If you have a young child who wants to learn a digital language and don’t know where to start, help is at hand with a range of free apps.
Scratch Jnr has an icon driven interface perfect for kids who are beginning to learn to read and write. Items can be dragged and dropped. The program code snaps together like Lego to instruct the characters to dance, sing and run around.
The website contains videos and simple instructions cards for activities such as making your character dance or dribble a basketball or making a bat spin in a circle.
Scratch is the original web application, for older children, developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab. Using Scratch a child can experiment with sound and movement, and create games, interactive stories and animations.
To make a cartoon character (called a sprite) run across the screen making a noise, blocks of colour-coded actions are selected and placed inside a repeat so that they loop as required. The pieces fit together if they are in a workable order. One click and the character runs across the screen meowing.
It can be that simple but at the same time, teaching the first elements of programming. Other projects are more complex. A popular starter project is to create the game Pong.
Using applications such as Scratch to teach kids to code will require some parental support but this doesn’t mean parents need to be familiar with coding.
The application is supported by an excellent reference collection of manuals, videos and cards for projects to do, with a specific page for parents and its own Wiki. As it is widely used in education (particularly in the US) there are many guided projects posted on the Internet that a parent could use with their child.
Scratch is also an online community where children can share their programs. Programs can be published to the site and there is a gallery of projects to view. Existing projects can be remixed (changed) to make a new project.
Some older children might baulk at the interface which has a young look and feel but the content will still challenge them.
To date 9,287,760 Scratch projects have been shared, a testament to its popularity and usability.
Another popular free alternatives is Hopscotch which is currently for iPad only and will be reviewed in a subsequent article.
Sandy Fussell is an IT Consultant and an award-winning author of books for young people. You can find her at www.sandyfussell.com and www.samuraikids.com. She is a passionate advocate for reading and children’s books and apps.