I'm a programmer and will be observing Take Your Child to Work Day with my four-year-old daughter, Thing1, on Thursday.

I'm planning to get us dressed up, take her to breakfast and then bring her into the office for some fun business shenanigans among my ~150 coworkers.

She loves learning and games and is quite good with letters, numbers, and 3-4 letter words.

I will have no problem recruiting accomplices to assist me during the 3 hours or so that I'm in the office with her.

What should we do?

I want her to be involved with others in the office and feel like she's contributing (no mindless busy work).

Ideas so far (this is where I need your help!)...

  • Create questions for an "interview" (favorite color, movie, subject, etc.) with colorful office supplies (crafts are fun)
  • Run some copies (copiers are fun)
  • Conduct the above interview with fun coworkers (talking to people is fun)
  • Send some emails (banging on computers is fun)

More ideas? I'd love to work in something programming related--if you can think of anything a 4yo will have the attention span for I'd love to hear it.

I'm taking this as vacation - I don't have to be productive at all.

  • 1
    +1 I actually thought about this same thing just a little while ago. I really wondered what I would do, as a programmer, if my company did something like that. I also kind of think this pertains to programmers since we're in a field that has no visible "product" for a child to see/interact with.
    – David Peterman
    Commented Apr 23, 2012 at 18:04
  • Play Fussball!. Commented May 5, 2012 at 13:16
  • 2
    We did this recently and it was a high stress period (servers are down!) and the kids just played with each other. Give them markers, paper, and clean whiteboards :P
    – Rig
    Commented May 5, 2012 at 13:43

4 Answers 4


As she can not read yet, it does not make sense at all to do something with programming. First I thought about one of those graphical IDE's where you create your program by putting together graphical blocks. But those most often require reading as well.

I really (really!) like your idea of letting her "create" a series of questions and then have her ask them to child-friendly coworkers. This way she will see the office and your coworkers. I think that is more important than to try to explain to a 4yo what programming is all about. You can start doing the latter when she starts going to school or so. It will probably also maximize the boost of your self-confidence as it will show your coworkers what a lovely daugther you have. :P

That being said, I am 26 and have no children, so maybe I am the wrong one to ask. ;)

  • This is pretty much what I ended up doing and I think it worked out well. I'll post more details if I can later. Commented May 7, 2012 at 1:42

The only age-appropriate thing I can think of is flow-charts. It's graphical, interactive (markers and flip-boards), easy to learn/understand, and useful. You can also have her help draw flow charts for things she's interested in like snack time, or something. You could probably use simple pictures instead of words. Activity diagrams and sequence diagrams might also work.

Maybe if you do a lot of graphics programming, she could help "test" the software by just clicking around, then telling you if it crashes. You could then take the log dump and maybe get some useful info from it.

If you guys do hardware programming, maybe you can set up something ahead of time, a spare robotic arm for her to work with, maybe come up with some task or test for her to run on it?

Other than that, I can't think of much. These days I spend a lot of time doing XML and database work which is a lot of time sitting quietly and staring, thinking, testing a querying, verifying the results, repeat... I have a hard time thinking a 4 year old would be able to maintain interest in that for long (there are even some adults who have trouble maintaining intest in that for long).


Skip the technical part of programming and instead focus on working together to solve some kind of (easy) problem. You can say something like: "Oh, I'm glad you're here with me today. My desk needs a good cleaning, and having a helper will make cleaning up so much easier." That opens the door to all kinds of little jobs that you can do together, like:

  • organize your papers

  • put all your books in alphabetical order

  • move your computer/monitor/keyboard/mouse and wipe down the desk (where does that dirt come from?)

  • install/update some piece of (fun?) new software

Also, it'd be great to let her experience interacting with some other people. If you have some books or other items that can be delivered to one of your coworkers, she can do that. If some of your coworkers are also bringing their kids, you could arrange for the kids to have a meeting of some sort, perhaps to talk about the jobs they've done during the day. Let her know that your job involves more than just sitting at your desk and typing, that you have to cooperate with the other people in your office.


"I'm taking this as vacation--I don't have to be productive at all"

You do realize that this statement doesn't really help with the perception that programmers are just lazy, smarmy nerds right?

Also, this could be a great opportunity to show your daughter that working as a programmer is actually a pretty good career choice. Why not try doing some work and explaining why it's important and/or why you think it's fun. Getting dressed up and photocopying pictures of rainbows is definitely fun, but it's almost certainly not work and probably not important.

Programmers do all sorts of things over the course of a day. Including but not limited to : writing production code, writing one-off helper scripts, analyzing requirements, meetings, writing emails, talking with people, quashing bugs, trying out new technology, surfing SO, and testing. Surely some of those things would be age-appropriate for you and your daughter? :)

  • 5
    I guess what I meant was that the day is WIDE OPEN. I don't have to answer for my time so we can do pretty much anything. I don't think this adds to any stereotypes. She's four, and while she is brilliantly smart, she's still four and can't read. I thought about doing some arduino stuff with her but soft programming really isn't going to interest her when I can't explain why what we do in 10 minutes is as cool as what an iPod or LeapPad can do. Commented Apr 23, 2012 at 18:15
  • @MichaelHaren: If you guys to hardware programming, could you set something up ahead of time that would be easy for her to work with and test? That would also have a lot of potential, but it might require a bit more prep time.
    – FrustratedWithFormsDesigner
    Commented Apr 23, 2012 at 18:19
  • 8
    "that programmers are just lazy, smarmy nerds right" What ??? He's doing the right thing by taking this as a vacation day regarding his employer as whatever he does, he won't be as productive watching over his daughter, even he tries to do real-work. In fact I think that's the ethical thing to do. I have seen people bring their child to work be about 50% productive as usual and still clock their normal day.
    – Gilles
    Commented Apr 23, 2012 at 20:57
  • So, the community has spoken, and it looks like I definitely took your last comment the wrong way. I was in the wrong there (maybe being overly sensitive).
    – joshin4colours
    Commented Apr 24, 2012 at 13:29

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