Scratch: Programming for kids

Filed under: Activities: Babies, Development/Milestones: Babies, Gadgets

In my day, there was BASIC -- the Beginner's All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code, a purportedly easy-to-learn, general purpose programming language. When microcomputers started to become available, it was often included as a way to let new owners -- and their kids -- do something with the computer. Then there was LOGO with its "turtle graphics". Designed for kids, it was meant to teach the basics of programming and was heavily used in schools, thanks in large part to the version distributed by Apple Computer.

While both of those languages are still in use, there's a new kid on the block in the educational programming world. It's called Scratch and was designed at the MIT's Media Lab. One of it's developers, Professor Mitchel Resnick, was also responsible for the Lego Mindstorms robotics toolkit. Speaking of Legos, this new language works much like building with the little bricks. "Kids make programs by snapping blocks together," said Professor Resnick, whose position is in part supported by the toy company.

Each block contains a single command such as "move" or "change colour" which can then be stacked together to create the program. Blocks can only be stacked in ways that make sense, programmatically. Kids "don't have to worry about the obscure punctuation and syntax common in most programming languages," according to Resnick.

Scratch is available for free for Mac OS X and Windows and a Linux version is coming soon. Kids can also share their work on the Scratch website. This looks like a fun introduction to programming, especially in today's graphics-rich world.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.