ScratchJr allows children to learn to code in a fun, easy and intuitive way, turning programming from a boring and difficult task to something anyone can do.
Simple but fun programming
ScratchJr was developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and is based on the already popular Scratch programming language, which is aimed at children aged eight and upwards. This app has been specifically redesigned for children aged five to seven and tailored according to their cognitive, personal, social, and emotional development.
The funding for the ScratchJr iPad app came from a Kickstarter campaign and enough has now been raised for MIT to work on an Android app, which will be released later in 2014.
The idea is to teach coding to children early on and in a fun way so that they don't get the idea that it's too difficult, boring or onerous. ScratchJr wants to bring coding to the masses. MIT is also working on teaching materials so that schools can use ScratchJr in a structured way in the classroom. It's also designed to help children develop their problem-solving and learning skills.
ScratchJr is more simple than its older brother Scratch programming language, and that is entirely intentional because it is aimed at younger children. ScratchJr is intended to mimic the coding process; you put together blocks in a line to tell stories and make the characters do different things. They can say hello; move left, right, up and down; dance and various other commands. You can add as many characters as you like and change the color of these characters, as well as designing your own background or picking one of the presets.
If you're struggling for ideas or can't quite get it right, there are some examples already set up. And if you're looking for more precision, you can even bring up a grid that allows you to position objects.
Intuitive storytelling for digital natives
As the age group this app is aimed at is the so-called 'digital natives', children won't have any problems picking up the commands and working out the features in ScratchJr. There are instructions if you need them but these seem more suitable for the parents, as children are likely to get up and running pretty quickly!
The bright colors and the fun mix of animals, wizards and people in ScratchJr seem perfectly tailored for the age group. The commands are also easy to identify and building your story or game is intuitive. It's a nicely designed app that looks modern and is pretty slick without any obvious lag, bugs or crashes.
As much fun as Angry Birds
While no doubt many parents won't want to encourage their children to spend more time in front of the screen, surely ScratchJr has to be a good alternative to Angry Birds (it's certainly as much fun)? It works like a game but it teaches children skills that will be key to getting a good job in the future. It's learning, but in a really fun way.