MIT Media Labs has released Scratch, a new programming language designed to make it easy for children to create stories, games, music and animation for the web.

Scratch lets children build their interactive creations using a graphic-based coding language, assembling programming 'blocks' to develop the mini-applications.

The release of the Mac and Windows-compatible software removes the need for any coding skills, and should help boost online learning experiences, MIT Media Labs says.

"Until now, only expert programmers could make interactive creations for the Web. Scratch opens the gates for everyone," said Mitchel Resnick, professor of learning research at the MIT Media Lab and head of the Scratch development team.

Resnick's Lifelong Kindergarten research group previously developed the 'programmable bricks' that inspired the award-winning Lego Mindstorms robotics kits. Just as these kits allow kids to control Lego creations in the physical world, Scratch allows them to control media-rich creations on the web.

"As kids work on Scratch projects, they learn to think creatively and solve problems systematically – skills that are critical to success in the 21st century," said Resnick.

Designed for ages eight and up, Scratch is available via free download from the Scratch website (though the website is unavailable at time of writing).

MIT Media Lab is working with other companies and groups, including Intel, Microsoft, Samsung, BT, Lego, Motorola and One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) - to create other versions and applications of Scratch, including versions for mobile phones.

Scratch was developed by the Lifelong Kindergarten research group in collaboration with UCLA educational researchers, with financial support from the National Science Foundation and the Intel Foundation.