Scratch and ScratchJr

My six year old daughter sat on my lap yesterday after her half-day kindergarten class let out and wanted to help me program. So I had her do a little typing for me. Sadly, it wasn’t the slowest coding I’ve ever completed! I have a keyboard and fake monitor set up next to my desk and sometimes my youngest likes to pull up a chair and type away, pretending to be working next to her dad.

My eldest daughter, eight years old and in second grade, has also shown an interest in computers. She uses them at school more than at home. Here the iPads rein supreme. Both girls have had access to iPads since they were fairly young and use them with supervision, especially for math exercises and other academic pursuits. (Plus a few leisure time activities, too.)

Yesterday when my six year old and I were working together, I explained to her what I do. I told her I make the computer do things just like she makes paper do things. My tools are a keyboard and a mouse while hers are scissors and glue. She got that right away. She helped me change a couple of lines of code and she could see the changes immediately in the web browser. Her eyes lit up.

I’ve had this thought over the years but have not found the time to go explore: how could I get the kids into programming? They are so young right now, such early readers, and writing code “the traditional way” would be boring and hard for them to grasp. I remember Logo (although I never wrote code with it) when I was a kid but haven’t made the time to find age-appropriate programming tools for my girls.

Today, those tools found me. Fred Wilson blogged about a language called Scratch from MIT Media Labs. Scratch is specifically designed for kids 8 to 16, teaching them development in a visual style. MIT Media Labs has a Kickstarter going for a new project called ScratchJr, too. It’s designed for early readers, age 5-7. It’s reached its goal but I’m sure they could use more funds. I backed it this morning. Hope you will consider doing so too.

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