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Kindergarten Coders Can Program Before They Can Read

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A kindergarten class.

Researchers are studying the ability of kindergarten children to program computers with a graphics-based coding language called ScratchJr.

Credit: College Hills Church of Christ

Tufts University researchers are studying the ability of kindergarten-aged children to program computers using a graphics-based coding language called ScratchJr, which is based on the Scratch programming language.

Developers created the original Scratch program to teach eight-year-olds the basics of programming using graphical blocks instead of text. Targeting even younger children aged four to five years, ScratchJr works like Scratch but with easier commands.

ScratchJr teaches children the essential concept of sequencing code, and complexity grows as the student advances. By the third day, ScratchJr students learn to program tasks in parallel by making a snake move through a meadow with one string of commands, while a bird flies using a separate string that works simultaneously.

The benefit of early exposure to coding was highlighted earlier this year when Google engineer Neil Fraser polled more than 100 co-workers about when they first learned to code. Fraser then gave respondents a skills test and found that those who wrote their first code between the ages of eight and 11 were most likely to learn advanced coding skills.

However, the U.S. government does not consider computer science a core subject, and "most computer science classes won't start until grade 10 [ages 15 to 16], if you're lucky," Fraser notes.

From New Scientist
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