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How to introduce your kids to programming the easy way this school holiday

This post should have come right at the start of the holidays, but better late than never. In fact, it’s given me time to try things out which means less theory.

Like most of you reading this, I have school going age relatives who spent most of the days on holidays playing PC games, mobile games, or wasting time on Instagram and Snapchat. We would ofcourse prefer they spent that time reading books, learning on Wikipedia or learning to code.

So when a mukwambo introduced me to Scratch and told me how his son is using it to create games and other such cools stuff, I had to know more. Scratch is essentially a web app (you can download it and run it offline if internet is a challenge for you) to help young people program all kinds of stuff by just drag and drop.

I introduced a nephew to it and he’s already built some cool things he’s proud of. This is the first time I have succeeded getting him to do something productive on a computer.

A colleague here at work I introduced to Scratch says his primary level son was so hooked he was now “spending too much time on Scratch” creating stuff.

What makes it so interesting is that it’s really easy to make the things on the screen do stuff – make a cat jump, run, speak etc – and while dragging and dropping the blocks, you learn about repeat until loops, about if then else conditions and other programming concepts.

Added to that, other than the skill to read, write and drag & drop stuff, Scratch doesn’t need any skill at all to start programming. This means anyone, kid or adult, can get started without someone having to hold their hand through. And if they get stuck, YouTube is their friend.

There are alternatives out there that use the same block drag & drop concept but I haven’t tried them yet so not sure which ones are as good or better. If you have please, please share in the comments.

Here’s a video on how Scratch works:

Scratch Overview from ScratchEd on Vimeo.

The special thing about Scratch, I think, is that it makes programming concepts feel natural. When kids eventually encounter if then else in a computer science class later in their studies, they are excited, not intimidated.

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