Since MIT’s Lifelong Kindergarten group released Scratch in 2007, kids ages 8 to 13 have built more than 2.2 million animations, games, music, videos and stories using the kid-friendly programming language.
Scratch allows kids to snap together graphical blocks of instructions, like Lego bricks, to control sprites—the movable objects that perform actions. Sprites can dance, sing, run and talk.
Now, with a grant from the National Science Foundation, Lifelong Kindergarten is collaborating with Tufts University’s DevTech Research Group to make Scratch Jr, a new version aimed at kids in preschool to second grade. The expected launch date is summer 2012.
The new project raises questions about childhood development and digital learning, and just how early kids should be introduced to computers.
Mitch Resnick, director of the Lifelong Kindergarten group, spearheaded the creation of Scratch. Having worked with a network of afterschool programs using digital media, Resnick was struck by the lack of software that enabled kids to go beyond playing with other people’s media. There was nothing that encouraged them to make their own interactive stories and games.
“What’s most important to me is that young children start to develop a relationship with the computer where they feel they’re in control,” Resnick said. “We don’t want kids to see the computer as something where they just browse and click. We want them to see digital technologies as something they can use to express themselves.”
There’s been a lot of buzz in the last few years about what it means to be literate in the 21st century. To Resnick, teaching kids to program was like teaching children of another generation how to write.
“At one point, there was a growing realization that people needed to learn how to write as well as read,” Resnick said. “They needed to be able to express themselves as well as understand how other people expressed themselves. Now it’s the same with new media. It’s not enough to be able to interact with new technologies; you have to be able to create with new technologies.” Continue reading