Scratch (Web, Free): An MIT project specifically designed for kids ages 8 to 16, Scratch has been used by educators and parents around the world to help kids develop animations, interactive stories, and games through drag-and-drop code blocks. It was the first programming tool I introduced my daughter to, when I was taking a programming course a few years ago. I remember saying, “Hey, Elise, isn’t this neat? By changing this block I can make this dog meow like a cat.” She was hooked ever since.

Scratch remains our favorite programming tool, mainly because it offers so much control. It’s like Hopscotch, above, but more robust, and like App Inventor, below, but more user-friendly. In Scratch, there’s a huge gallery of objects you can use or customize. (Don’t underestimate the importance for a kid of coloring a character just so.) And with the vast array of methods available, you can make them do just about anything. Elise wanted to make a game called “Spider Run” (like Temple Run, but with a mechanical spider chasing you and spikes in the ground that slow you down), and the only tool we’ve discussed so far that could really pull this off is Scratch. Although they can’t be turned into bonefide mobile apps, your kids’ creations can be saved and shared on the site.

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