There is a programming language that has been available from MIT for quite a while now called scratch that is aimed at children from the ages of 8 and up. Here is the description from the website:
“Scratch is a new programming language that makes it easy to create your own interactive stories, animations, games, music, and art — and share your creations on the web.
Scratch is designed to help young people (ages 8 and up) develop 21st century learning skills. As they create Scratch projects, young people learn important mathematical and computational ideas, while also gaining a deeper understanding of the process of design”
The IDE (if you can call it that) is very easy to get to grips with. Programs are written by dropping little blocks into the main window which can connect together. Each block represents an action or event that can be executed. If you have ever played with LEGO Mindstorms the same principles apply.
I think it’s a brilliant educational toy for children because it represents itself in a way that is fun to play with and yet at the same time they are learning some basic ideas around programming! Even if they choose to not take programming seriously, at least they will get moreexperience in using a computer as well as exposure to concepts like design, algorithms and creating processes, which are skills which could be used in many other fields.