News & Analysis

ScratchJr is the new app teaching kindergarteners how to code

- October 2, 2014 2 MIN READ

If you find it scary that your average seven-year-old can take your credit card and max it out to to buy animals on Farmville, your worst nightmares are about to get worse. ScratchJr is the new app that teaches kids as young as five how to code and program.

The computer programming app which was developed by researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Tufts University in the U.S say that it’s so easy to use that even kids who have yet to grasp the concept of reading can design their own interactive games and stories on it.

How is this possible?

ScratchJr uses graphical programming blocks that can cause objects on the app such as colourful characters jump, talk or change in size. Pint sized programmers can then modify their creations further in a paint editor, add sounds or voices and insert their own photos.

The app’s co-developer Michel Resnick said in an Inc. article that “when many people think of computer programming, they think of something very sophisticated”.

“But we don’t think it has to be that way.”

Marina Umaschi Bers, who is also a co-developer added that research has shown that children start to form an opinion  on how good or bad they are in maths, science and technology by the fourth grade.

In the article, she said that most programs that introduce coding to kids at this point are already “kind of late to the party.”

The ambitious project was funded by a $US1.3 million grant from the National Science Foundation in the hopes of helping children to learn to think creatively whilst reasoning systematically.

The app was launched in July for the iPad but developers are now working on versions for the web and Android devices.

If creating the next generation of computer hackers and online criminals is a lingering thought in the back of your head right now, Bers alleviates this and says there’s probably more good to come out their app than bad.

She said in the article that “we don’t want necessarily every young child to become a computer scientist or to work as an engineer, but we want every young child to be exposed to these new ways of thinking that coding makes possible.”

Claire Caine who was one of the teachers that responded to the app approved and said “give it to them young enough, and they start doing it, and it just becomes like brushing teeth.”

“Nobody says they are not good at brushing teeth or they can’t brush their teeth.”

With all the focus on getting children and teens to learn code by large tech companies, good chance there will be plenty more tech entrepreneurs in the future. But sceptics have also pointed out that the reason why kids are being encouraged to code is because companies have a vested interest in recruiting them in the future.

ScratchJr is currently free to download on the app store and is being trialled in a number of American schools.