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Programming Fun for Kids and Kids At Heart

The best children's software I've ever seen isn't something you can buy at the store, rather you can download it, and all the instructions, for free from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT.) The program is called Scratch and allows children (and adults!) to build graphical programs using puzzle piece-like building blocks labeled in plain English (or your choice of 17 other languages.) Scratch is programming with instant gratification and almost no frustration. If the blocks fit together, you will have a running program – of course, like any program it may or may not do what you want, but it will do something. Scratch is appropriate for any child who can read simple words, but it has enough depth for older children and even adults.

The basic item in Scratch is something called a sprite. The default sprite is a cartoon cat, and most of the included sprites are people or animals. But a sprite can be any type of object. A number of sprites are included by default and you can add existing images to use as sprites or draw your own. Sprites can move, draw, interact with one another and make sounds. Using Scratch you can easily build games, create art and animations, and create all sorts of other professional looking programs.

Scratch is easy to install and use. It has excellent documentation, but a child can also just figure out what to do by experimenting. The Getting Started Guide is something that all but the earliest readers can use on their own. My favorite piece of documentation are the Scratch Cards. One side of the cards shows something you can do, like animate something or keep score and the other side shows how to do it. There is also a Reference Guide that shows the full scope of what Scratch can do. Scratch programs can be saved on your computer, sent to others who use Scratch or uploaded to the web.

And best of all, while playing with Scratch, kids are learning real programming techniques!

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