Meet KIBO: a robot kit designed specifically for children ages 4–7 years-old. Created to encourage open-ended play, KIBO allows children to program their robot using a building block system, and they can customize their unit to make it into almost anything—a character from a story, a carousel, a dancer, a race helicopter—anything they can think of. Even better, KIBO does all this without requiring screen time from PCs, tablets or smartphones!

KIBO is the brainchild of researcher and professor Marina Umaschi Bers of Tufts University. Working in child development and computer science, she heads the university’s interdisciplinary Developmental Technologies research group. Her research involves the design and study of innovative learning technologies to promote children’s positive development. In order to put the results of her research into practical application, Professor Bers joined forces with her friend Mitch Rosenberg to form KinderLab Robotics. Over the last few years, KinderLab has put KIBO through its paces, testing prototypes with the help of more than 300 children and 50 teachers.

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KinderLab reports that KIBO appeals to both technically minded children and those who connect more to arts and culture or physical activity. The robot’s design is based on the principle that young children learn by doing and it gives them the chance to make their ideas physical and tangible and to learn by trial and error—just what young minds and bodies thrive on! With KIBO, children build their own robot, program it to do what they want, and then decorate it. KinderLab explain the process thus: “The child creates a sequence of instructions (a program) using the wooden KIBO blocks. They scan the blocks with the KIBO body to tell the robot what to do. They press the button and the robot comes alive.”

KinderLab Robotics is dedicated to creating toys and educational tools that enable young children to learn critical technical, problem-solving, and cognitive skills in a developmentally appropriate and playful way. They note that research shows young children can learn programming and engineering at a very early age. Given that we are surrounded by technology, in their early years children learn very little about how such things work. KinderLab believes that this becomes possible when children are given tools that are developmentally appropriate, that encourage open-ended play and that allow the integration of technical skills with expressive arts, math, literacy and cultural explorations.

KIBO robot kits can be purchased individually, or combined to form a classroom package. Student workbooks, curriculum, assessments and KIBO training for teachers are also available. Prices start at $229 for the KIBO 10 kit.

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+ KinderLab

Photos by KinderLab