []. The language underneath is Lua, which is very easy to pick up.

      Mid- to long-term, chances are that schools will either supply or require a tablet (likely an iPad) for textbooks, edu apps or whatever. Imho, don't fight this trend; embrace it.


  • Home Build (Score:5, Interesting)

    by A10Mechanic ( 1056868 ) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @03:44PM (#41282157)
    Why not build it together, with your child. The experience of putting something together and making it work will far exceed any other expectations you may have.
    • Probably because of the part where OP said "I don't know enough about computers to frame the question intelligently."
      • He can get a computers for jackasses book and build a computer. It's frankly pretty damned easy to build a PC these days, because while there are many standards, there are many parts which comply with each standard, and for the most part things can only be plugged in one way and work no matter where you plug them in so long as you aren't forcing them. ATA was one of the last holdouts and it's all but over now.

      • by fm6 ( 162816 )

        So, building a computer is a good way to learn how to build a computer.

        That said, I don't think building a computer would teach the kid the kind of skills this guy cares about. All you really learn is where the parts go. Modern computers modularize huge chunks of technology. So, you plug in a bunch of DIMMs, what have you learned?

        Which is not to say it's a bad idea, provided both parent and child have fun. People forget that fun's main purpose is developing skills. So anything you do with your kids that's f

    • by toygeek ( 473120 )

      I did this with my son. He was 10 at the time, and a lot of it was lost on him but it introduced him to how computers work. He built the computer himself with my guidance, so really we worked together on it. When the computer had trouble, we worked on it together to fix it. Now, he fixes his grandpa's computer when its broken, he helps his friends with theirs and is overall a decent young tech at 16 years old.

      If your son has the natural curiosity for it, just answer his questions, and guide him. He'll learn

    • Pretty much what I was going to say. If the OP isn't literate enough to help his son build the machine surely he knows someone that is. Make it a father/son learning experience, something you can both do together.

  • Not a tech problem (Score:5, Insightful)

    by girlintraining ( 1395911 ) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @03:47PM (#41282195)

    Okay, a lot of people are going to get on here and talk about their favorite computer, or how to get your kid involved in programming and hacking, etc. But let's be honest: Most kids at that age play games with a computer. Until they're a teenager, there's no strong need for privacy, so I'd say just get something like a mac mini or an HTPC, set it up in the livingroom, and then give the kid a wireless keyboard and mouse and hook it up to the TV. Kids will spill juice, food, and generally destroy anything you give them.

    A laptop or tablet is straight out unless they're waterproof and can survive being run over by a car. or worse. Get one of those fold-up keyboards... don't spend much money on it either way, it'll die. And you might want to buy a spare. (-_-) For kids "survivability" is far more important of an attribute than tech specs or even operating system.

  • I've got my 7-year-old on a Nexus 7 ($250) paired with a Logitech Tablet Keyboard for Android ($50 - with a case that doubles as a stand for the tablet). So the total is the $300 you want to spend. No exposure to parts, but a complex interface to master - and with the keyboard he feels it's "like a real computer."

  • by DerekLyons ( 302214 ) <> on Sunday September 09, 2012 @03:51PM (#41282219) Homepage

    hopefully one wherein the guts are a bit exposed so that he can learn how a computer works rather than just treating it like a magic object (i.e., iPad)

    Seriously, you think an iPad is a "magic object" and a CPU chip isn't?

    Perhaps something in the $300 range that would be the computer equivalent of an old mechanical car engine?

    There's no such thing, and never has been. Unless you're talking a behemoth like a difference engine, or a toy like one of the Lego/Tinkertoy computers... how an electronic computer works isn't visible without at *least* some form of multimeter or oscilloscope... or for a computer of any complexity (read: any consumer computer past the mid/late 80's) a fairly sophisticated analyzer.

    Another way to think about it: I'm looking for the computer equivalent of teaching my son how to survive in the forest should the zombie apocalypse ever come.

    This is about as muddled and confusing a statement as I've ever read in an Ask Slashdot - which is an achievement worthy of note. You don't even know what you want to teach him, beyond conforming to some dogma ("no magic box") and ideals ("survive the zombie apocalypse") you've picked up along the line and now repeat as though they were sensible and logical observations of reality. You're the Slashdot version of a cargo cultist.

