ScratchJr introduces coding to kindergarteners

Posted on Oct 7 2014 - 10:19am by Sukanya

When we hear the term ‘computer programming’, what’s the first thing that comes to the mind of someone outside the field of programming?

‘Complicated’, perhaps. What if we told you some app developers are trying to get little kids to learn coding? That’s precisely the vision behind ScratchJr – a software application designed to teach children in kindergarten the basics of programming. The app makers claim it can be used by 5 years old even if they haven’t yet learned to read.

Born out a collaboration between Tufts University’s DevTech Research Group, the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab and the Playful Invention Company; ScratchJr aims to help young children understand the concept of coding to create images, sounds, animations and also add pictures of themselves. 

ScratchJr aims to attract eager minds into the world of computer programming

ScratchJr aims to attract eager minds into the world of computer programming

MIT Media Lab has modified their Scratch app to make it more suitable for the kindergarten age group and that’s how ScratchJr was designed. The project was funded by National Science Foundation, U.S.A which gave it a grant of $1.3 million.

ScratchJr is free to download and is now currently available on the iPad platform. Eliot-Pearson Children’s School in Medford is now using it as part of the curriculum.

Kids aged 5-7 can use the app to express themselves creatively in the process of learning how to program their own little messages and games. The easy-to-use interface seems to help secure the interest of children along with the ccolorfuland engaging graphics. 

Individual program codes are integrated in to program ‘blocks’ that perform specific tasks. Children can arrange and customize these blocks to have them execute in a sequence, creating animation and interactive snippets.

What the developers say ?

The project’s co-developer Marina Umaschi Bers says it is statistically verifiable that by the time kids reach fourth grade, they form concrete ideas about their own skills – like how good they are in a particular subject.

Which means it is critical to their development that they should be introduced to the concept of programming at a younger stage before the formation of mental blocks to seemingly complicated problems.

“We actually don’t want every young child to grow as a computer scientist or to work as an software engineer, but we do want every young child to be exposed to these new ways of thinking that coding makes possible”, she adds.

Co-developer Michael Resnik of Massachusetts Institute of Technology says, “When many people think of computer programming, they think of something very sophisticated. But we don’t think it has to be that kind of way”.

A video released by MIT Media Lab shows the developers explaining the ideology behind creating ScratchJr:

So how critical is it to catch them young?

Some academicians think of it like learning a second language. We are not too far away from the time in future when coding will be considered basic literacy. The present generation hosts the world of automation and intelligent systems. In the future basic coded language could become a commonplace linguistic skill that everyone would need to possess to handle routine tasks of operating next-gen machines. 

More importantly, programming which is a mix of logic, algorithm and math can teach young minds to approach logical problems by breaking them up into smaller tasks to be dealt with in a sequential manner. 

Today’s young minds are buzzing with new ideas and creativity. Programming will give them the confidence to keep the fire of innovation burning bright because it’s a skill that can empower them to go beyond dreaming – to explore ways to execute.

Platforms like Tynker developed by Jay Ponder and code.org identified the growing need for coding literacy at a young age and have been pioneering the movement of fundamental programming awareness through enthralling projects that encourage children to explore the world of coding. ScratchJr will soon be available also on Android and other platforms.

A screenshot of one of Tynker's interactive mini-games

A screenshot of one of Tynker’s interactive mini-games. According to Tynker’s mission, it believes in making children “creators of technology” rather than “passive users”

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