November 14, 2022

Building Relationships, Building Projects: Engaging Families in Joyful, Creative, and Caring Experiences in Computing

Categories: Connected Learning, Digital Learning, Educational Practice, Featured, New Trends, Research

Earlier this summer, our Creative Communities research group at the University of Colorado Boulder launched “A Facilitators’ Guide to Family Creative Learning, the ScratchJr Edition”. This guide, which can be downloaded for free on the Family Creative Learning website, builds on more than 10 years of research and collaborative design with community-based organizations such as libraries, schools, and community centers in the greater Boston and Denver areas as a part of the Family Creative Learning project. The Family Creative Learning (FCL) model is a series of workshops that engage children and their families to learn together — as designers and inventors — through the use of creative technologies. We designed the FCL workshop series to feel more like a family gathering rather than a series of classes. In a typical session, families and facilitators share a meal, get to know other families, create projects based on their stories and interests, and then share their projects in progress. The workshop series culminates in a community showcase so families can share their experiences with other family, friends, and community members.

Why Engage Families?

Despite narratives of a “digital native” where children can be left alone to take up the benefits of technology, parents and other adult caregivers can play essential roles in supporting children’s learning and development with technology, from finding and brokering new opportunities to engaging with them collaboratively to explore possibilities together. However, too often learning opportunities with computing are age-segregated and deficit oriented in a way that positions families as consumers of technology, rather than creators capable of imagining new possibilities for themselves and their communities. When we designed FCL collaboratively with community-based organizations, we recognized that families have a wealth of knowledge — about their children, their communities, and their histories — as well as accumulated skills and cultural resources to support their families’ well-being. We designed the workshops to cultivate care and love as families build projects that center on their stories, to place the same importance on building relationships as much as building projects.


As we’ve been collaborating with different organizations and communities to design and adapt FCL, we wanted to share more broadly what we were learning as we engaged families in personally and culturally meaningful ways of computing. Rather than trying to scale the project, we decided it might be more generative to spread its ideas — to describe our model, our rationale, and illustrate what can be possible with documentation in the form of photos and family and facilitator stories. We released our first FCL Facilitator Guide in 2014 so educators, community center staff, and volunteers outside of our research team could run FCL-style workshops in their communities. That guide has since inspired other implementations and remixes such as the PBS Kids Family Creative Learning and the Digital Youth Divas Caring Adult Network.

Since we invite the entire family to participate in FCL, we recognized a need to engage younger learners and their families. The FCL model documented in the guide published in 2014 was designed for children ages 7 and up. Our new FCL guide launched this summer describes a model for engaging families with younger children, ages 5 and up. In this version of FCL, we use a creative coding app designed for young children called ScratchJr to support families in telling stories with code. Like the previous guide, this guide is designed for educators, staff, and volunteers who want to engage families in their communities in creative and equitable experiences with computing.

What’s in the guide?

The facilitator guide walks through our design rationale for the overall model, shares visual documentation to illustrate how we implemented the workshop series, and provides useful resources for people who want to implement FCL in their communities, such as detailed outlines for each workshop.

Centering family stories

We wanted to invite families to share their stories in the workshops to ground their experiences in what they value as a family. Over the course of four workshops, families engage in multiple activities, including using ScratchJr to share their stories. In the guide, there are sections for imagining and planning activities, tools to prepare a facilitation team, and workshop outlines.



Exploring facilitators stories

Facilitators play key roles in supporting families in equitable and creative learning experiences. We really wanted to show what facilitation could look like – so we illustrated the practices of facilitators in a collection of visual stories based on our team’s research of facilitation (Roque & Jain, 2018; Roque & Stamatis, 2019). We hope that facilitators will use these stories as tools to reflect on their own practices and experiences as they support children and families in computing.


Making learning visible through documentation

Inspired by the Reggio Emilia approach to documentation, we share our experiences using documentation (e.g. photos, screenshots, written notes) to make sense of learning experiences together with families and facilitators. We include descriptions of how we collected documentation, how we engaged families and facilitators in the process of documentation, and exercises that we did as a facilitation team to prepare.


Much of the design of FCL is inspired by our own family and community gatherings growing up. Families and groups come together for a purpose like a birthday, a celebration, or an important milestone. Children and adults, at times, intermingle or gravitate towards their peers. There’s music, storytelling, and a lot of food. It’s loud, chaotic, and joyful. However, when people typically think of computing environments, they might see rows of computers all facing the same direction and people (mostly white men) working individually. With FCL, we wanted to work with our community partners and re-imagine what computing spaces could be for families, especially children and families that have been historically excluded or marginalized from these settings. Creative computing can be a family activity — not just limited to computer science classrooms or in homes that already have someone involved or interested in technology. We created the FCL model and the facilitators’ guides to show more radical possibilities to engage families in computing that centered on love, care, and relationships. We encourage you to download the guide, try out some of the activities for facilitators, and remix bits and pieces to imagine possibilities for your families and communities.

Guest post by Dr. Ricarose Roque and Celeste Moreno from the Creative Communities research group at the University of Colorado Boulder. Learn more about the FCL project on the FCL website and our latest work in the Creative Communities blog. Our collaborative partners have included the Denver Public Libraries, Boulder Public Libraries, and the Clubhouse Network. This FCL guide was made possible with support from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (LG-96-17-0176-17), the National Science Foundation (#1908351), and the CU Boulder Office for Outreach and Community Engagement.