  • What I would do (Score:5, Interesting)

    by kiriath ( 2670145 ) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @03:53PM (#41282235)

    Is buy parts for a PC off of some website, get a case with a clear side. Build it with him, teach him the importance of discharging static etc. Let him put the pieces together, tell him what each piece does.

    You should be able to get parts for a standard PC relatively inexpensively.

    Load the operating system with him, and explain what it does.

    This is essentially how I got my start, I was about 9 years old I believe, it was an awesome experience! My Dad bought the parts from a magazine, we waiting the grueling week for it to come in. He watched over my shoulder as I assembled it, making sure I didn't do anything wrong. My Dad is awesome for many reasons and this is one of them.

    I applaud your effort to get your son involved at an early age, and with the right mindset!

  • I'd say a netbook would be perfect for him. Inexpensive, small keyboard, some are still powerful enough to run IDEs.

    I had an Asus 1000HA for a couple years, the whole bottom opened up to upgrade components. However, I believe most current designs aren't as tinkerer friendly as older ones.
  • Get him a Raspberry Pi and don't even show him how to turn it on. Just tell him that awesome secrets lie within and even you don't know how to pull them out. Let his imagination run and he will figure it all out, hopefully. I gave one to my nephew and he hasn't left it for a month.

    • If you buy them one of the "kits" and give them all the parts and it comes with a preloaded SD card, that's cool. And it's still pretty darned cheap. Or you could replicate a kit for a little less money, but unless you have the parts lying around it hardly seems worth the effort.

    • by fm6 ( 162816 )

      Well, some kids will go to town with that. Most kids will just see a piece of junk that looks like it fell out of an old TV set and wonder, "what's the big deal"? The Raspberry Pi is a great product, but you have to have some technical savvy to see how great it is.

  • Don't Coddle (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JoeCommodore ( 567479 ) <> on Sunday September 09, 2012 @03:58PM (#41282295) Homepage

    This article should be inspirational: []

    The thing is kids can get stuff pretty quick if you don't put the fear of knowledge in them.

  • Some "Jock" fathers do exactly the same thing, by insisting their kids participate in the same sports they did in their youth. If the kid actually shows genuine interest, then fine, go right ahead - but don't force your kid into some interest just because it was what you were into. As a parent, you have a chance to encourage your child to find out what he's interested in. And guess what, if it turns out he'd rather be outside playing with friends, in the kitchen cooking or building model airplanes, rathe

  • by AK Marc ( 707885 ) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @04:00PM (#41282311)
    Get him a programmable robot. The act of learning how a computer "thinks" is the best takeaway from an early computer experience, and even involves some programming, even if not in a language he'd ever use again. Plus, you get the reward of seeing it actually do something. Otherwise, get him a WoW account and treat the PC as a gaming console for all he'll learn from a computer.

    So many here have the nostalgia of their first PC. Mine required that I program just about anything I wanted to do with them. I'd buy the magazines with fold-out programs in them, and spend hours typing and saving it to an audio tape. Then load it up later and play. Choplifter was the only game that I had to play that wasn't programmed by me.

    Playing with the computer should require learning about the computer. The closest I've seen are the programmmable assembly-required robot kits where you can build what you want, then program it how you want. For the home PC, they made it so easy now, it's like learning about microwave communications by heating coffee in a microwave oven.
    • Good God... a programmable robot?! He's only seven, little nerdlets.

      Seriously, who here became a techie because their parents did this sort of stuff? I can see trying to shove computer programming to a child that only recently learned to spell as the sort of experience that convinces them NOT to take up computers as a hobby.

      If he wants to know how computers work and not treat them like magic objects, then get him something. In the meantime, keep the magic alive and get him a soccerball.
  • If you want portable, I'd say get a netbook. Even though they get fewer and fewer, there are still some around. You'll have to find one on sale if you want to break $300 though. I'd also recommend installing Linux if you don't want it infested with all sorts of nasty stuff within weeks.

    If it doesn't have to be portable, build one. Easily done for <$300 and your kid will learn a lot. And if he built it he'll treat it with more respect.
    It's trivial (there are many instruction videos on YouTube) and for par

  • Instead (Score:5, Interesting)

    by arthurpaliden ( 939626 ) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @04:01PM (#41282337)

    At 7, get him a set of throw away clothes and tell him to go out side and explore and don't get angry when he comes home filthy.

