Let us introduce you to Scratch Garden, a YouTube channel creating fun, educational videos for kids, educators, students. Their videos combine laughing and learning, giving young minds the brain break they need between homework while learning something new.
“I think I like Scratch Garden as much as my kids do,” says Steve Newberry, creator of Scratch Garden. Newberry has a history with making Flash animations and says he is good at explaining concepts from an artistic perspective. “When searching for topics to do something on, I literally downloaded the Ontario curriculum for Grade one,” says Newberry.
Also, all the music you hear on their channel is original, created by his family including his younger sister, who is a musician.
“As soon as you make something like a cartoon, the automatic assumption is that it’s for kids but we often like to think we are for all ages. The music, for example, can be enjoyed by adults too,” says Newberry.
We spoke to Newberry all about his animating process and the challenges and joys that come with creating educational coding videos for young minds.
Why did you decide to make a series on coding for kids?
I was into coding when I was much younger and if you check on YouTube there were no coding videos with songs for kids.
A lot of people talk about bringing coding education to schools. Knowing that, I came up with an idea to do a full album of songs on coding using my knowledge on the topic. It was a lot more difficult than the other topics we often cover. I have a skill in distilling information and coming up with funny rhymes but teaching an audience that may have no idea what a conditional statement or variable is was challenging. I mean, if a young mind is watching a video about sentences, they’ve probably already learned the alphabet, but with coding there might be no foundation at all.
The other obstacle is there are a lot of coding languages and different ways on how to think like a coder. [Making the videos] was definitely hard to get through. We saw that no one had been doing fun videos on this topic and thought we could take a Scratch Garden approach into this. We were able to secure funding from Shaw Rocket Fund to help finance the series. It’s at the point where all 10 videos are up on YouTube but it will take a while for teachers to see them and to get feedback.
Will you continue posting more videos about coding beyond your initial series?
I’m ‘coded out’ now so I want to go back to other subjects. As you get into higher grades, it gets a little more difficult to come up with educational songs. Thirty percent of our videos are just fun ones, like with no real ‘teaching moments’. Coding is serious no matter how you look at it. It’s about balance. I wouldn’t take it off the table but currently we are writing more fun songs.
What’s the animation process like?
It might start with doodles or sketches. In the beginning of the channel, I wanted to keep [the animations] as simple as possible so the characters are shape based. From there, our animations are built around a song which is ready before I start to animate.
Now that we have a lot of characters, I know which ones may be a good fit for the video. I used to animate for corporations so I’m very used to this very scripted storyboard and that’s how you have to do it in order to get the job done. But for Scratch Garden, I’m often thinking about new ideas as I’m animating, which takes more time but is more freeing and fun for me.
How has COVID impacted Scratch Garden?
It positively affected the channel in terms of viewership. For example, in April 2020 there was a jump in views, so it has been a bonus for discoverability.
However, it has been hard to get together in the same room with my collaborators. Instead, there has been more online back and forth but we still kept creating.
You also have a book, congrats! What was that process like?
I was approached by a small publisher. They had seen a video I did on punctuation and were wondering if I’d be interested in expanding that idea and those characters into a whole story. It was a completely different process for me, coming up with a story, and working with editors, etc. It’s a lot more work than I thought it would be, but it’s a cool thing to have checked off my bucket list. The book was a lot of work and I’m more focused on the YouTube channel, so at this point in my life, it would be tough to do another.
Janine Maral is culture writer and content strategist. She enjoys podcasts, Notion, and internet communities.