Blogger Children and Technology Committee

Coding in Early Learning

As more schools add coding requirements in higher grades, offering coding opportunities for younger children can help give them a foundation for future learning. The need goes beyond success in middle or high school – it is also becoming important for career success.

Read more: Coding in Early Learning

According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children, early coding experiences help children build skills that are “valuable for [their] future success in our digital world.” Fortunately for children’s librarians who are uncomfortable with coding in general, the options available for pre-readers are accessible and easily adapted to library programming.

Coding Stories

Coding stories are one way to introduce early coding in library programs. The NAEYC article linked below offers step-by-step instructions to retell familiar stories with coding. First, make a grid. Then work together with children to map out a character’s movements through the story. This helps children learn computational thinking concepts like decomposition (breaking down a problem into small parts), pattern recognition (identifying patterns), and algorithm design (step-by-step solutions). Children break a common story into parts, find places where those parts repeat, like the Big Bad Wolf huffing and puffing, and putting the plot in the correct order. It is one way to make coding approachable to younger children.

Robots for Pre-Readers

Another way to offer coding opportunities to early learners is using robots that are designed for pre-readers. One example is KIBO. Originally designed in the interdisciplinary DevTech Research Group at the Lynch School of Education and Human Development at Boston College, KIBO is a good fit for children ages 4 – 7. It is a robot that is coded 100% screen-free using wooden blocks and a barcode reader built into the robot. Numerous resources are available on the Kinderlab Robotics website, including video tutorials to learn how to use KIBO and lesson plans that are adaptable to library programs. 

Picture of kibo, an orange car-style robot, with wooden coding blocks and several accessories like a wooden platform and a purple plastic piece to attach the platform to the robot.

KIBO kit from Kinderlab Robotics

Sphero indi is another robot with wheels that was designed specifically for early learners. Like KIBO, indi can be coded totally screen-free using colored mats that the robot reads with a color sensor. An easy to use app is also available for Apple and Android that can be used to “drive” indi cars and to change what indi does when it reads a given color. Sphero also offers many resources, including projects for after school and summer programs, guidebooks, challenge cards, and webinars. 

Picture of a blue case that resembles a small suitcase, a small blue car, and fanned out different colored cards.

Sphero indi Educational Robot Student Kit

Programming with robots like KIBO and indi can be as simple as downloading a lesson plan from the appropriate website and following it in a children’s program. My library has used them in challenges–sending messages with indi and throwing balls with KIBO. We have built mazes to send the robots through. And to circle back to the idea of adding coding to storytelling, we have used both KIBO and indi to tell stories. The photos below show a KIBO robot that acted out the part of Little Red Riding Hood in a storytelling program and indi telling a neighborhood story using a map created by children.

Robots in Action

We offer coding to multi-age homeschool and girl scout groups, in after-school programs at public elementary schools, in summer STEM at our library branches, and for pre-K and kindergarten library field trips. These programs are very popular with the children we serve. They are consistently well-attended and are requested if we go too long without scheduling them. Popularity aside, though, they are yet another way that we can help younger children learn skills they need to be successful in school and as adults.

Picture of two kibo, orange car-type robots and a row of wooden coding blocks. One of the kibo robots has a small white board attached to it with a face drawn on it.

KIBO as Red Riding Hood (photo credit: Karen Earp)

Picture of a young girl with braided hair sitting on a large piece of white paper that is taped to the floor.

Telling a story with indi and a map (photo credit: Karen Earp)


NAEYC: Creating Coding Stories and Games Coding stories and coding games are playful, hands-on ways for children to explore and experiment with early coding. They offer opportunities for interactions and collaborative learning. If coding is new to you, you will find that it builds on many early math and literacy concepts you are familiar with.

KinderLab Robotics Get ready to build, code, create, and explore using KIBO, the hands-on coding robot that transforms from a learning tool to an exciting and imaginative day of play.

Sphero: Get to Know indi, the robot for early learners that is driven by color, for ages 4+. indi inspires imaginative, play-based learning by empowering kids to design and build their own mazes while creating opportunities for students to learn the basics of coding, solve problems, and nurture computational thinking skills.

Karen Earp is a member of the ALSC Children and Technology Committee and is the youth services coordinator at Somerset (MD) Public Library. Before becoming a librarian, Karen had a 20+ year career in IT, the last 15 years as a Windows Systems Administrator.

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