Friday, July 29, 2011

Recommended Book: C++ Programming for Kids

Worm Burner, age 10 and resident Tech Support, asked if I would teach him C++ this summer.

Sure, no problem. Except that the last time I used C++ was during my Ph.D. dissertation and my summer plans did not include hours in front of the terminal re-learning how to program.

Normally, I'm all about fiction, but today I want to recommend a non-fiction book, Beginning C++ through Game Programming, by Michael Dawson.

This book is great for beginning programmers, especially if they have some previous programming experience (Worm Burner had already programmed in QBasic on Windows). Even if they had no previous experience, this book would walk them step-by-step through concepts like variables, input/output, loops, strings, and arrays. Best of all, it uses game example programs like Word Jumble, Mad Lib, and Tic-Tac-Toe to hook kids into figuring out the logic behind programming and applying their nascent C++ skills in a way that's fun and entertaining.

And also competitive, when you have more than one brother learning how to program. After all, there was no way Dark Omen (age 12) was going to let his little brother get the jump on him.

Note that this book is not intended for children. It just has a great easy-to-use format and style that lends itself to children who are advanced readers and budding programming geeks. But the programming itself is all solid C++. In other words, they're learning the real deal.

The best part about this book was that I just had to get my boys started with the first few chapters. We sat down, walked through the lessons, uploaded and changed sample code, and played around a bit. After chapter 4, they carried on without me, teaching themselves (via the book) and leaping to new heights with their programming through their own initiative.

Which is how every good hacker programmer gets his start.

(In case you're wondering, we had a good long talk about Using Your Powers For Good. I felt like Spiderman's uncle, but we have the With Great Power Must Come Great Responsibility talk in our house a lot.)

If you have a budding hacker programmer in your house, here's how to keep them occupied get them started:

1) Download Microsoft Visual C++ 2010 (free)
2) Buy Beginning C++ through Game Programming
3) Help your kids start (if you know some programming) or let them loose on their own (if you don't)

UPDATE: Someone asked if this would suit a 16 year old. Answer: YES! My kids are in the uber-geek-class of childhood, so please understand: this book would be equally useful for teens and beginner adults, not just 10-12 year olds.

Other resources:

C++ tutorial website
More C++ tutorials, different website
Project Ideas for C++ programming from the Mega List

If the DoJ comes to investigate, I disavow all knowledge of recommending computer programming books to minors. This message will self destruct in 3 ... 2 ... 1 ...


  1. Oooh...I don't suppose you'd be willing to look at a .dmp file for me that was created in my minidump windows file and tell me why my computer crashed. I'm curious if it is a hardware problem and have no way to read it.

  2. Worm Burner does Tech Support, not me! And seriously, you don't want me trying to diagnose things. But this might help.

  3. I'd like to learn C/C++ at some point; thanks for the information! I'll have to look into this book. :)

  4. So awesome. Every time you post on your boys, I am more convinced we would make great friends.

    If you can get your hands on some Flash authoring tools, Flash is also really great for nascent programmers who want to put games together (largely because it makes graphics easy).

  5. @Eagle Awesome! I think it's a great book for adults as well - no stuffiness allowed! :)

    @Adam Sweet! Worm Burner thanks you. And now I'm even more scared. :)

  6. C++ and C are really the basic books of programming in which all the current languages like Java, .net etc are written. For further development we should focus on these languages. Even the real geek is the person who commands over C,C++. Really glad to see a post on C++ after so long. Even PHP Development is taking a hot market these days. but C++ is the mother language.

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  7. I think I almost failed C+ in highschool b/c nothing ever turned out right. I just couldn't figure it out. So it's nothing I do in my spare time. ;)

  8. @CustomSoftwareDevelopment For a spambot, you're particularly literate. My congratulations to your programmer.

    @Laura Ok, we didn't even HAVE C++ when I was in high school. #dinosaur #learnedBASIC #behappyyoureyoung :)

  9. Ha ha! My husband would be better suited to this post than me. But I bet my kids would love it!

  10. @LisaGG Just don't blame me if the computer starts playing "boogie time" every time you open a word document. #makedadfixit

  11. This has my son's name written all over it! Thanks.

  12. hi Susan,

    Can u teach me c++..if u can it wil be grt help for me really...


  13. Yep reading books...wil help ofcourse bt am nt a good reader.. i need sme1 who cn help me with it

  14. @DeepBlue I need an sme1 as well! What an odd coincidence. Please forward one at your earliest convenience.

  15. u are makin fun f me...???? :) gues yes... bt its ok.. i knw sme searchin if sme1 cud help me learn it i askd tats it..thanks for the reply


  16. @Deep Sorry! Thought you were a spam-bot! Good luck with the C++!

  17. Ha! Very good. These kids are moving at warp speed. C+ and I are not on the best of terms.

  18. oh, I'm so not a techy. I did a little computer programming in the past, but I've left all that behind in favour of writing or art. I love the idea of giving the book to kids though. Kids often soak that kind of thing up.

  19. need f sorry :)
    R u sure u cnt help me out in this matter..

  20. Susan, I have a nephew who is 7 years old but has a very high interest in learning programming. As a mother who probably understands child development more than I do, would you recommend teaching him now or waiting until he's older? (I hear a lot of people start learning around 9 or 10) I am a programmer myself and am halfway through finishing my 4 year degree.
    Also we live very far away from each other, so I'd probably be teaching him online.

    1. Cindy - sounds like you have a very smart nephew! I would teach him as much as his attention allows, but not stress if his interest wanes. Maybe pick a simple game that he could write, or just show him how to print out "I love cats!" a zillion times, just some of the basics (like a do loop) to help him understand the basic ideas of programming. In fact, I wouldn't start him on C++, but something more like Visual Basic. Then, let him lead - if he asks for more, go for it. Kids are great about letting you know what they can handle, if you listen.

      Good luck! And go you, for being an Awesome Auntie!

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  29. this book is not up to date with c++ 10 standards though...