With the world becoming ever more integrated with technology, there has never been a better time to get kids involved in coding. Not only will it help prepare them for future job markets, but can give them a sense of mastery and control over the tech that they encounter.
Aimed at giving K-12 kids an introduction to computer science, Scratch and Tynker are two very popular online platforms that teach kids to code.
We decided to compare both programs, taking a deeper dive to help parents decide which is a better option for their kids.
What is Scratch
A free programming language developed at the MIT Media Lab designed primarily to help kids 8-16 learn to code, Scratch uses a system of visual blocks to represent code. These blocks can be stacked together in different sequences to create different programming routines.
Driven by a passionate online community of developers who design much of the content, Scratch is maintained and moderated by a non-profit, the Scratch Foundation.
What is Tynker
Tynker is a paid online educational coding platform specifically designed for kids 5 and up.
The company offers a variety of courses in coding, taking kids from absolute beginner to coding with popular programming languages.
What (if anything) do Scratch and Tynker have in common?
To begin with, let’s examine some of the areas in which Tynker and Scratch are broadly similar.
Both Tynker and Scratch let kids explore coding through the use of visual, block-based programming.
Scratch is itself a block-based coding language, while Tynker has its own visual block coding language, as well as an assortment of text-based coding languages.
Benefits of Block Coding for Kids
Block coding is a fantastic way of teaching younger kids to code without them having to worry about proper spelling, typing or even really the syntax of a text based programming language.
Instead, kids can focus on developing familiarity with the logic behind the code, as well as introducing them to computational/sequential thinking and some core concepts of computer science, such as sequences, loops, parallelisms, events, conditionals, operators, data management and more.
Project based learning
Both Tynker and Scratch use a project based approach to teaching kids to code.
Rather than take a traditional lecture-exercise approach, students develop knowledge and skill by working towards completing a project or challenge.
This active exploration and goal-oriented learning is thought to create more engaging, meaningful and deeper learning outcomes for kids, going beyond coding syntax and teaching computational thinking and logic in the context of its application.
Both Tynker and Scratch have strong, safe online communities of users, with whom kids can share their games, projects and creations and receive constructive feedback and learning.
Hour of Code Participants
Both Scratch and Tynker are participants in the Hour of Code program developed by Computer Science Education Week and Code.org and designed to increase awareness and participation in computer science.
Both platforms let kids participate in short, hour-long activities based in coding and computer science that have been specifically created for this program.
Mobile responsive and multi device compatible
Both Tynker and Scratch can now be used on tablets, phones and mobile devices, so kids can take their learning anywhere.
This makes them both great options for families with kids who often have to share devices and swap between them, letting kids shift around without losing their work or progress.
Scratch Vs Tynker: Head to Head
Now that we’ve briefly touched upon their similarities, we can take a look at how Scratch and Tynker differ as educational coding platforms.
As we discussed when looking at their similarities, both Scratch and Tynker offer block based coding for kids.
Scratch is uniquely visual block coding, and it does so well (as it should, having been developed for kids by MIT). There are a variety of tutorials that teach kids to code various projects, these are quite fun and educational, and we think should keep kids interested for some time as they learn increasingly advanced concepts in computer science.
Tynker has a strong curriculum in block coding as well, and also uses it to teach kids to code through some very cool projects, with some even using cutting edge technology such as Augmented Reality and robotics.
They even have their own dedicated Minecraft lessons, helping kids learn Java on a private server while modding the extremely popular game
This gives Tynker the distinct advantage of having a coding curriculum that is far deeper and more real-world applicable, and gives kids who begin to enjoy coding somewhere to go with it, as text based coding is the natural next step in the process
By offering kids both block based and text based coding instruction, as opposed to just block based coding, Tynker simply offers more extensive and comprehensive coding instruction for kids than Scratch.
Real World Applicability
Block coding can be an invaluable way of getting kids to learn the fundamentals of computer science and coding.
Contrary to popular belief, it is “real” programming despite its apparent ease of use. In fact, with a little clever thinking, there is little that can’t be represented at least to some degree with visual programming.
This means that kids can produce some pretty sophisticated things and they do learn “real world” computer science knowledge such as loops, conditionals, variables, data sets, sensing, cloud variables and more.
However, at the end of the day, kids who are interested in coding will eventually have to learn the nitty gritty of coding.
Because Scratch is only a visual coding language it is at a disadvantage in providing students with an easy way to graduate to those next steps. While they do learn the fundamental concepts behind computer science, which is great, kids who learn to code using Scratch will have to go elsewhere and learn text-based languages.
While block based programming is a useful introduction to coding concepts, eventually kids will have to learn text based coding if they want to advance and develop real world applicable coding skills. By providing instruction in both block and text based coding, Tynker comes out ahead.
Teaching and Ease of Use
Both Scratch and Tynker are fairly easy to use and navigate.
Scratch is pretty straightforward, with a click of a button kids access tutorials from the site and then try their hand on creating similar projects.
An open community, there are a library of online tutorials, usually containing audio or visual instructions and on screen graphics. Members of the Scratch community (on Youtube in particular) often offer extra or custom tutorials on all kinds of topics if you go looking for it.
That said, as an open community, the quality obviously varies between content creators.
