I’ve heard that learning a new language is easiest when you’re young. A young brain is primed to process language. I don’t think it’s a stretch to include the language of computer science. After all, computer science is a communicative language in similar ways as English, Japanese, or German. Marina Umaschi Bers and Mitchel Resnick agree and they’re extending educational support with a new book, The Official ScratchJr Book.
The Official ScratchJr Book is a companion guide to ScratchJr, a programming app aimed at ages five to seven. ScratchJr is patterned after Scratch, a popular programming language used by STEM educators worldwide. ScratchJr, however, is developed specifically for younger children to introduce them to computer science. It focuses learning through creative expression. Children develop characters and stories using coding. Authors Umaschi Bers and Resnick wrote The Official ScratchJr Book to help parents, educators, and children learn with fun, step-by-step projects.
The book is organized into four chapters: Getting Started, Animations, Stories, and Games. Chapter 1 – Getting Started introduces the app by teaching how to create a new project and add aspects like characters and titles. Chapter two though four are subdivided into activities that build learning and culminate in a final project. Each activity is prefaced with what the child will learn and presents the activity in a step-by-step format. The format is very easy to follow and guides the child without solving the entire problem for them. Hints are provided to reduce potential frustration and keep motivation high.
There’s also a “challenge” that offers a slightly tougher problem to solve once the primary activity is complete. Finally, each activity is tied to literacy and math skills. This is where connections are made to critical thinking skills–skills necessary in and outside of coding. In the example below, children are encouraged to tell a story that happened to them. They learn about creating a beginning, middle, and end with proper sequencing.
I think the format is great and appeals to the target age range. But the real test must come from a tester much younger than me. I decided my eight-year-old would be an ideal candidate. So, I handed him the book and an iPad. My instructions were simple: get familiar with ScratchJr, pick an activity, then get to coding! After an hour or so, he came back with a grin. He had a great time! He completed a handful of the activities and had a cool project that he was quite proud of. He really liked doing the project on a tablet and had no trouble following along with the book. I’d say it was a successful test and a positive review.
Now, in full disclosure, my eight-year-old has some previous coding experience with Scratch. Even so, I think this was still an honest evaluation. Being patterned after Scratch, ScratchJr is based on a solid coding platform. The Official ScratchJr Book is a great guide for teaching our youngest minds the language of computer science.
You can find the book on the No Starch Press website or on Amazon. You can learn more about ScratchJr from the website. The app is available for free in the App Store for iOS and in the Google Play Store for Android.
Disclaimer: No Starch Press provided a review copy of the book for this review.