Bitsbox

Frequently asked questions

What is Bitsbox?

Bitsbox is a website where kids as young as six can learn computer programming. It's also a monthly subscription box, and the name of our little company.

What ages is it for?

Bitsbox is designed for kids 6-14 years in age.

How they engage with it will depend on their age, of course. If your kiddo is 6 or 7, they'll tend to choose shorter projects and make simpler customizations. It's best if a parent or teacher can be around to help, especially at first.

Older kids will move through the projects faster and need less help.

All that said, we have a number of younger kids (as young as 4) who have had success with one-on-one from their parents. If your kid is a good reader, then they are ready for Bitsbox.

We also have a lot of teenagers and even grownups who have enjoyed Bitsbox and learned basic coding skills from it.

What do kids need to use it?

A computer with a web browser. (Google Chrome is our favorite.) Bitsbox works inside a webpage. No complex tools to download and install. No worries about managing files. It's all in the cloud. And though it's theoretically possible for kids to do Bitsbox on a tablet, we'd recommend using a machine with a physical keyboard—typing a set of {} on an iPad is an ordeal, even for grown-ups.

How's it work?

When you create a coding account, you get a virtual tablet for your son or daughter (or niece or nephew or student or neighbor). Kids learn by copying code into a little text editor next to their tablet, which in turn runs their new apps.

Once they're written, Bitsbox apps run on most any mobile device. They can be shared via an email, text message, QR code, or a web link. Changes to the program go to your device in real time. You can even play multiplayer games across screens.

But truly the best way to understand it is to visit our homepage and try it yourself.

But how does my kid know what to type?

We provide piles and piles of bite-sized "code crafts." These aren't structured lessons. They're creative play that the kids choose to do. Not so long ago, copying code from books and magazines was a common way to learn programming, and it worked great. We're bringing it back.

So what's the story with the monthly box?

Bitsbox works best with our monthly subscription box. The boxes go out around the 21st of each month, so order now to get in on the next shipment! Each month is filled with fun exercises. Think of them like craft projects that are ready to be typed in and customized. Kids do the ones that interest them and skip the ones that don't.

The fact that it arrives in the mail every month keeps your budding rocket scientist coming back for more, and it provides feature learning, activities, and encouragement for this whole computer science thing—without more screen time.

How much does it cost?

The site is free. The physical box costs $45 per month if you pay month-to-month, or as low as $25 per month if you prepay for a year.

We also have a $20/month PDF-only version.

You can order any of these options now.

Is it hard to get started?

Not at all. Bitsbox gives you several starter apps that are entirely online. The system comes with a big library of free graphics, sounds, and music that will grow over time.

As a parent or teacher, you don't need to know how to code. You just need attention to detail. Your job is to help the kids type in the code as it appears in the activities.

I tried to sign in with the account that I made when I subscribed, but it didn't work! What's up?

There are two kinds of accounts on Bitsbox:

  1. Grownup Accounts, aka Store Accounts are for setting up subscriptions, managing your credit card, etc. You get to your Grownup account through our store login.
  2. Kid's Account, aka Coding Accounts are for your kids to save their work. You sign in to coding accounts from the Bitsbox coding page, and make as many as you need. They're free!
We did this because we figured kids would want much easier passwords than their parents.

Do the Kids' Accounts ever expire? Do the projects ever expire?

Nope! You don't have to do the projects at a particular time or in a particular order. They never expire. Even if you end your subscription, you kiddos will still have access to the website and all of the apps they have ever built.

Does this work? Isn't typing really hard for kids?

It's true that for most little kids, typing is painfully slow, but they get faster very quickly. And typing is an important skill these days, so it's not a terrible thing to give them lots of practice. Bonus: we've observed that kids actually enjoy learning to type. It's a distinctly grown-up activity, and that's awesome.

That said, to speed things up, Bitsbox uses short commands. Consider these two lines of code:

window.document.getElementById('app-canvas').
        style.background = 'rgba(255,0,0,1)';

vs.

fill('red')

They both do the same thing. The second line is the Bitsbox way. Which would you rather explain to a seven-year-old?

What computer language are you using?

It's Javascript/HTML5. However, it's not naked Javascript. We provide a short and sweet library of programming commands, all carefully designed to be easy to type, easy to learn, and flexible.

Why Javascript? Because it's arguably the most popular computer language around. Javascript is neat because it's the language of the web. Facebook, Google, Pandora, and Twitter are all written in Javascript (at least partially). Javascript is also great because it's a close cousin to C, C++, Objective C, and Java, which are Big Important Languages used by Serious People Doing Serious Programming.

Here's what we found in a recent dice.com search. Note how Javascript compares with other languages that are often touted as good ones for kids to learn.

LanguageNumber of Jobs
Javascript10,000
HTML5000
Python4000
Ruby2000
Objective C  1500
Visual Basic1000
Lua45

The average salary for a Javascript Developer in the US? $91,000 per year.

Can it work on an iPad?

Kids love phones. Kids love tablets. If you or your kid has one, then good news: Every program they write in Bitsbox will run on it. All you have to do is point your device at our site, and the fairy dust will do the rest.

Imagine what your kid will say when they see their very own program running on an iPad. Picture their face.

