Tag Archives: early childhood

Helping Others Hack Learning (and Coding)

Last week (#TeachTheWeb week 4), I had an opportunity to build a new Thimble project outlining my goals for teaching coding in kindergarten. Some of you might be surprised to hear kindergarten at the end of that sentence. I’ve heard some people say it’s way too young for kids to have to learn something like coding and I’ve heard others say that there’s no way such young children can grasp the concepts.

Code in K

My response is that, like everything else in early childhood, the key comes back to developmentally appropriate practice, which involves respecting the child’s interests and curiosities as well as her or his individual abilities and limits. Luckily, more and more resources are being developed that are developmentally appropriate for young children. For many years, Scratch has been a go-to resource for educators working with young children who wanted to be makers and creators of technology (and art, stories, music, and more!). Unfortunately, Scratch is specifically built for children age eight an older, although much younger students have used it (check out these examples).

While Scratch Jr. is in the works, other developers have been working hard to create games and tools to scaffold children’s learning of computer programming logic and problem solving, the true foundation of coding (see the resources embedded here). The DevTech group is even working on a coding language that can be constructed with physical, wooden blocks and read by a camera. Once students are exposed to these (potentially literal) building blocks, they can begin to work off of that foundation and create their own programs and games.

Tangible Coding Blocks using CHER-P.
Image credit: DevTech TangibleK

I built my Thimble project to help raise awareness about the fact that resources do currently exist for young children to learn the logic of programming and the basics concepts (e.g., what is a function, how to make an object/sprite move). I also wanted to share the tools I’ve found to support this learning so that others could use them as well and my hope was to then connect with other people who are doing similar work.

Over the summer, I plan to spend more time creating plans, finding resources, and talking with others interested in introducing coding to young children. Being part of Teach the Web has also inspired me to try and create more Thimble resources and maybe even an entire Hackable Kit that others can build off of and remix to work with different ages and groups. I realized that if I want my students (and colleagues) to be creating and remixing the web, I need to be modeling that work by constantly interacting and exploring hacker tools, coding the web myself, and sharing my work openly with a larger community. 

How Bitty Baby Began my Focus on Early Childhood Learning

After reading Gears of My Childhood by Seymour Papert for the MIT Learning Creative Learning MOOC I’m participating in, I started think reflect on: What object from my childhood interested and influenced me?

"Duckie" - My favorite childhood stuffed animal

Me and “Duckie” – my favorite childhood stuffed animal

As I considered this question, my first thought was that I wished I had access to all of the pictures that were taken during my childhood so I could literally see them to recall my memories. I pulled out a few that I had and as I thought some more, I considered my favorite stuffed animal, which traveled with me everywhere and is in probably almost every photo of me as a child. Ultimately, I decided that while well-loved, my stuffed animal wasn’t really an object that pushed me to think differently. I continued to reflect on the question and I realized that one of the most influential objects from my childhood was probably my American Girl Bitty Baby doll.

That might sound like a pretty generic choice but thinking back, I think my interest in the doll was an indicator of my current passions and an interests in early childhood learning that continues to exist today. I don’t remember exactly when I first received the doll, or Caitlin, as I named her, but I think it was probably around my 6th birthday. For the next few years, I spent hours and hours playing with her, dressing her in different outfits, having her interact with her accessories and playing out different scenarios of early childhood play. As I grew older, I became frustrated that there weren’t more accessories and began designing my own furniture and toys (I even submitted my ideas to American Girl!). I’m not sure if they were ever received but I felt better knowing I was doing something that would hopefully contribute to other children’s play by letting the company know about things I felt were missing.

Caitlin in a crib I constructed for her, with her accesseries underneath

Caitlin in a crib I constructed for her, with her accessories underneath

Even as I grew older and other toys became more popular with my friends, I still held on to Bitty Baby as one of my favorite childhood objects. I was completely intrigued with the early childhood stage in a person’s life, a period where so much care taking is necessary but yet there is also so much play and exploration. I remember vividly reading to my doll the board books that came with each new set and testing out each of the related toys (the beach and garden sets were some of my favorites) and considering whether they were good and would engage my doll.

Although Bitty Baby has now been put away in a box to save for my own children one day, I am still essentially doing very similar work. I am constantly thinking about how young children learn and what toys (learning tools) would be best suited for different areas of classroom study or learning goals. Of course today, many of the tools I am examining involve technology (e.g., a Toca Boca app or a Voicethread presentation) which were certainly not part of the American Girl line when I was little. But like Papert, I think the same three factors: having a feeling of love towards my doll, not being told to learn about or play with her, and being young when I was first introduced to it, all affected my interest in early childhood learning. I’m intrigued to think more about the value of love and relationships with an object like a doll or gears. I want to consider how these relationships can affect a child’s learning or interest in a subject and how vital it is to expose children to a variety of objects at a young age (including ones that might seem beyond their understanding).