Scratch vs. Python? What’s the difference between the two?

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In the wide world of coding, knowing where to start can be a challenge. So, if Scratch, Python, and all of the other coding languages for kids may as well be Greek to you, you’ve come to the right place! Let us demystify two of today’s most popular programming options for you. 

If you’re looking to spark a love of tech for your child, navigating the different options for starter languages is an important beginning step. But first things first, let’s take some of the pressure off: learning to code is a process, so there’s no need to worry about finding the perfect fit, project, or language right off the bat! 

It’s a journey, a really fun one that’s meant to be adjusted and tweaked along the way, and this post will help you ensure your student starts off on the right foot. 

Positive early experiences are very powerful when learning anything for the first time, and we’re here to help you make that possible for your learner. Some important factors to consider include your child’s age, interests, and goals. 

That may seem like a lot to sift through, but fear not: we’ve done most of that legwork! 

To help you ensure a great first coding experience for your child, our guide will frame learning Python and Scratch using each of these elements. We’ll walk through the key considerations and key points in a learner-centered way that avoids confusing jargon, the better to paint a picture for your child.  

There are no one size-fits all rules here, however, so don’t underestimate the power of your unparalleled expertise in determining what’s best for your learner. If you could use some basic background info before diving in, check out this guide to block-based coding (Scratch) and this intro to Python programming for kids

Scratch vs. Python

Let’s take a closer look at Python and Scratch as coding languages and learning opportunities! 

Complexity & appeal  

First things first: Python is a much more complex language than Scratch. While both are great for beginners (more on this later), Scratch is appropriate for younger students, and Python offers a compelling introduction to coding for secondary students.

Applications & project potential

Project-based learning is tremendously beneficial for students of all ages, so there’s lots of potential for both coding languages. The key? Talking with your child about their goals and interests. 

With Scratch, students can create amazing art and games, and they can enrich their learning with hardware. Kids will love learning to create a game sprite (character), and kinesthetic learners who engage with hands-on projects can connect Scratch with VEX robotics. Scratch also offers numerous interdisciplinary options as kids code their own story or song using simple drag-and-drop tools. 

Python, on the other hand, has more sophisticated and practically unlimited project potential. And since it’s used at the collegiate and professional level, the sky’s the limit to what kids can learn.

Perhaps your student loves video games or is intrigued by the recent developments in artificial intelligence technology. From coding arcade games to progressing to complex algorithms, machine learning, and cryptography, Python is rich subject matter just waiting to be explored. 

Students who are of middle-school age who can’t wait to explore Python might do well to start with a robotics project; Sphero offers excellent hardware to make the complex coding concepts a bit more concrete.

So, talk with your student about what their goals are and what they’re most excited to build, and you’ll set them up for success with Scratch or Python. 

Length of project 

On a related note, the amount of work that goes into seeing a concrete payoff varies greatly between Python and Scratch. 

Python can be more of a “slow burn.” If your student has an analytical mind and enjoys logical puzzles or seeing how a topic can evolve, they’ll love Python coding. For those who prefer more visual or hands-on learning experiences, consider starting with something simple or with a hardware add-on. 

With Scratch, the path to seeing a payoff is much faster! Plus, learning the language comes with plenty of bells and whistles to keep kids engaged and having fun throughout the process. 

Which should my child learn first? 

Our recommendation: if you have an elementary age student, Scratch is a great place to start, and it can prime their thinking skills to learn Python later on. 

If your student is of secondary age, Python is a great starter language depending on what their goals are. It’s also helpful to bear in mind that practice makes a programmer, and it can take patience to pursue more advanced projects.

Similarities between Scratch and Python

Both languages are great for beginners 

Lots of parents are asking if kids should learn Scratch before Python, and the truth is: it depends! 

Your student’s age will be the main determining factor here. Scratch is ideal for early middle school beginning coders and younger; Python works best for middle school beginners and older. 

Why? Scratch offers a highly engaging, colorful, cartoon introduction to coding, perfect for little ones. Kids will love interacting with fun characters and using drag-and-drop tools that make it easy to see the fruits of their labor quickly. 

Python, on the other hand, offers an intriguing look at how the pros make some of the most fascinating tech - think self-driving cars, social media platforms, etc.- tick. Connections to cool things like that, plus the possibility of an exciting career in programming down the road, can be a strong motivator for older students. 

Once hooked, kids will appreciate the relative simplicity of Python when compared to some of its peers. 

There is a wealth of online resources to support learning both languages

In a world of virtual learning, this is great news. Online coding classes in Scratch and Python create engaging learning experiences and, even more importantly, connect kids with expert mentors to guide them. 

Scratch offers a wide range of tutorials and educational resources that are free to access and easy to use. 

Python programmers can find excellent free materials on Udemy and Codecademy to get started, and as they advance, still more online forums and blogs can support their skill development. 

Scratch and Python encourage students to continue with tech

The best news of all: both Scratch and Python unlock the potential of tech and can inspire students to keep learning!

Once they get started, there are more great coding languages for kids to explore and limitless possibilities for what they can do. With encouragement and support, there’s no telling where one Scratch or Python class might lead. 

A photo of Virginia

Virginia started with iD Tech at the University of Denver in 2015 and has loved every minute since then! A former teacher by trade, she has a master's in education and loves working to embolden the next generation through STEM. Outside the office, you can usually find her reading a good book, struggling on a yoga mat, or exploring the Rocky Mountains.