Surrey Libraries have launched a program aiming to teach children digital literacy and coding skills through play. The libraries are lending out Dash Robot Kits, which can be used as a fun hands-on introduction to STEM subjects.
Children can play with the robot’s sound, movement, and light through two free apps on any mobile device or tablet. The Blockly for Dash & Dot robots app teaches the fundamentals of coding, while the Go for Dash & Dot robots app lets children control the robot.
In addition to Dash, the kit features accessories such as bunny ears, a tail, and 24 challenge cards that test children’s knowledge of the basics of coding after downloading the apps.
Sara Grant, who manages youth services at Surrey Libraries and helped launch the program, says learning through play is important for everyone, especially children.
“It’s really about all those types of experiential learning, and what is a perfect niche for public libraries is to really support digital literacy and experiences with technology, in addition to traditional book learning,” says Grant. “So technology seems like a really natural next step for us.”
Children do not need coding experience to play with Dash, and Surrey Library card members can borrow the kits for two weeks at a time from all 10 locations.
Grant says the Dash Robot Kits “really levels the playing field in terms of digital access. Children who may not have access to these types of coding tools now have access.”
Grant and her team have seen a high demand for the kits, with hundreds of people currently on the waitlist.
She says that in addition to children learning coding language, they can develop other skills such as playing through trial and error, playing with others, and reflecting on their learning.
“When there’s a conversation that happens around learning, connections are made to their personal lives. So that just deepens the learning for them,” she says.
The program was supposed to begin in early 2020, but it had to be postponed due to the pandemic. It started at the Newton Branch in late 2019 and was shown at the Surrey Libraries Expo at Guildford Town Centre.
Since the pandemic pushed their plans back, the S.M. Blair Family Foundation and EnVision Financial credit union donated to Surrey Libraries to help get their STEM program started.
Grant says she’s unsure if more Dash Robot Kits will be in place since the program launched a couple of weeks ago. They are considering adding more but may instead choose to add other fun tech devices to their collection.
“This is a hands-on, really enjoyable fun way to learn for children,” says Grant.
“It’s also an exciting new adventure for libraries to engage with families this way. We’re really missing our families and the children in our in-person programs, this feels like a little gift to the community. A new, fun way to engage with them.”