Family Creative Learning was designed to support intergenerational interactions in the context of computing, and this post explores the technological and the creative possibilities for families learning together. Ricarose Roque discusses the programme and the series of workshops hosted at a local community centre, where parents and children engaged with the Scratch programming language and the Makey Makey invention kit. One family, pictured above, created a set of musical instruments made out of cardboard and aluminum foil, that played musical notes when touched. Ricarose Roque is an Assistant Professor in the College of Media, Communication and Information, University of Colorado. [Header image credit: Author]
Social support from parents can play an important role in engaging and sustaining young people’s participation in computing. Brigid Barron and her colleagues identified many supportive roles for parents, including collaborating with their children on projects, providing resources and finding new opportunities. For those who are still developing their own knowledge and skills, however, how can opportunities be designed for them to support and extend both their own and their children’s experiences with computing?
A few years ago I had the opportunity to visit MAKESHOP, a family makerspace within the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh. It had all kinds of tools and materials, but the area that fascinated me the most was the sewing table area. Children would walk up to it and touch everything. Parents might seem a little hesitant at first, but say things like, “I think I remember how to thread a needle, let me help you with that.” One grandmother went to town on the sewing machine and created a dress for her granddaughter’s doll. As I watched families approach the sewing table, I could see this rich learning, history and practice emerge within their intergenerational interactions.
When my collaborators and I designed Family Creative Learning, we wanted to support these kinds of intergenerational interactions in the context of computing. With the support of their parents, more and more young people are able to use computing to create things they care about, to develop identities as creators and to see the ways that they can shape their world.
Design of Family Creative Learning
Through a series of five workshops hosted at a local community centre, parents and children created and learned together using the Scratch programming language and the Makey Makey invention kit. With Scratch and Makey Makey, families can make all kinds of projects that incorporate programming and electronics such as cardboard drum sets, Play-Doh controlled games or interactive dance projects. The workshops culminated in a community showcase where families shared their projects with other friends, family and community members. Each workshop was in four parts:
- Eat: families and facilitators shared a meal together from a local restaurant.
- Meet: we split parents and children up to check in separately about their experiences.
- Make: parents and children created projects using Scratch and Makey Makey.
- Share: families talked about their projects with other participants.
Parents can develop multiple roles in creative computing
We noted that parents took on different roles (such as collaborators, consultants and facilitators) depending on their own skills, their child’s need and the activity. One parent, Rosa, brought her two daughters Clara, age 13, and Sonia, age 9. Rosa looked forward to learning more about computers and spending time with her two daughters. However, she knew that it would take her some time to learn, whereas her two daughters “would pick it up more.” Rosa and Clara worked seamlessly on a project together, building on their experience working on craft projects at home. They made two musical instruments, a drum and a guitar. Meanwhile, Sonia created her own drum set and Rosa jumped in occasionally to help. When it was time to share projects, Sonia was unable to share hers because of a technical issue. Rosa gave her a hug and told her it would be okay. Sonia put together a working project in a later workshop with some help from Rosa.
Rosa took on different roles depending on what her daughters needed. With Clara, she was a creative collaborator, sharing ideas and tasks. With Sonia, she was a facilitator, stepping in and out when Clara needed it. These built on existing practices that Rosa used at home during craft projects or homework help. The workshops allowed Rosa to try out these practices in the context of computing, an area that Rosa was unsure of how she could be helpful. Additionally, while Rosa was initially nervous about working with creative technologies, she made connections to her interests with crafts as she worked on projects with Scratch and Makey Makey. As with craft materials, she could create what she imagined with these technologies, and saw that computing could be a family activity.
Enabling and supporting parents as learning partners
A goal of Family Creative Learning was to create an environment where parents could both engage with their children in creative computing activities and explore roles to support them in an unfamiliar but increasingly important context within our digital society. We wanted parents to not only walk away with skills, but also to experiment with roles to support their children around computing. These roles varied depending on their interests, skills and experiences as well as what their children needed and wanted. These differences demonstrate the importance of designing environments that invite parents to explore and discover roles that build on their strengths, children’s needs and family’s goals, rather than prescribing defined roles.
- Focusing on building relationships as much as building projects. We found it important to build relationships – between parents and children, between families in the same neighbourhood and between families and technology.
- Allowing parents to have first-hand experience. Parents want to learn too, and need the space and time to learn and to appreciate what they and their children can do.
- Addressing the different needs of families. Choose a time and a location that is convenient for families. Have facilitators present who might speak the different languages of families.
- Choosing creative technologies that allow families to express their ideas and interests. With Scratch, families could create almost any interactive media they imagined: dance parties, rollercoaster games, musical instruments and animated stories.
- Shifting from being instructors to being facilitators. Structure activities to provide families with enough support to get started, but give them the space to take their projects in their own directions.
By engaging families in these creative computing activities together, parents come to understand the wider learning ecology around their children’s developing interests, and see the kinds of people, activities and interactions that can support their children, as well as developing ways to participate in these worlds themselves.
We use ‘parents’ loosely here to include any adult caretaker such as a grandparent, extended relative, family friend, or older sibling.
Pseudonyms are used in place of actual names to ensure confidentiality.
This post gives the views of the authors and does not represent the position of the LSE Parenting for a Digital Future blog, nor of the London School of Economics and Political Science.