If you're just getting started with teaching your kids coding or learning it yourself, you may be interested in trying out Scratch. But what is it, and how do you use it?
Scratch is a free visual, drag-and-drop programming language tool designed by MIT that allows people to learn coding in a fun and visual way. As a tool geared toward children as young as eight years old, this is an excellent approach for introducing kids to the world of coding and programming.
To catch the interest of kids, you must make things enjoyable. Coding enhances problem-solving abilities, develops analytical thinking, and encourages creativity. While Scratch is the perfect program to get started with coding, using anything new can be overwhelming if you don't know what you're doing. Here's how you can get started coding with Scratch for Kids.
What is Scratch?
Scratch is a programming language and website designed and managed by the Lifelong Kindergarten group at the MIT Media Lab.
The website serves as an online community for children to develop and share interactive media such as games and animations with people all around the world. While Scratch was initially created for children aged 8 to 16, it is suitable for people of all ages who want to learn about programming.
As a programming language, Scratch encourages computational thinking, problem-solving, and creative learning using a simple drag-and-drop interface. It comes with a plethora of characters, sounds, and programming blocks that can be assembled in various ways to allow you to build and perform projects directly on your computer. It runs directly in the web browser, allowing users to build their own animated tales and games while learning about coding basics.
What is Scratch Jr?
Scratch is intended for people of all ages; however, smaller children may wish to try ScratchJr. ScratchJr is a collaboration between Tufts University's Dev Tech Research Group, the MIT Media Lab's Lifelong Kindergarten Group, and the Playful Invention Company to produce a simplified version of Scratch for ages 5 to 7.
ScratchJr brings Scratch's block programming approach to a tablet and simplifies it with simple icons and graphics. The interface is also even easier to use, keeping everything you need on one screen rather than jumping between pages.
How To Use Scratch for Kids
Scratch is an excellent way for kids to learn the basics of coding without getting caught up in mysterious commands and error messages. It gives you quick visual feedback, so you know what to expect from your commands before pushing the green flag and making your project come to life.
However, as with anything, it helps to know at least some of the basics before you get started. There are plenty of projects you can take a look at and get inspiration from in the Scratch community. So, instead of a project tutorial, here is a quick rundown of each component in Scratch and how you can use it to code with kids.
Start A Project in Scratch
Open your web browser and navigate to the Scratch website to begin. It doesn't matter if you're running Windows, OS, or Linux, but you need to be on a laptop or desktop computer.
To begin a project, select "Create" from the menu bar. This will open the Scratch workspace. You'll see a box on the right called the preview window (it usually starts off with an orange cat on a white background) and a box below it containing any sprites and backgrounds used. On the left, you will see a list of programming blocks, and the middle of the screen is a coding area where you will create your program by combining blocks into routines.
You can start creating a program with the sprite and background given, or pick from Scratch's options.
Change Sprites and Backgrounds
Sprites are characters that appear in Scratch programming. The programs you create operate on sprites, enabling you to move them, assign sounds to actions, and generate speech bubbles.
To change or add a sprite, click the blue cat symbol in the bottom right corner of the sprite window, then select the "Choose a Sprite" menu option. You may also remove a sprite by clicking the trash symbol in the upper right corner of the sprite image.
One project can have many sprites, with each one having its own scripts. Users can make sprites interact with each other depending on the scripts that are used, creating fun animations and games.
Backgrounds can also be changed to make your unique scene. To change your background, click the blue photograph icon on the bottom right of the screen and select the "Choose a Backdrop" menu option.
While sprites can't necessarily interact with the background, they add another creative element to your creation.
Add Coding Blocks
Scratch's most appealing feature is its simplicity, with an interface that uses scripts in the form of blocks. Once a sprite character is chosen, orders can be dragged from the block list area into the middle code area, allowing the sprite to carry out the commands.
The list on the left-hand side of the screen you will see shows colorful programming blocks. These blocks are split up into different categories that include:
- Motions (blue): These are movements that sprites can make, like rotations and positions on the screen.
- Looks (purple): This controls the visuals of the sprite, such as costume and size.
- Sound (pink): This allows you to assign audio files and effects to your sprite.
- Events (yellow): Events dictate when your sprite will start following its assigned commands, depending on which actions are taken.
- Control (light orange): This is how you will assign specific controls and loops that tell your sprite how often to repeat a command or when to stop.
- Sensing (light blue): These are the commands that tell your sprites how to interact with their surroundings.
- Operators (green): These are used to mathematical equations and sequences to your script.
- Variable (orange): These hold values and manipulate lists in your program.
- My blocks (hot pink): This section holds procedures for the selected sprite.
To create a program, just drag out the commands you would like to use and stack them together like Lego pieces. If you accidentally drag out the wrong code block, just click on it and press "Delete."
To start a program, you will click the green flag above the preview screen. For this reason, you will want to start your coding with the "When (Green Flag) Clicked" block that is found in the events category. From here, you can play around with the blocks, creating an animation of your own.
Learning to code is a good practice in and of itself. The repetitive experience of taking a concept and turning it into a full program is especially beneficial for children. Scratch is the ideal tool for this because it is a high-level programming language that makes it easy to complete tasks rapidly.
Hopefully, this quick guide gave you an idea of how to code with Scratch and all you can do with it. When it comes to learning with kids, the best method is to play. So just jump into a project with your kid and get started!