A Robotics Kit for Young Children Ages 4-7
Since 2007, through generous funding by the National Science Foundation (NSF Grant No. DRL-1118897, DRL-0735657), the DevTech Research Group has been researching how to create a developmentally appropriate robotics construction set for young children in Pre-K through 2nd grade. This grant paved the way to developing the KIBO robotics kit, now commercially available through Kinderlab Robotics.
The KIBO kit includes: wheels, motors, light output, a sound recorder, and a variety of sensors (Sound, Light, and Distance sensors). KIBO is designed to work without any screentime using wooden programming blocks.
The Development of KIBO
The KIBO robotics kit was developed through the Ready for Robotics project, led by Professor Marina Umaschi Bers from the DevTech Research Group at Tufts University and funded by the National Science Foundation (DRL-1118897). This research project focuses on two components of STEM, the “T” of technology and the “E” of engineering that have been the most neglected in early childhood education.
As part of this project, we created and evaluated a developmentally appropriate robotic system for young children (ages 4-7), called KIBO (formerly known as “KIWI” or Kids Invent with Imagination), a robot that children assemble with motors, wheels, and sensors and then program with our tangible programming language made of wooden blocks. KIBO is now commercially available through KinderLab Robotics. Additionally, we have developed strategies for integrating its use in early childhood classrooms by designing curricular units that integrate programming and engineering with other subject areas, as well as professional development strategies.
Since 2011, the KIWI prototype (now called KIBO) has gone through several design iterations and has been tested in numerous public and private schools in the greater Boston area as well as in summer camp and lab settings. This testing with children and teachers has informed each stage of the re-design of KIWI and the commercially available KIBO robotics kit.
KIBO is programmed using tangible wooden programming blocks- no screentime required! The child creates a sequence of instructions (a program) using the wooden blocks and KIBO reads the barcodes with an embedded scanner. With the press of a button children watch the robot come alive (see images below)! The KIBO programming language contains 21 unique blocks and 12 unique parameters leading to endless creative possibilities.
The KIBO kit, accompanying curriculum, and professional development materials we have developed are based on rigorous quantitative and qualitative research conducted with children, parents, and teachers. KIBO is now used in more than 30 countries worldwide. KIBO was recently used as part of a country wide early childhood technology initiative in Singapore (see highlights of KIBO in Singapore below). The philosophy behind KIBO’s design, the pedagogical approach, and examples of classroom uses can be found in the book “Coding as Playground: Programming and Computational Thinking in the Early Childhood Classroom”, written by Prof. Marina Umaschi Bers (Routledge, 2018)
KIBO Research Highlight Video: KIBO in Singapore
For more information on our research in Singapore, see: Sullivan, A., & Bers, M.U. (2017). Dancing robots: Integrating art, music, and robotics in Singapore’s early childhood centers. International Journal of Technology and Design Education
KIBO has been used in a variety of empirical research studies conducted by the DevTech Research Group to understand children’s mastery of programming and robotics robotics, the development of computational thinking, gender differences, the development of virtues and multicultural understanding through coding and how children with autism can learn to code. In addition, we conducted studies in both the US and a diversity of international settings
To read publications related to these and other topics, please visit DevTech’s Publications Page. KIBO and its prototypes have been used as part of several Doctoral dissertations, Master’s Theses, and Undergraduate Theses.
Doctoral Dissertations on KIBO:
Breaking the STEM Stereotype: Investigating the Use of Robotics to Change Young Children’s Gender Stereotypes About Technology & Engineering (Amanda Sullivan, 2016, PhD Dissertation)
Master’s Theses on KIBO:
Thinking Strategically, Acting Tactically: The Emotions Behind the Cognitive Process of Debugging in Early Childhood (Megan Bennie, 2020, Master’s Thesis)
Families That Code Together Learn Together: Exploring family-oriented programming in early childhood with ScratchJr and KIBO Robotics (Madhu Govind, 2019, Master’s Thesis).
Tools for Assessing Young Children’s Computational Thinking Abilities (Emily Relkin, 2018, Master’s Thesis)
Big Robots for Little Kids: Investigating the Role of Scale in Early Childhood Robotics Kids (Miki Z. Vizner, 2017, Master’s Thesis)
Evaluation of a Professional Development Workshop on Integration of Robotics into Early Childhood Classrooms (Safoura Seddighin, 2013, Master’s Thesis)
Undergraduate Theses on KIBO:
Kids, Robotics, and Gender: a pilot study (Taylor Lentz, 2014, Undergraduate Thesis)
KIBO Research Highlight Video: Developing Big KIBO
For more information on Big KIBO, see Miki Vizner’s thesis: Big Robots for Little Kids: Investigating the Role of Scale in Early Childhood Robotics Kids
KIBO Research Protocol: Request full access to DevTech’s KIBO assessments for teachers and children, curricula, and more by filling out this form: KIBO Protocol Request Form
The DevTech Research Group hosts robotics and programming professional development institutes and workshops throughout the year. For more in-depth teacher preparation please see our Early Childhood Technology Certificate Program.