    Wash, rinse and repeat...

    Plenty of time for computers later.

  • You got to start with the basics. []
  • It's quite simple:

    1. Buy new parts to build yourself a new machine.
    2. Have your child help you assemble said machine
    3. Repurpose the old machine for the child.

  • 7 year old? Face it, no matter what computer you buy him, what he'll use it for is to play games. So you may as well buy him one that doesn't make him look like a freak to his peers. Let's be honest here: 600 bucks will not buy you a great gaming rig, but it would buy a PS3, and amongst his peers that's way cooler than the computer you got him that makes games look like a slideshow. Which in turn ensures that your kid will view the computer with contempt.

    I'm dead serious here. If you want your kid to get in

  • ... is the answer.
    • by fm6 ( 162816 )

      Something to be said for that approach. But clearly one this techie father is not open to.

  • Not Hardware (Score:4, Interesting)

    by fm6 ( 162816 ) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @04:13PM (#41282437) Homepage Journal

    Cheap, mass-produced products tend to be little sealed boxes that don't tell you much about guts. Once upon a time you could have a lot of fun fiddling with electronic logic [], but now products are all based on little prepackaged ICs containing millions of circuits that are light years ahead of anything you can do by hand. So forget about a system that "exposes the guts".

    I think the specific computer you want matters a lot less than the software you put on it. Nowadays, software represents the "guts" you want your kid to learn about. That suggests that maybe you should just get him a cheap Linux laptop, show him how to open a terminal window, give him a book on shell programming, and stand back. Kids are really good at making the most of that scenario.

    OK, maybe shell programming is not something that will get the attention of a 7-year-old. There are a ton [] of child-specific programming platforms that might be the ticket. Your judgement as to which one would best suit your son is certainly better than anybody else's.

    The Thomas Friedman column you link talks about an Estonian program for grade-schoolers [] that sounds kind of cool. But you seem to come away from it with the notion that you owe it to your kid to fill his head with technical skills so he'll be a competitive when he enters the job market. IMHO, that's a pretty good way to destroy a child's love of a topic. (I'm thinking of the unpleasant music lessons I had with my own father; my love of music will never be what it might have been.) You should focus instead on something Friedman says further down.

    There is a quote attributed to the futurist Alvin Toffler that captures this new reality: In the future “illiteracy will not be defined by those who cannot read and write, but by those who cannot learn and relearn.” Any form of standing still is deadly.

    That suggests that the imperative is not to learn a specific set of skills, but to learn to learn.

  • whatever you do however you do it make sure that you have an IMAGE backup of the computer (and keep it updated)

    you can even make this edutainment by using a Red Blue Yellow and Green set of backup drives.

    Also whatever browser you use INSTALL AD-BLOCK (and think hard about parental control software).

  • I was in a similar situation and I bought my kid a netbook at Target for something like $230. He takes it to school and if he loses it, I won't kill him. Added NetNanny and that keeps him away from most of the nasty stuff on the 'Net. It's not fast, it's not open source, but it works reasonably well. He can surf, email, and make documents for homework and it fits in his little back pack. It's held up for two years so far. No complaints here.

  • A normal computer, but he always uses it with you being there with him to use it. You're a parent; that's a parent's job. Don't leave him alone with the computer.

    And that assumes there's something meaningful he could do with a computer, which I doubt. His reading level probably isn't enough for the Internet or even Facebook and most sites don't want anyone under 13 anyway), and he's probably not going to have to do his homework on a word processor. Once he knows how to use a mouse and put a disk in a dr

  • Rather than relying on the 80's BASIC experience, you can actually do better for your kid by buying the SparkFun Inventor's Kit, and helping him through every step of the tutorial. $100. []

    To program the microcontroller, you can use a cheap, standard netbook, which will also help the kid in school.

  • ...something of a subnote (not so small as a netbook, 10-12" panel is fine, 14 at a push). My kids loved K12LTSP/Fedora [] as a platform, it's cram packed with educational software, games and your usual desktop environment stuff; what it'll run on these days is pretty much what other people are binning because they can't get Vista running on it!

  • The important step I found with my children was to recognise that they can control what a machine does, and indeed design a machine themselves. I think this is more fundamental than any specific technology.

    Don't buy a computer yet. I'm sure you can find a used one, or let him access the one you already have. Get the free software Scratch, which is a programming language. You can make animals talk, make cars drive in to walls, or calculate sums, all by dragging shapes around.

