Bitsbox Review | Melbourne Family Lifestyle Photographer

Ethan is our little computer coder of the family.  I am not a naturally techie person and having a son who has a strong interest in computers and programming has certaintly been an eye opener for me.  You may remember Ethan’s adventures in Minecraft modding I wrote about a while back.  The mod was a great success and I look forward to sharing a wrap up of his Youth Digitalcourse experience soon.

Ethan has taught me so much about keeping an open mind.  Had it not been for him, I wouldn’t have the appreciation I do now for the importance of learning to code.  I think it will become almost as important for our kids as learning literacy and numeracy.  Children are such creative and imaginative beings.  Learning to code empowers them to bring their ideas to life.  I am now also seeing the many other areas that learning to code helps Ethan.  It is developing his literacy skills (his motivation to learn how to read, write and spell really flourished when he wanted to make a Minecraft mod), explores many mathematical concepts and strengthens problem solving skills.  I enjoy watching him bring his imagination to life, plan his projects and seeing the huge smile on his face when he says “I did that” or “I made that happen”.

Recently our family was sent a Bitsbox to try out.  We don’t have an affiliation with the company.  We were just super lucky to have the opportunity to test it out and let you know our thoughts.  Ethan couldn’t wait to give it go!  There is something extra special for kids getting a parcel in the mail.  Bitsbox is a monthly subscription product allowing kids to learn how to code and create their own apps for mobile devices.  The startup company is the product of a successful Kickstarter campaign run by Scott Lininger and Aidan Chopra.  These guys worked together in the past on SketchUp at Google and then at Trimble.

One of the first things that struck me once the box was opened was how artistic, playful and whimsical the contents were. Not your typical techie product.  I was not suprised to find out that Scott and Aidan didn’t originally come from IT backgrounds.  Scott has an arts background and Aiden has a fine arts degree and background in architecture.  This really shines through with Bitsbox and highlights the fact that the arts and technology can work  together beautifully.  I hope to see a future where our most creative and artistic kids around the world grow up to become more involved in technology development.

Anyway, back to the Bitsbox.  Inside the box you will find a colourful magazine style book with lots of bite sized apps to code at www.bitsbox.com.  The magazine also includes other activities and fun information and facts.  Once you have created a log on, your child can start coding using the virtual tablet on the webiste.  Nothing to download so very quick and easy to start using.  The website is quite intuitive so it is easy enough for a 6 or 7 year old to use by themselves (Ethan is 7) and would be enjoyed by kids up to about 12.  In saying that though I’m sure older kids and even adults could have a bit of fun with it too.  Code needs to be entered on a computer, not a mobile device.  When prompted, enter the 4 digit number associated with the app you wish to make from the book and away you go.   The child types the code as shown and when completed they can play the app on a tablet or smartphone by scanning the QR code in the upper right corner of the computer screen.  The app can also be shared.  How cool is it for a kid to be able to share an app they made with their friends and family?  Teachers and parents guides are provided too (a must have for technically challenged me).

Each month the box has a different theme.  The theme of our box was Marvelous Mischief.  As well as the book, the box contains some other fun goodies.  There are stickers and temporary tattoos. Ethan loves temporary tattoos (Ava liked them too)!  There is a mystery toy along the lines of the monthly theme.  Ethan was excited to get a slinky.  Also included is a pack of trading cards.  I thought the cards were a great idea.  I loved card packs as a kid (I remember Garbage Gang were my trading cards of choice).  The Bitsbox trading cards have little mini apps to code on the back.

Ethan seemed to enjoy the fast gratification Bitsbox coding provided.  It is easy and doesn’t take long to create an app to play.  So it is great for kids who have a shorter attention span and may not last with longer courses like the ones Ethan loves to take at Youth Digital.  Youth Digital is amazingly comprehensive (which is a good thing) and uses professional software, but some kids may find it takes too much time and effort to reach the end product.  Bitsbox code is short and sweet, but still teaches important concepts including programming grammar and syntax.  You may be familiar with programs like Scratch which is widely used to teach kids coding concepts.  The drag and drop environment of such programs are wonderful as an introduction to coding for kids.  However, what I liked about Bitsbox was that while it was also a great introduction, it in addition teaches actual programming language.  Not just the concepts.  Bitsbox teaches the widely used programming language, Javascript and introduces it gently in a condensed format.  The environment can also run any “naked Javascript” so one of the advantages of Bitsbox is that they can slowly introduce more natural Javascript over time to make more advanced apps as students progress.  Ethan had fun experimenting with modifying the code (changing characters, sounds, backgrounds etc…)

So now I have told you all about the awesomeness of Bitsbox, I do have to be honest and say it is a bit on the pricey side even though I feel the price is totally justified.  Living in Australia, it would unfortunately be out of our price range at $40 USD per month (plus international postage).   If you are in the US, you can keep the cost down by taking advantage of a discount when you purchase a year at a time.  The good news is that you can subscribe for $20 USD per month for a PDF of the projects if you are happy to go without the physical products.  We have found that given Ethan goes to school and has other activities outside of school to keep him busy, one month of  Bitsbox projects lasts significantly more than a month.  There is enough there to keep busy for a while, so you may find a Bitsbox less frequently than once a month suits you.  You can stop and start the subscription at any time.

The best news is that the website itself is actually free to use and there are introductory projects on there for everyone to have fun with.  So I seriously recommend just giving it go.  It really is lots of fun!

I would love to hear about any kids coding experiences you have had in the comments.

Bitsbox Review

 

  • August 4, 2015 - 4:07 am

    Celeste Pav - This sounds really cool!! I’m laughing because just today at Target the boys picked up some boxes of Slinky’s as we walked past a display. :) Thanks for sharing. Definitely going to check it out!ReplyCancel

  • December 13, 2015 - 12:04 pm

    Courtenay Farquharson - What a great review! We are thinking about setting something like this up in Aus, what do you think a reasonable price is for this?ReplyCancel

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