However, for now we want the kids on the keyboard. That's part of what we're teaching. So they'll need access to a computer, too. (We're exploring a pure-tablet version as well, but it's not our focus just yet.)

How do I run an app on my phone or tablet?

Kids can easily run the apps they build on smartphones and tablets. Bitsbox apps are really just web pages; to run them on a device, you open the webpage in that device's web browser. The easiest way to "send" the web address to the device is by using a QR code reader to scan it right off the student's computer screen.

Here's how to install a QR code scanner on your phone:

Apple iOS (iPhones, iPods, iPads and maybe even the Apple Watch?):

  1. If you're on your device already, go to bit.ly/1HglLRL OTHERWISE, go to the App Store and search for "Mixerbox". Scroll down a few apps until you see their app titled "QR Code Reader & Barcode Scanner". (There are many QR scanner apps, but this is one of our ad-free favorites).
  2. Click "Get".
  3. When prompted, enter your account password.
  4. When you first launch the QR Scanner it will prompt you: "QR Scanner" Would Like to Access the Camera. Click OK.
  5. Screenshot of QR Scanner app asking to access camera
  6. When you're ready to scan a Bitsbox app, click to open the app. Point the camera at the QR code on the screen to scan the code and run the app on your iDevice.
  7. Screenshot of iPhone showing QR Scanner app

Android phone or tablet:

  1. If you're on your device already, go to http://bit.ly/1jh3Jp1 OTHERWISE, go to the Play Store and search for "Scan, Inc". Click "QR Code Reader" then "INSTALL" (There are many QR scanner apps, but this is one of our ad-free favorites).
  2. Android store showing QR Scanner apps.
  3. When it prompts you: "QR Code Reader" needs access to various things, click OK.
  4. Screenshot of QR Scanner app asking for permissions
  5. When you're ready to scan a Bitsbox app, click to open the app. Point the camera at the QR code on the screen to scan the code and run the app on your device.

Are you just focused on the U.S.?

Nope. We will ship the English version of our materials anywhere almost anywhere in the world.

But English is only the start. We have a goal to be widely localized. We'd like our API and documentation to work in many languages, and we're designing with that in mind. Today, Chinese or French or Swahili speaking kids who want to learn to program have to do it in English. Imagine how many more young programmers we'd have if the programming language itself worked in their native tongue.

Can I use it in a classroom?

Sure can. See our teacher's page with more information.

I'm not a kid. Can Bitsbox still teach me to code?

Yeah. Go for it!

If you have a kid, learning side-by-side with them is a great way to do it.

I wanna help! What can I do?

Best thing would be to sign up for our mailing list. We'd love your help in spreading the word. Go to our homepage and click the little share icons to blast it out to our social media.

If you are an educator, please sign up for our teachers list, and we'll let you know about classroom oriented opportunities.

Thanks! :)

What's the difference between the "PDF" subscription and the "Box" subscription?

The PDF subscription is a monthly email with a link to PDF files you can print out yourself. The PDFs include the activity book and access to the grownup guide.

The physical box will include all of that in paper form, plus trading cards, a small toy, coupons on toys, and stickers, temporary tattoos, or other fun stuff. Plus, the joy of a surprise in the mail!

We highly recommend the physical Bitsbox. Our testing shows that kids are much more engaged and motivated by real stuff. But it all depends on your child, and you know them best.

What if I want to cancel my subscription? How does that work?

It's easy! Just email the friendly faces at help@bitsbox.com, and we'll cancel it for you.

FYI, we bill on the 1st of the month and start shipping physical boxes on the 20th. Subscriptions can be canceled at any time - meaning we will cancel the next automatic renewal of the subscription. We will continue to ship all the boxes that you've already paid for.

We can offer a refund to prepaid customers (3 month and 12 month) if you cancel within one month of placing your order. To request a refund (with a full refund if we haven't shipped a box yet; or a refund minus the cost of one box if you're received one), please contact help@bitsbox.com.

After 30 days, we can no longer refund your membership, but you can always transfer it to another person.

Can one subscription work for multiple siblings?

Yes! If your kids can share toys, they can share Bitsbox. Each kiddo can have their own coding account online, so each gets their own virtual tablet and their own little coding space. They can then take turns with the activity book and app cards.

If your kids have their own email addresses, then they can sign up for individual coding accounts, each under their own address.

If your kids don't have their own email, they can use yours. If you add a +SOMETHING to your own email, our system will recognize it as a unique email address, but any emails we need to send (say, if you need to reset a password) will go to you.

Here is an example. Let's say your address is techmom@gmail.com, and you kids are named Amy and Sam...

Sign Amy up under: techmom+amy@gmail.com
Sign Sam up under: techmom+sam@gmail.com

Can I buy Bitsbox with a PO?

Yes! You may send your purchase order to help@bitsbox.com or 3080 Valmont Rd Suite 200 Boulder, CO 80301. Make sure to include your shipping address.

Who are you guys?

Bitsbox was started by Scott Lininger and Aidan Chopra, a couple of dads in Boulder, Colorado. They met at Google where they both worked for many years. Aidan was a global product evangelist and Scott was a senior software engineer.

They left their cushy corporate jobs to chase this dream, and built of team of passionate builders, dreamers, and educators.

How can I contact you?

Just email us! We're friendly!

    help@bitsbox.com

We'd love to hear your thoughts and get to know you! :)