Which is Better for Kids: Arduino or Raspberry Pi

18. July 2012 13:05 by Forrest C. Shields II in Arduino, Raspberry Pi  //  Tags: , , , ,   //   Comments (0)

Which platform, Arduino or Raspberry Pi, should you choose for your child to learn programming?

I recently received an e-mail from a mother who was wondering which device would be better for her daughter to learn programming on, the Arduino or the Raspberry Pi.  Some of the answer is predicated on what you want your child to learn.

The Arduino is a microcontroller with a very small amount of memory and no display device.  It interfaces with electronic components very well and has a great support community. This device would certainly teach computers and programming at a very low level, which will serve them well in understanding future computing concepts.  However, it is more difficult to use without an understanding of electronics and might be frustrating to children who want immediate feedback.

The Raspberry Pi is a full-blown computer that runs Linux. It can be plugged into an HDTV set, can interface with USB peripherals such as keyboard, mouse, webcam, printer, etc.  It also has built-in Ethernet networking for accessing the Internet. The programming experience on this device will be closer to a traditional programming course. The level of understanding of computer hardware will be diminished, but feedback will be more immediate and a much larger variety of programs can be made.

Here is list of features for contrast:

Arduino

Pros:

  • Cheap (~$25).  Available at Radio Shack for $35
  • Huge support community
  • A fantastic way to learn how computers really work
  • You will learn to write tight code

Cons:

  • Limited to one programming language ("Processing", which is like C)
  • No native display capabilities
  • To get beyond programs that just blink an LED, you need to start learning about electronics, hardware, soldering, etc. which may be beyond younger learners
  • Requires another computer for programming. The Arduino is then connected to the computer and the code is loaded onto it.

Raspberry Pi

Pros:

  • Cheap ($35)
  • Multiple programming languages: Python (the preferred language), Scratch (a visual language designed for kids), and of course C++
  • Linux — You have access to all that Linux offers, including tens of thousands of pre-written programming libraries
  • The display capabilities give you much greater options. This alone might help to keep your child interested since they can program things like games (see PiSnake).
  • Built-in Ethernet networking and USB support

Cons:

  • Integration with electronics is possible, but poorly documented
  • The support community is still very new, but it is growing rapidly
  • Linux — In order to function in the RPi environment, you'll have to learn Linux and the commandline.  Not a bad secondary learning experience, but it makes startup slower.

About the author

Forrest C. Shields II is a Technology Consultant at iServices.com, LLC in Colorado Springs, CO USA. Forrest has worked as a consultant for over 22 years where he specializes in using technology to find solutions to business problems in the small-to-medium sized business sector. His expertise covers the entire spectrum of Microsoft products, including: SharePoint, Exchange, SQL Server, IIS, Hyper-V, and the entire Microsoft Office Suite.

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