Bitsbox: The Start-Up That Teaches Kids To Code
They say the best and most effective time to learn a language is when you are a child and your brain is still developing. With society continuing to value bilingual or multilingual people in academia and the workforce, the pressure to teach kids new languages is building as well. One language in particular is growing at a fast rate, especially in todays digital age—coding. As smartphones, computers and tablets become more advanced the need for computer programmers and coders grows too. So how do you get your kids involved in learning this digital language, especially if computers and coding are so far removed from your expertise or their school?
This was the problem Scott Lininger encountered when his seven-year old daughter wanted to learn more about what her dad did for work. Scott searched for programs that teach children computer programming and found only a few products that taught visual programming but not the actual coding. That’s when he decided to build a program that would teach young children how to code in a manner similar to how he learned—by example and on his own. Lininger then approached colleague Aidan Chopra about creating the product with him and the two of them broke off from SktechUp and began designing Bitsbox. Soon they designed their product but realized they had thought less about the business aspect of it. Both Scott and Aidan were incredibly experience in building products and designing them but had far less experience in building an actual business. This is where start-up accelerator Boomtown stepped in. Boomtown provided Scott and Aidan with knowledgeable mentors to help with the business side of Bitsbox, such as marketing, sales, target market audience etc. With Boomtown’s mentors pushing Aidan and Scott to think about building the actual business of Bitsbox, they were able to collectively design the product and more importantly, turn that product into a business and soon Bitsbox was born.
Bitsbox is a website and monthly subscription box where kids can learn how to code and computer program all on their own! How does this work? In the most basic sense, Bitsbox provides kids with numerous apps that they can use and play with, provided they copy the correct coded text into their tablet editor. Once the code is properly entered, the apps will run and the kids will be able to play with them on most mobile devices.
From their own personal experience and seeing how other existing programmers have learned, Scott and Aidan found learning to code is difficult if you don’t have a ton of examples. Bitsbox provides these examples with the code used to run the apps. Like learning a language, once you learn the basic alphabet, then you learn to read, then to write. Eventually you progress from there to better understand the language in context, how it works and how it can be manipulated. The same goes for programming with Bitsbox. Once kids learn one game perfectly and understand the programming behind it, Bitsbox encourages them to change and customize the program; for example, if the app built a game where a spaceship collects aliens, how can they change it so that the game then becomes a farmer collecting pigs? Inputting new text for the code can change this function of the game on the app. Through this trial and error method kids can customize the programs they have built and then eventually build an entirely new program with the skills they have learned.
In addition to learning how to code and improving typing skills, Bitsbox offers many other intellectual benefits as well. All computer programming uses basic arithmetic and building these programs offer a math way to solve a real problem, making the math they learn in school much more tangible and relatable to their lives. Communication and literacy skills can also be sharpened and improved through Bitsbox; coding is about learning to write very precisely. When you code if even one period or semi-colon is out of place, the program will not work at all, similar to having a typo in an essay; the sentence or paragraph cannot be fully understood if there is a missing comma or misspelled word.
What Scott and Aidan believe to be one of the most important benefits of Bitsbox outside of learning to code, is the potential for kids to build self-esteem through coding. Children who are more technically inclined can feel a sense of pride in building these apps and showing the people around them what they have done. Because these apps can be easily accessed through links in an email, kids can send the link for the game to their friends via email and show other kids their age or adults the product they made. It gives them a sense of identity to show people what they contribute with the skills that they excel at.
While kids can use Bitsbox just through the website and their account for free, Aidan and Scott recommend using the monthly subscription boxes. Similar to a monthly mail magazine subscription, each month Bitsbox sends out a new box filled with new apps to build and new exercises to learn computer programming. There are two options for the Bitsbox monthly subscription: the ‘Box’ subscription or the ‘PDF’ subscription. The Box subscription is an actual physical box filled with the apps and exercises, an activity book, a parent’s guide, trading cards, a small toy, and coupons for toys. This costs $40 per month when purchased on a monthly basis or $30 when purchased for a year up front. The ‘PDF’ versions are delivered via a monthly email containing a link to PDF files you can print out yourself and includes the activity book, the parent’s guide and some trading cards.
Bitsbox currently has customers in 53 countries, 49 out of 50 states in the US and over 2500 families using it. Their first monthly subscription boxes ship out April 20th. To order yours and learn more about Bitsbox and get your kids to be the computer whizzes of the neighborhood, visit their website!