If school isn’t teaching your kid to code, this program will (for a fee)

If you want your child to have an early start on becoming the next Zuckerberg or Gates, it’s pretty clear that (for now, at least) you have to take matters into your own hands. According to estimates, less than 2 percent of students study computer programming, and it’s not even offered at 90 percent of U.S. schools.

To help boost those numbers, Mountain View, Calif.-based Tynker introduced its kid-focused learn-to-code program to schools earlier this year. On Tuesday, the company announced a new version of its software that kids can use at home.

Launched publicly in April, Tynker is a programming language inspired by Scratch, a visual programming language developed at MIT, as well as SNAP!, another programming language based on Scratch and created at Berkeley. Instead of making kids learn programming by stringing together words and numbers, it gives them a colorful, drag-and-drop platform to learn the concepts behind coding.

Through kid-friendly animations and creative projects, the browser-based program walks them through the basics and ultimately transitions them out of the visual programming language into traditional Javascript.

Tynker coding

Over the past several months, co-founder and CEO Krishna Vedati said the program has been used by 2,000 to 3,000 teachers across the country. He declined to share how often students are using the program but said the average session lasts for 30 to 35 minutes. He also wouldn’t disclose how many teachers were paying for the product, but said that, for the most part, private schools were paying for the premium version and public schools were not.

The home version, which Vedati said has been users’ No. 1 request, is very similar to the school product, but designed more for a self-paced learner.  Instead of just teaching students the skills they need to move on to the next level, the $50 program, which is for elementary and middle schoolers, is structured around a plot and includes more gamification elements.

“It’s more of an immersive course, with a storyline and characters,” Vedati said. “They have to acquire programming skills… to conquer the bad guy.”

glitch tynker

Through video tutorials, students learn new skills, which are regularly tested through quizzes and puzzles. Once they show that they’ve mastered one skill, they can progress to the next unit. If kids want to take a more free-style approach to learning, they can play around with DIY projects. And they can share them with friends and family.

Compared to other learn-to-program products available for kids, Tynker is more expensive. MIT’s Scratch and Hopscotch, a visual programming language optimized for mobile devices, are free. And apps like Kuato Studios’ Hakitzu, which teaches programming through gameplay, charge about $2.99 per download. Even companies that mostly target adults who want to code have started courting younger audiences: Earlier this year, for example, developer training startup Pluralsight rolled out a bunch of free coding classes for school-age kids. But, as opposed to most competitors, Tynker offers a structured, 16-week course, not just an environment for creating projects or playing games.

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