Teaching Kids to Code using Scratch Jr | A review of the website, app, book, and game that help kids enjoy learning fundamental principles of coding

Since discovering the world of coding for kids, I’ve started looking into more resources aimed at young kids (and adults just learning to code 😉 ). I checked out several books from the library recently and wanted to share our reviews on some of the best books on the topic.

A book on Scratch Jr caught my eye and has turned out to be a fantastic resource. Over the past few days, it’s served as a portal into a whole world of coding opportunities for my 4 year old, and I can tell that older kids could easily get even more value out of this book.

Scratch – the coding program

Scratch is a program (https://scratch.mit.edu/) designed to help kids, age 8-16, learn the language of coding in an interactive, intrinsically rewarding way. Their website says this:

With Scratch, you can program your own interactive stories, games, and animations — and share your creations with others in the online community.

Scratch helps young people learn to think creatively, reason systematically, and work collaboratively — essential skills for life in the 21st century.

Scratch is a project of the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab. It is provided free of charge.

Here’s a screenshot of the script area:

screenshot of the script area of a Scratch coding page

This is a highly intuitive program to use, so even beginner-level coders could use it to create innovative scenes and short movies.

Scratch Jr – the app for kids

The creators of Scratch, however, went a step further to create an app that would help kids age 5-7 practice fundamental coding skills. You can find more information about it here: http://www.scratchjr.org/. This version is an app that can be downloaded in most mobile operating systems.

Coding is the language of the future, and an endlessly creative way to play with ideas and story lines. By putting this technology into children’s hands, we are providing them with a creative and technical tool while also teaching them a new language and way of thinking.

Used in it’s simplest form, Scratch Jr is basically a 21st-century way for kids to put on puppet shows. 🙂 They build characters and settings, then develop a story line through animations on the screen.

Teaching Kids to Code using Scratch Jr | A review of the website, app, book, and game that help kids enjoy learning fundamental principles of coding

The Book – a guide for creating your own virtual world

The Official ScratchJr Book: Help Your Kids Learn to Code (affiliate link) by Marina Umaschi Bers and Mitchel Resnick is like a textbook that guides you through all the programming capabilities in the Scratch Jr app. It’s very well-written, clearly organized, and easy to read. Each chapter is a mini-lesson that takes you through the various buttons and functions of the app, providing examples and explaining ways to play around with the new information to create your own virtual world.

Teaching Kids to Code using Scratch Jr | A review of the website, app, book, and game that help kids enjoy learning fundamental principles of coding

I kept trying to read the book and explain things sequentially, trying out one function at a time … but Superman kept pulling the tablet away and pushing All The Buttons. He wasn’t afraid to just dive in and figure thing out. I still read the book though ;). Every once in a while I could interrupt him to introduce a new technique from the Scratch Jr “guide book,” then he would play around with that new idea for a while.

Based on his experience with some of the pre-reader programs from Code.org, he was familiar with the way that the code blocks clicked together. (You can read more about our introduction to coding here.) He quickly picked up on the various actions, assigning voice-recordings to different characters and making them do a song and dance before looping over to a different scene. There are endless adaptations to play around with here – you can choose, format, and program characters, place them in different scenes, create costumes, actions, and voices for them, make them interact with each other, and basically create a whole movie by setting one scene to start when another ends.

Teaching Kids to Code using Scratch Jr | A review of the website, app, book, and game that help kids enjoy learning fundamental principles of coding

Scratch Jr Coding Game

I saw a card game at a bookstore the other day based on the Scratch coding system (Scratch Coding Cards: Creative Coding Activities for Kids – affiliate link) and was very tempted to buy it. You might hear more about this in an upcoming episode ;). In the meantime, I wanted to share a great review on the game from Meredith at Stem Activities for Kids. You can watch her video and read her review here: http://stemactivitiesforkids.com/2017/01/08/start-programming-with-scratch-coding-cards/.

More Reviews and Coding Resources

I plan to write several more reviews on resources related to helping kids learn to code; make sure to subscribe to my newsletter if you’d like to follow along! You can subscribe using the form at the top, middle, or bottom of this page. I’m also designing a few coding activities and a coding card game for kids (including free printables!) – I’ll post more information about those products when I finish them.

More posts in this series:

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