Want your own KIBO? You can get one!
The KIBO robotics kit is available online through KinderLab Robotics Inc.
KIBO Puppets – Instructions to build your own KIBO puppets!
KIBO Research Protocol Request – Fill out a form to request full access to DevTech research materials including: child assessments, teacher assessments, curricula, and more.
KIBO Assessment Packs – KIBO Assessment Packs developed by KinderLab Robotics can be found here.
KIBO Project Rubric – This rubric can be used by researchers and practitioners to examine the variety of programming concepts and design elements exhibited in a KIBO robotics project.
Curriculum Starter Materials: Looking to create your own robotics curriculum? Here you will find some useful planning materials: Robotics Curriculum Planning Sheet, Final Project Planning Sheet, Robotics Curriculum Template (editable word doc), Technology & Engineering Integration Starter.
Find here a summary of all of our freely-available curricular resources for KIBO (or an early prototype called “KIWI”) by the DevTech Research Group at Tufts University. These units are designed for children in Pre-Kindergarten through second grade to playfully learn robotics, programming, and engineering in a hands-on and developmentally appropriate way.
The Coding as Another Language (CAL) approach puts computer science ideas into direct conversation with powerful ideas from literacy. CAL is grounded on the central principle that learning to program involves learning how to use a new language (a symbolic system of representation) for communicative and expressive functions. Young children are taught to code and engage in computational thinking through a process that incorporates pedagogical methods used for teaching literacy as well as problem solving strategies used by the STEM disciplines.
The curriculum Patterns All Around integrates mathematics with fundamental engineering and programming concepts. Throughout the curriculum, students learn about different types of patterns using mathematics. After learning about the patterns, students then have the opportunity to create a class quilt using KIBO!
The curriculum Who Am I integrates identity, culture, and diversity with fundamental engineering and programming concepts. Throughout the curriculum, students learn about their cultural background, as well as the backgrounds of other students, and then create robotic representations of themselves to express their culture in a creative way.
Integrating the natural sciences with robotics and engineering, children explore animals and their habitats in the curriculum Robotic Animals. After choosing an animal and researching about its behavioral and physical characteristics, students create a robotic representation of that animal and its habitat.
Inspired by the book Where the Wild Things Are, this curriculum incorporates literacy and robotics. During the final projects, students work alone or in groups to recreate the “wild rumpus” by programming their KIBO robots to act out this iconic scene in the book.
Over the course of several weeks in the curriculum Dances from Around the World, students will work alone or in groups to build and program a robot to demonstrate their understandings and ideas related to the robotics and programming concepts they have mastered as well as a cultural dance of their choice. During the course of this final project, students put to use all the concepts learned during previous lessons but transfer them to a new context. When projects are complete, there can be a showcase of student work for parents, siblings, and schoolmates.
Based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel, Treasure Island, this curriculum will incorporate literature and robotics. Inspired by the novel, students will learn about the story through specific events and characters through KIWI robotics. The basics of robotics and programming will be expedited in order to accommodate for more thorough lessons on sensors.
This curriculum entitled “Everyone Feels” uses robotics as a tool for developing emotional competency in kindergarten students. To achieve this, it takes a peace education approach, specifically focusing on social-emotional learning competencies. This curriculum is intended for kindergarten students who have been previously exposed to robotics in the past using the KIWI robotics construction kit. Students will work independently and in large group settings to create a robot that expresses their feelings, after reading and discussing “The Feelings Book” by Todd Parr.
How Things Move is a robotics and programming curriculum designed to be used with KIWI robotics constructions sets and CHERP programming language. These activities are designed specifically for early childhood classroom use (Pre-K through 2nd grade). Over the course of several weeks, students will work alone or in groups to build and program a robot to demonstrate their understandings and ideas related to the robotics and programming concepts they have mastered. This curriculum also
contains foundational physics connections related to motion, light, and friction.
Sensing the World Around Us is an intermediate curriculum for students who have completed the How Things Move curriculum (or equivalent). This curriculum builds on the introductory concepts students have mastered and takes and in-depth look at how sensors work, particularly the three KIWI sensors: Light sensor, Distance sensor, and Sound sensor. Additionally, this curriculum makes foundational biology connections related to animal/human senses, and characteristics of different animals. Over the course of several weeks, students will work alone or in groups to build and program a robotic animal (with sensors) to demonstrate their understandings and ideas related to the robotics and programming concepts they have mastered.
The Limudei Code-sh project, funded by the The David Lear Sulman Computing, Science and Engineering Education Fund, integrates the teaching of coding, robotics and computational thinking with Judaic Studies. Most specifically, six curriculum units are being developed for K–3rd grade, to teach powerful ideas of computer science, through the use of ScratchJr and KIBO robotics, and engage both formal and informal learning setting in the creation of computational projects around the Jewish holidays.
To participate in research involving KIBO visit our Get Involved page.