Teach Kids Computational Thinking Without Screen Time!
Computational thinking-- the foundation of coding-- can be developed at a young age, but there are few resources to help parents or teachers (See New York Times article).
My organization, CodeSpeak Labs, has been providing in-person computer science instruction for kids PreK-12 in classrooms in NYC and CA. We’ve worked with thousands of students, and we’ve found that the earlier youth are introduced to the fundamental concepts and mindsets (in fun and age-appropriate ways), the easier it is for them to develop these skills.
I’m a mom of two (Maxwell is 3 and Alexander is 1.5). I’ve found stories to be one of the most powerful ways to engage my kids in big ideas-- from potty training to being kind to others, and now to coding-- so I started experimenting with different coding stories with my 3-year-old. He’s hooked and loves being my first test reader.
We’ve been introducing these stories into our classrooms, and the children have loved them and thrived with them. Now we want to make the stories available for children everywhere to enjoy and learn the basics of coding.
"We really enjoyed reading these stories together. They were fun and interactive." - Parent of 3 kids ages 3, 5, and 8 in Diamond Bar, CA
Fun Books with a 21st Century Twist
How to Turn Your Grown-Up into a Robot and Other Coding Stories is an old-fashioned picture book with a twist. It’s a physical book that engages the kid reader and encourages them to interact with the book by tapping and choosing from different options, using many of the tactics that make devices so entertaining.
One of the biggest challenges for parents who don’t know how to code themselves is figuring out how to help their children learn. CodeSpeak Books are educational for parents, too. The stories increase in complexity through our Step Into Coding system.
There are three types of coding stories:
- Level 1: Build the foundation (Ages 2-5): Learn the major concepts through stories. Sequences, Logic, and Events.
- Level 2: Learn functionality (Ages 3-6): Computational thinking with visual block code. Repeat Loops, Conditionals, and Functions.
Children learn the big concepts while getting used to how code looks visually, so that when they are older they see code as an old friend rather than the intimidating gobbledegook that adult learners see when looking at code for the first time.
CodeSpeak Books feature actual code that’s used on the leading online coding platforms, making an easy transition for those parents who eventually want to help their students plug the code into a computer. We've received permission to use the characters and code from Scratch (MIT), Code.org, and Bitsbox.
Our long-term plan is to create a year’s worth of curriculum for parents and teachers, with stories increasing in complexity. This Kickstarter campaign will help us publish the first book, which includes three stories, one at each level.
Level 1: How to Turn Your Grownup Into a Robot
Computer coding is all about telling the computer (or robot) what to do in a way that the computer will understand. Kids learn this concept while having fun getting their grown-up to make silly sounds and motions. We cleverly incorporate the concept of variables through funny emojis that take on different values throughout the story.
Parents willing to be silly required! Kids who love BJ Novak’s The Book with No Pictures will also love this book.
"OH MY GOODNESS! I can't even begin to tell you how much I am in love with this book. I have not seen my son so excited about a book in a long time. I love how it is so Interactive! We were giggling together within one page. The interactivity with the variables in the first story is genius." - Parent in Wichita, KS
Level 2: Let’s Play with the ScratchJr Kitten
The ScratchJr Kitten is an icon of the children’s coding world. Your child will code an awesome playdate for the ScratchJr Kitten, including painting and giving magic disappearing powers to a friendly dog.
The ScratchJr Kitten is a mischievous little one! This Kitten’s got a personality that appeals to kids who love Drew Daywalt’s The Day the Crayons Quit.
The characters from this story live on the coding app ScratchJr, where you have the option of showing your child how the code from the story works.
"My 6 year old was so excited to program at a level appropriate for him. We had a lot of fun as a family with these stories!" - Parent in Antelope, CA
Level 3: Do You Love Cookies?
This story has real code. Parents who don’t have CS backgrounds-- don’t worry. You don’t need to understand all the code to make the story fun.
Every turn of the page reveals a new surprise that the code produces. Kids who love Hervé Tullet's Press Here will love this book!
"We like how the stories present beginner concepts in easy-to-understand ways." - Curriculum Specialist for Computer Science in Lincoln, NE
CodeSpeak Books in the News
Late Night Parents: Audio Interview with founder Jen Chiou
The Story Exchange: 5 Crowdfunders to Watch – Inclusion, Empowerment and Education
Weekend Jaunts: CodeSpeak Books Introduces Picture Books to Teach Kids to Code
Who am I?
I’m Jen, the founder of CodeSpeak Labs, which provides instructors to run computer programming classes in PreK-12 schools. Prior to founding CodeSpeak Labs, I ran a nonprofit tech startup where we built the first nationwide SMS-based crisis hotline (Crisis Text Line). I’ve also supported the creation of more than a dozen teacher recruiting organizations around the world (Teach For All), built online tools for a social good media company (GOOD Magazine), and consulted for nonprofits (Bridgespan). I graduated from Stanford, where I was highly envious of my peers who came to college already knowing how to code.
Most importantly, I’m mom to Maxwell and Alexander, who I hope will get to enjoy these books one day soon.
Special thanks to... Scott Lininger, Aidan Chopra and Anastasia Miliano from Bitsbox, Lisa O'Brien and Kaitlyn Leidl from ScratchJr, and Hadi Partovi and Alice Steinglass from Code.org.
ScratchJr is a collaboration between the DevTech Research Group at Tufts University, the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab, and the Playful Invention Company. See http://scratchjr.org.
Permission for use of Code.org characters, names and likenesses is provided by Code.org, a non-profit dedicated to giving every student at every school the opportunity to learn computer science. See www.code.org.
And thanks to Linda Liukas of Hello Ruby and Dan Shapiro of Robot Turtles for your advice! Your projects are an inspiration.
CodeSpeak Labs is proud to be the Computer Science provider of the Manhattan Region, Catholic Schools in the Archdiocese of New York. If you're interested in more student and educator perspectives on why coding is important and fun for kids, check out this video we made with them.
Risks and challenges
We've completed all of the content for the stories, so the bulk of the work is done!
We've identified designers to do the final illustrations and layout for the final version. We're planning on doing our printing and shipping through a company that specializes in book printing. There's a risk that either our designer or printer are delayed, but we've built in some additional buffer time on top of their estimates.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (30 days)