Tynker is also quite easy to use for kids. From the dashboard, the curriculum is divided up into several tabs, each of which represents a type of project they can try, such as Game Design, puzzles, ioT and robotics, Multiplayer Games, and Tutorials.
These projects are then further subdivided into difficulty levels (easy, intermediate and advanced) so that kids can work progressively according to skill level.
Compared to the narrative video tutorials of Scratch, Tynker’s Instructions are built into each project and go through it in a more step by step manner, which we think is better for beginners as it’s less overwhelming and it is better at preventing them from getting lost or stuck.
For kids who learn better in a one on one setting, Tynker also offers personalized tutoring.
Interestingly, Tynker also has a community-led project and tutorial system, where kids can learn new methods to implement new projects and games from other users although helpfully it is monitored for safety.
These community projects are accessible from the site, so there’s no need or reason for kids to hunt around the internet to find more content.
While both Scratch and Tynker are straightforward and easy for kids to use, Tynker is better organized and more user-friendly overall.
With more guided, step by step instruction and more instructional methods (in app and community projects, one on one tutoring), it also offers a superior learning experience for beginners as well.
Engagement and Fun
All the coding instruction and applicability in the world doesn’t mean anything if kids don’t actually want to learn to use the program. As with any educational platform, coding platforms have to engage kids and show them that coding can be fun, as well.
With Scratch kids can choose their own learning path and projects, choosing between creating their own games, puzzles, stories, music, art and more.
Created by the Scratch community, some of these are pretty fun and cool. From platformers to adventure games to music videos, there’s a lot for kids to do and a large amount of variety (although the quality is sometimes hit or miss).
The community has even created tutorials you can find to get scratch working with Lego mindstorms, wedo, arduino and more, although you may have to look for them online.
Tynker, on the other hand, has a vast number of interesting projects that are designed in house by its team and are, from the get go, a little bit more high quality and engaging for kids.
From creating multiplayer games, to working on their Minecraft to learning to pilot their own drone and program a robot, with Tynker kids really do get up to some really cool and technologically-advanced projects right from the program.
Making things more interesting for kids, Tynker has also also partnered with some popular brands so that young kids can learn alongside some of their favorite toys and characters, such as Barbie, Monster High, Hot Wheels and so on.
Tynker has also created a dedicated Minecraft section, where kids who are into the game can learn to Mod, create texture packs, start their own servers and generally design and customize their own Minecraft levels.
While both Tynker and Scratch have a lot of content that will interest kids, we think Tynker goes the extra mile in getting kids excited about coding, offering more content that integrates cutting edge tech and works with brands and other media that kids love.
While it is free to try, Tynker is a subscription platform that can start at around $20 per month.
Scratch, on the other hand, is free.
Now, it should be said that sometimes you do get what you pay for and Tynker does offer quite a lot of value for the money in many cases offering more features than Scratch. For instance:
- Tynker lets kids learn different text-based programming languages in addition to block based coding
- It weaves in a greater variety of interesting projects for kids to work on (such as augmented reality, drones, robotics and more)
- It partners with different brands and media partners that really get kids excited (Hotwheels, barbie), as well as having an integrated Minecraft course
- Tynker offers a more user-friendly and sophisticated interface, with graphics that seem a bit more modern and high quality
- Offers access to a private Minecraft server
But, with all that said, if you’re looking purely at price, Scratch is free and, well, you can’t really beat that.
While Tynker has a lot of features that make it a more comprehensive and high quality coding platform, Scratch is a free and open program and so when it comes down to price, Scratch comes out ahead.
|Cost||Free Trial but subscription based model||Free|
|Device Support||iOS/Android Phones & Tablets, web browser||iOS/Android Phones & Tablets, Web browser|
|Block / Visual Coding||✔||✔|
|Text Based Coding||✔||❌|
|Project Based Learning Model||✔||✔|
|Categories of Projects||GamesPuzzlesMultiplayer GamesRobotics & IoTMinecraft||AnimationsPuzzlesArt MusicStories|
|Online Community of Users||✔||✔|
|Method of Teaching||In-app tutorial and real-time step-by-step instructions||Tutorials, cards|
|Integrations with other media and brands||MinecraftHotwheelsBarbyMonster HighParrot DronesMicro:bitLego WeDo||Lego WeDoLego MindstormArduinoFinchMore, depending on community development|
Overall Winner: Tynker
If you’re looking for a free coding platform that can get kids interested in learning coding without having to worry about syntax or other finicky coding stumbling blocks, Scratch is a well-regarded and respected option with plenty of fun projects and a dynamic online community.
However, if you’re willing to subscribe to a paid service Tynker does all that Scratch does, and more.
It has a similar visual programming language, an easier to use learning interface, better quality graphics, more interesting projects right off the bat (with drone and robotics integrations), and it has its own Minecraft curriculum.
Perhaps most importantly for coding, Tynker teaches text based programming as well as block based coding. This means that with Tynker kids can start out learning the fundamental concepts of computer science and then take the next step and begin learning popular, real world applicable languages.
Overall, then, we would recommend Tynker over Scratch to parents looking to teach their kids to code.
About the Author
David Belenky is a freelance writer, former science and math tutor and a tech enthusiast. When he’s not writing about educational tech, he likes to chill out with his family and dog at home.