    Also try some web sites which off

  • An old Mac SE or SE/30 with a standard set of software (Word 5.1, MacDraw II, HyperCard) provides the basic skills, in an obscenely uncluttered environment, plus an object oriented programming system.

    I have a similar setup in my shed, that I still use.

  • Buy him a new bike.
  • See what she uses at school (assuming she's not home schooled), and use that as a baseline. My kids use Windows 7 at home, and my youngest uses a Mac at school (K-5 in my district use Macs, 6-12 use PCs).

    As for capabilities, any 'modern' computer would be fine, and I'd suggest desktop to laptop, but that's something for you to decide.

    If you are gonna take money out of your pocket, I'd suggest sticking with machines with at least a Core Duo processor (Mac or PC), and load it up with cheap RAM (4 gigs) and yo

  • by OrangeTide ( 124937 ) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @04:53PM (#41282723) Homepage Journal

    While it was the "family" computer, it was mostly loaded up with educational software for me. So effectively it was mine. And I could parrot a few bits of BASIC I was taught and adapt them slightly to amuse my friends. (mostly a string of PRINT, INPUT and IF GOTO operations). So I would construct simple choose-your-adventure type stories on it, where most wrong choices ended up in an untimely demise. (like "green guts", and the screen turns green)

    When I got a little older (5 or 6) I was programming the thing often enough to crack up the manuals for TI Extended BASIC and start reading them. For sprites, joystick, DATA/READ, sound effects, among other things. While I wish I would have had a C64 instead of a TI99/4a, I am happy that I had a computer and dot-matrix printer growing up. (the printer came with a book on programming it, so I would sometimes send commands to it to draw little graphics or use alternate fonts)

    7 years old is not necessarily too young. But I think a bigger component is if the child has a real interest in mucking around with computers. Likely the child doesn't even know what they like to do. I would categorize buying a youngster their own computer to buying them a guitar. They may take to it like a duck to water, but it also might sit on a shelf and end up at your garage sale 10 years from now.

    I'll share some advice, despite not having any children of my own. I'd recommend that you be supportive of a child's interest, and provide them resources to explore multiple potential interests. And don't be surprised if the child's interest doesn't match your own. Even though you like computers, you might be raising a chemist or musician or athlete.

  • by pointyhat ( 2649443 ) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @05:13PM (#41282867)

    They don't need their own computer yet. Probably at 12 years old, but no sooner. They need to learn the fundamentals of what they are doing before they abstract it away with a computer.

    I myself was slapped in front of a computer at the age of 5. I'm now sitting here on a sunday night, posting on Slashdot rather than doing something useful. Do you want that to be your kids?

  • by steveha ( 103154 ) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @05:17PM (#41282895) Homepage

    I am not sure if building a PC from parts is really an important part of the experience. I suggest getting any decent computer and installing Linux. Ubuntu or Mint would be good choices.

    Why Linux? He can learn how to find new things, install them, and try them out. The package management system on Linux is so much better than the mess on Windows, and there is a ton of cool stuff that is free.

    If you can, have him learn a good scripting language. I recommend Python, because even if he doesn't become a software developer he can use Python (for math, astronomy, statistics, web development, mass-converting his media collection to a new file format, etc.).

  • by melted ( 227442 ) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @05:32PM (#41282959) Homepage

    >> I'm looking for a computer that will teach him basic computer literacy

    Computer can't do that. Only a human can.

  • by Platinumrat ( 1166135 ) on Sunday September 09, 2012 @06:04PM (#41283167) Journal

    For gods sake people, obeseity is a problem already. Get the children playing games and learning social skills. A fit, healthy individual who is socially savvy is likely to be more successful than one of the I.T. crowd. Sure get them interested in tech and science as well as sports.

    If you want something techie or science based then get your child a telescope. It has the advantage of the Wow factor, being hands-on and getting the children outdoor. The plus side is that you'll get some exercise and be bond with your child as you discover the universe. Just don't by a cheap telescope from Walmart, etc... You can get a really cool Galileo scope at [] for about $50. But for 500-1200 you can get a really nice Dobsonian, just don't start too big.

I've finally learned what "upward compatible" means. It means we get to keep all our old mistakes. -- Dennie van Tassel