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The building blocks of coding: a comparison of early childhood coding toys

Jody Clarke-Midura (Department of Instructional Technology and Learning Sciences, Utah State University, Logan, Utah, USA)
Victor R. Lee (Graduate School of Education, Stanford University, Stanford, California, USA)
Jessica F. Shumway (School of Teacher Education and Leadership, Utah State University, Logan, Utah, USA)
Megan M. Hamilton (Department of Instructional Technology and Learning Sciences, Utah State University, Logan, Utah, USA)

Information and Learning Sciences

ISSN: 2398-5348

Publication date: 8 July 2019

Abstract

Purpose

This paper aims to be a think piece that promotes discussion around the design of coding toys for children. In particular, the authors examine three different toys that have some sort of block-based coding interface. The authors juxtapose three different design features and the demands they place on young children learning to code. To examine the toys, the authors apply a framework developed based on Gibson’s theory of affordances and Palmer’s external representations. The authors look specifically at the toys: interface design, intended play scenario and representational conventions for computational ideas.

Design/methodology/approach

As a research team, the authors have been playing with toys, observing their own children play with the toys and using them in kindergarten classrooms. In this paper, the authors reflect specifically on the design of the toys and the demands they place on children.

Findings

The authors make no claims about whether one toy/design approach is superior to another. However, the differences that the authors articulate should serve as a provocation for researchers and designers to be mindful about what demands and expectations they place on young children as they learn to code and use code to learn in any given system.

Research limitations/implications

As mentioned above, the authors want to start a discussion about design of these toys and how they shape children's experience with coding.

Originality/value

There is a push to get coding and computational thinking into K-12, but there is not enough research on what this looks like in early childhood. Further, while research is starting to emerge on block-based programming vs text-based for older children and adults, little research has been done on the representational form of code for young children. The authors hope to start a discussion on design of coding toys for children.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

This work was supported by a grant (#1842116) from the National Science Foundation. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation or Utah State University.

Citation

Clarke-Midura, J., Lee, V.R., Shumway, J.F. and Hamilton, M.M. (2019), "The building blocks of coding: a comparison of early childhood coding toys", Information and Learning Sciences, Vol. 120 No. 7/8, pp. 505-518. https://doi.org/10.1108/ILS-06-2019-0059

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited