Is Your Preschooler Ready for Bitsbox?

Education Family GeekMom Technology
Copyright 2016 Claire Jennings
Copyright 2016 Claire Jennings

I am a big believer in our children learning to control all the devices that surround their world. So when Bitsbox gave me a sample box to review, I was eager to see if my four-year-old was ready. The monthly subscription box teaches kids, age six to twelve, to code through exciting coding cards and an online JavaScript coding environment.

Bitsbox is doing wonderful things, helping kids everywhere learn the basics of coding. Looking at it, I felt my little ballerina was ready, as a very early reader. My girl rarely chooses the easy path, and chose a long program to start with, even though I encouraged her to try something shorter; that was the program that looked good to her. Within the hour, she had written her first program. Tears of joy came to her eyes when she learned “this is what Mommy does for work”.

It turns out, my girl was ready. And your kids may be as well. Here is how to know. Based on my review, your kid needs to be able to:

  • read letters
  • know that letters form words

That is it.

A passing familiarity with a keyboard is helpful. But it is not needed. If your kid is starting to sound out words, that is helpful. Again, it is not needed. Here are some tips for working with very early readers:

  • Sit with you kid and work together at first.
  • Start at the beginning of the book in the box, and do the smaller program first.
  • If your kid wants to start with a card, order the cards by lines, and show your kid the easier ones first.
  • Use one or more pieces of paper to cover the letters, words, or lines your kid is not typing.
  • Point out where keys are on the keyboard but don’t type for your kid.
  • Let your kid make mistakes. Once they get a bug, help them troubleshoot why.
Alexandra Ostler

I had the pleasure of speaking with Alexandra Ostler, Director of Revenue at Bitsbox, about using their product with young children. Her thoughts mirror my experience and provide insight in to what Bitsbox has seen work:

GeekMom: What was the inspiration behind creating Bitsbox?

Alexandra: Bitsbox’s CEO, Scott Lininger, built the first Bitsbox prototype when working at Google in response to his 7 y.o. daughter asking: “What DO you do all day?!” After trying to explain computer science to Audrey, and falling flat, Scott realized a picture paints a thousand words. Er… a simplified Javascript API makes coding fun & engaging.

The Bitsbox team continues to draw inspiration and product direction from kids. Each toy, app, and extra goody in a Bitsbox is first vetted by the toughest audience in the world–our kids.

GeekMom: How can I tell if my child is ready to start Bitsbox?

Alexandra: Short answer: Early readers.

Long answer: Children who are showing interest in reading, writing, and typing are primed for Bitsbox! It’s a thrill to see the power of the typed word. In Bitsbox, a handful of characters can make a piece of pie explode, a robot dance, or a cookie fly!

GeekMom: What tips do you have to help children who have not started typing on a keyboard yet?

Alexandra: The first skill you’ll develop with your beginning typer will be tracking characters from book to keyboard.

Start with blocking off one character at a time in the book and letting your kiddo search the keyboard and type the character. As she gets more comfortable with one character, expand your blocking to one word at a time, then one line, and then… no blocking at all!

We’ve seen young kids progress through those steps at varying speeds. My son, Cash, started Bitsbox shortly after his fifth birthday. The first several months I stuck closely by him, blocking letters, then words, then lines. One year later he’s now confident typing and customizing apps all on his own.

GeekMom: How can I find the programs that will be easiest for my young child to complete before losing their attention span?

Alexandra: The apps in the app-tivity books are organized by line count. You’ll find the shortest apps on the first page. Shorter apps are great for younger kids with shorter attention spans–the reward for their hard work pays off within the time they’re able to focus.

GeekMom: How can I guide my beginning reader from following the script to exploring the code, if they do not know how to read the words yet?

Alexandra: Replace visual assets (stamps, fills) in the app with short words that your beginning reader will recognize like “cat,” “dog,” “red.” As you change those assets you can point them out in the code and help her recognize the preceding word.

That said, allowing your child to copy and run code, without customizing, is entirely reasonable to establish a foundation in coding intelligence. A) She’ll build confidence in coding, and B) Kids are really good at recognizing patterns. While she plays she’s setting herself up to want—and have an inkling as to how—to build her own apps.

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