CODING IN SCRATCH – WHY IT IS THE BEST PROGRAMMING LANGUAGE FOR KIDS
Before we try explaining, let’s take a reminder on what programing languages really are, and why they are beneficial to children. Truth be told, there are thousands of ways a child’s mind could be harnessed to achieve max potentials. Of them all, introducing your children to coding has to be atop the list. That’s funny because until recently, coding was perceived only as an odd hobby for nerds or specialized professionals. Now, with steady surges in use of electronic systems, it just might be a crucial skill for the future. Coding (or programming) is a way, the only way, one gives instructions to electronic systems. We’re talking about the future here, so today’s children are the best bet catch on.
Of course, introducing children straight away to the complex programing languages isn’t quite practical. Chances are they’d simply be racking up program commands in their mind without really wanting to understand what they do. Let’s not even talk about trying new methods. Program developers, like those at MIT Media Lab who recognized this slight setback immediately, went to work and have come up with a solution. Scratch!
Scratch is an open-source visual programming language developed for children ages 8 – 16 years. It was developed by the Lifelong Kindergarten Group to help children grasp the concepts of programming; although we’d say it teaches a lot more. Unlike most “adult” program languages, it teaches without keeping children up all night fixing bugs from syntax errors. Don’t get jealous, they’re kids.
You read the first part right. It is a “visual” programming language. To put it in context, a Visual Programming Language (VPL) is one which enables users to manipulate characters graphically rather than textually. Scratch, therefore, is used to develop simple games in scratch, stories, and animations by dragging standard blocks of code from already-programmed scripts. These blocks of code such as move, rotate, and invert commands can then be numerically adjusted to develop the animation; the concepts of programming!
Simply said, (let’s forget definitions for a moment) Scratch eliminates robot tendencies associated with learning text program languages while retaining the concepts of programming – logic application and problem-solving. That explains why it is so popular. As at April 2020, usage stats from the program website showed a total of 52 million projects from 54 million users. It’s all over the world! In different countries; from users and educators; schools and colleges; so much so that it has prompted translation to 70+ languages. There’s a spot for everyone.
OVERVIEW OF THE SCRATCH ENVIRONMENT
The workspace for the programming IDE (Integrated Development Environment comprises nothing but a creative blend of colors and shapes which are essentially sure to grasp the attention of children. Once they are “grasped”, the rest is easy. The children (or any user really) is primarily concerned with manipulating all of the following:
- SPRITES – The cartoon figures upon which the animations are employed. Scratch comprises a sprite library with of such sprites in different costumes. It also lets kids display their artistic potentials by drawing new sprites.
- BACKGROUNDS – It wouldn’t make sense if all projects had the same background. It’d simply be too boring. Scratch responded to that by employing a background library comprising different themes. Kayla after playing with her friends Martha at the playground could easily relive those moments.
- CODE BLOCKS – The Scratch environment provides a list of codes for different actions on sprites. They are grouped in script categories like movements, looks, and sounds. All codes can then be dragged to the workspace in the desired order to manipulate the sprites.
- SOUNDS – While it is incorporated in the scripts, we think it is a feature worthy of mentioning again. That’s because sounds bring actions to life. Imagine dropping a stone in the water without hearing the splash sound, or jumping on a bed without hearing a thud – seems lifeless. Scratch employs many sound effects to ensure that kids enjoy the stories they create, and maybe have a few laughs while at it.
Competitions bring out the best in everyone, and the developers of Scratch look to push children to be the best they can.
In that regard, the Scratch platform incorporated several in-house contests including; Scratch Olympics, Scratch Cup, ScratchOff, Scratch Championship, Art Contests, and Coloring Contests; where Scratchers could compete for many prizes. These prizes all including love-its, art requests are the rewards for ingenuity and form basis for judging by the organizer.
As much as few Scratch competitions are in-house, a few times they hold on a much larger scale; worldwide actually. It may sound a bit overboard but we are talking about children development here! Scratch takes that very seriously. The large-scale exposure to the minds and capabilities of children all around the world in no small measure pushes children to do better. A few such regular competition names with that aim in mind include the Scratch Olympiad and the DIS-CODE International Scratch Jam.
BENEFITS OF SCRATCH CODING
We all know that having our kids learn programming ensures a future of great opportunities for them. Scratch introduces them to programming without the usual drags of a million possible syntax errors. But that is it’s most basic advantage. There are more things children stand to gain from coding in scratch.
- LEARNING TEAMWORK – Scratch not only presents an area for developing programs, but it also houses a community of millions of fellow kid programmers. That said, feedback on published projects enable children to work on weaknesses in their programs, or at least learn other methods for their application. That ultimately strengthen the skills for teamwork.
- BOOSTING CREATIVITY, IMAGINATION AND PROBLEM-SOLVING SKILLS – Life is full of problems and one has to be equipped to tackle them. While that is a pessimistic approach to living, it is also a realist’s approach. Like all program languages, scratch boosts creativity and ingenuity. Only, scratch probably boosts it more thanks to its graphic elements. The use of two of these traits -creativity and ingenuity- ensures that children come up with solutions to employ the animations in their minds.
- BOOSTING MATH SKILLS – It’s not just talking. Coding has proven to improve intelligence in children, and scratch is no different. Its no wonder schools have employed the language to build the minds of kindergartners and high schoolers. Scratch programmers are potentially the kind of kids who’d easily solve math problems that would have you running.
- MENTAL DEVELOPMENT – Amidst these advantages, it may seem redundant to say that scratch develops kids’ mental capacities. The ever-evolving world finds itself ever in need of people with unique skills, and scratch could open children to their doors of hidden potentials.