Teaching Blender to Children

Explain this to me like I'm 5.

My 5-year-old neighbor is like a lot of boys his age: Energetic, imaginative, loves superheroes/dragons/animals/cartoons, and enjoys learning. As a big fan of the "How To Train Your Dragon" films he was intrigued to learn that his neighbor does computer animation for a living. So he asked his mom to set up a time that I could give him a brief demo. This was intriguing to me since I feel it can be difficult to explain computer animation to a 30-year-old, much less a child. Then again, I've heard that young children are better able to understand complex things (like a second language) than if they're introduced to them later like high school or adulthood. My wife reasoned that the children she nannies commonly navigate an iPhone very well, even before being able to speak. Ok then - Maybe my neighbor, Emitt, would be able to grasp the concepts. So he came over and was very attentive as I explained the absolute basics. I compared sculpting to Play-doh, texture painting to, well, painting (that one was easy), rigging armatures to human skeletons and posable action figures, animation to stop-motion-photography - none of which seemed to confuse him. In fact he would often confirm his comprehension by stating an example comparison: "Like the way mommy took a bunch of pictures to make Rudolph walk across the table". Granted I avoided technical terms, but the kid was getting it! His mom was very interested as well since she's the one who facilitates his activities and hobbies. I told her this Blender program was free and she could download it for exploration if they wanted. She was happy to learn it was free but then responded dismissively with a key point:
If the result doesn't come quick enough, it likely wouldn't maintain Emitt's attention span.
Thus I don't think Emitt and his mom are likely to download and try Blender, and I can't blame them. After all what kind of Blender/CG education is out there and readily available in a format that children could understand? Little to none. But certainly it can be taught in such a way! Which got me really excited. I think because for myself and probably most 3D creatives, computer graphics keeps us a kid at heart. It's the best way to realize our imaginations. And imagination is most uninhibited in the minds of children. When I asked Emitt what would be the first thing he'd do with Blender he answered something about making Spiderman swing through city buildings using his web shooters. I can't recall exactly because I was paying closer attention to his face as he answered. I could see in his eyes that he understood computer graphics to be what I understand it to be: The key to bringing his dreams and imagination to life! Perhaps that's a bit sensational - reeling this back to an adult (read less-imaginative) level - but still, I think deep down it's why we artists love this field. So what a shame it is that CG training content for children isn't more plentiful, right?! I've only heard a handful of stories about Blender for Kids workshops or online tutorials aimed at children. Surely they too are interested in learning how their favorite cartoons and movies are made...

What do you think?

  • Is it wishful thinking that children could/would want to understand computer graphics and animation?
  • If you're a parent, would you want to give your child the opportunity to learn Blender at a young age (10 and under)?
  • Are there more Blender-for-kids initiatives out there that I'm not aware of?
CC Image Attribution "click asi" by Amelia Wells

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  • brokenjack

    My son (age 9) has expressed interest in learning Blender, so we had our first lesson last night. I'm a bit of a hack when it comes to blender, but I know enough to be an intermediate user(by my own definition). I was surprised by how I was able to explain basic concepts, and how my son was able to pick up everything I was laying down. I didn't want to discourage him by throwing too much stuff at him so we just touched on object manipulation and navigation, then I showed him one cool thing beyond that to keep his interest. What I would really like to have for reference is a program designed for teachers or parents on how to teach kids blender. I've always tossed around the idea of teaching a "basics" class for kids as a summer camp, workshop, or after school enrichment program but haven't sat down to figure out how I would structure it.

  • Stanley Leland (wanderingmonk7)

    The problem is that there is so much information out there. With kids the important thing is to keep it interesting and show genuine interest in them. I believe in being flexible and allowing them to set investigate the direction they want to proceed.

    I find this one good for first time users.
    https://www.evl.uic.edu/spiff/class/cs426/BlenderBasics2ndEdition.pdf
    http://www.cdschools.org/cms/lib04/PA09000075/Centricity/Domain/81/BlenderBasics_4thEdition2011.pdf
    http://www.cdschools.org/Page/455

    https://www.blend4web.com/pub/b4w_manual_en.pdf

    https://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Blender_3D:_Noob_to_Pro

    Tufts university offers course materials to instructors.

  • Gerhard Sprung (tetratoon)

    Hello Kent!
    I am very interested in this topic. Actually I am thinking about writing books for children to learn animation in general and 3D-animation with blender. Therefore I am searching ways to simplify the User interface to make the first steps easier and less frustrating.
    My experience is that 9 to 10 years old children are capable of understanding the underlying principles and many of the techniques, but it would make it much easier to have the appropriate tools.
    My son (11) used mine-imator, mcprep, mineways and more tools to import, export and animate minecraft-characters.

    http://www.stuffbydavid.com/mineimator
    http://www.realtimerendering.com/erich/minecraft/public/mineways/
    http://www.jmc2obj.net/
    https://github.com/TheDuckCow/MCprep

  • Carrie Sullivan (csullivan)

    I'm actually teaching 3D modeling to 9-13 year olds as part of a STEAM (science, technology, arts & math) summer camp right now. What I've found so far is that if you just let kids loose in Blender with only minimal instruction in creating and manipulating primitive objects, in about 10 minutes, they'll have 3D modeled a donut, Yoda's head, an angry bird, or some other totally weird thing that an adult would never come up with. They'll find vertex paint on their own, and paint icing on their donut. Then they'll find and start figuring out how to use tools that you didn't even know were there, just using trial and error.

    Kids seem to be a lot more open to just playing around and exploring than adults are, probably because they aren't afraid to learn something "the wrong way" or somehow "break" something. I also teach community college students, and I'm pretty sure that some of them think that if they do anything that isn't in a tutorial their computer is going to explode.

    Now, the challenge is going to be getting the kids to stop experimenting long enough to teach them how to create what they want to create more or less intentionally, using some semblance of a proper workflow. I'm guessing that at some point they will actually get bored with just playing and then we can take a more organized approach. It would be helpful if there were more tutorials aimed at kids, not because kids aren't capable of learning the same things adults are but because they tend to have much shorter attention spans. An hour long tutorial probably isn't going to work for most 9 year olds.

  • crew
    Kent Trammell (theluthier)

    This is awesome, Carrie! I'm frankly kind of amazed that kids so young can make enough sense of Blender's interface to play around and make something happen. Shame on me, I suppose.

    Thanks for posting your experience in this area!

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