As digital natives, kids spend a lot of their time in front of a screen and most are expert users on any electronic device. Coding is about knowing how and why an app or program works. Two well-known tools for helping kids learn about coding are Scratch and Scratch, Jr.
Scratch and Scratch, Jr. are an intuitive way for kids to learn how to code. Using simple action blocks and trial and error, kids learn that the way the blocks are arranged and customized determines what their animation will look like in the end.
This article offers an honest evaluation of Scratch and Scratch, Jr. for those who wonder if these popular tools are intuitive and easy for kids to use.
How Intuitive are Scratch and Scratch, Jr.?
Scratch and its younger sibling Scratch, Jr. both use simple visual graphics of different-colored, interactive blocks to introduce children to the world of coding. Manipulating these action blocks allows kids to create animations, stories, and games. They’re able to personalize the characters they create in multiple ways and bring them to life.
Born out of a desire to introduce computer programming to children, Scratch’s popularity has far exceeded its target audience of kids ages 8 to 16 and is now used by people of all ages. Inspired by this success, Scratch, Jr. was developed so that children ages 5 to 7 might also have an age-appropriate introduction into the world of code.
Scratch and Scratch, Jr. are available as free app downloads for Apple and Android devices, as well as for use on PC and Mac computers.
Let’s face it. Kids these days are not afraid to click, swipe, hover, or drag-and-drop. They’ve grown up doing it and have learned to just “play” until they figure things out. So, with that in mind, just how accessible and intuitive are these two coding platforms for kids? Let’s break it down into three areas and take a look.
Project Creation Board
The project creation board, or stage as it’s known, is where the magic happens once a kid enters Create mode. With a clean, bubbly look, minimal text, and colorful icons, the stage invites users to plunge in.
In regular Scratch, the stage is divided into three main regions that are fairly self-explanatory:
- Left side: The color-coded action blocks are here under three tabs: Code, Costume, and Sound.
- Middle: This area is basically blank and it’s obviously where the action blocks should be inserted.
- Right side: Users initially see the default “sprite” or character that is animated by the action blocks, but can edit him or create their own. Backdrop scenery can also be changed here.
Scratch, Jr. is similarly designed although there is less text overall on the creation board. Given the target audience that’s a good thing. Still, younger children won’t have any trouble understanding the meaning of the simple and bold graphic icons because they are like those found in other computer programs or apps.
In both levels of Scratch, it is apparent to kids and older users as well that the prominent blank area on the stage is the space that will hold their unique creation.
Using the Action Blocks
If the stage is where the magic happens, then the action blocks or icons are how the magic happens. The creators of Scratch and Scratch, Jr. have thought of everything: motion, sound, communication, and personalization.
Action blocks are divided into categories and each category offers a user certain types of control over his sprite’s actions. Both Scratch and Scratch, Jr. offer these basic areas:
- Motion: Animating the sprite
- Looks: Giving voice and appearance to the sprite
- Sound: Inserting sounds and adjusting their volume and length
- Control: Establishing when and how long an action will occur
- Triggering or Events: Choosing when and how the actions will start
Action blocks are intuitive to use. It’s easy to figure out what a block will do based on its graphic. For example, a “+” means add something. An image icon indicates display or background options. Arrows suggest motion in a particular direction.
Nearly every action block can also be customized to suit the user’s preference. Drop-down arrows reveal additional choices and small bubbles within a block can be clicked to edit their content. With that kind of control over the action, the sky’s the limit on what a kid can create.
Regular Scratch includes additional options such as Sensing, Operators, and Variables that give users further control over the project’s elements.
Running the Program
Here’s when the light bulb comes on for kids. Once they’ve put together a few action blocks, it’s time to run the program. Because, really, that’s what they’ve done - they’ve just created a computer program.
While kids may not completely grasp the complex ideas of coding yet, they will recognize that setting up the action blocks in this unique way gives life to their character. This character or characters will follow the commands of the blocks until the last block is reached.
In Scratch, the coding blocks are placed in the middle of the stage but located at the bottom in Scratch, Jr. The final creation shows up on the right side in Scratch and in the middle of the stage for Scratch, Jr. There, kids can watch their creation come to life.
Whether the animation starts by clicking on the green flag or pressing the space key, and lasts 10 seconds or 3 minutes, kids know that the blocks they snapped together are now showing up on the screen as a story or display, doing what the code tells them to do .
The bottom line is that Scratch and Scratch, Jr. are very accessible to kids who are interested in learning to code. Using the programs are fairly intuitive, particularly for those who aren’t afraid to just click on something and see what happens.
For kids, the key takeaway is seeing how choosing and customizing action blocks, characters, and backgrounds allows them to design or code a one-of-a-kind project.