I nearly shed a tear today reading a brief quote by Nicholas Negroponte about his effort to provide $100-laptops to every child in the developing world, whether they want one or not. (They may not even know they want one.) The part that misted my eyes I've put in bold.
Giving the kids a programming environment of any sort, whether it's a tool like Squeak or Scratch or Logo to write programs in a childish way -- and I mean that in the most generous sense of the word, that is, playing with and building things -- is one of the best ways to learn. Particularly to learn about thinking and algorithms and problem solving and so forth.
As mental prosthetics, computers are literally mind-bending, mind-expanding tools. Giving naive, undereducated children, presumably bubbling with glorious potential, their own personal computers will explode their universes. I'm talking new dimensions. Now imagine giving them the freedom to PLAY in that space, to BE CHILDISH and create things from scratch. That's an experience perhaps as powerfully transformative as learning to read and write.
I can only compare it to my own bursts of self-realization within the worlds of LEGO, HyperCard, and LSD. But next to those, this is like handing a kid a fucking magic wand.