Cargobot for Pre-Readers (Age 5)

The Activities

  1. Topic: Tallying, Counting. Book: Tally O’Malley by Murphy. In this book, a family plays a counting game where each person picks a color of car, and then makes a tally mark when they see a car of that color. The book shows how to ‘bundle’ the marks together with the fifth mark.
  2. Topic: Tallying, Number Recognition. I put tiles with the numbers 1 – 100 in a bag. Each kid picked a digit from 1-9. Then we took turns drawing numbers out of the bag. If the number contained your digit, you got a tally mark.

3. Topic: Programming. We played Cargobot with our hands today. Cargobot is an on-line programming game where you control a robot arm, moving it left or right and picking up or dropping boxes. We played this using our own arms, and colored stones as the commands.


Your arm starts above the blue dot. The program of stones moves both boxes to the square closest to the blue dot.

4. Topic: Attributes, Set. We played a couple rounds of Set with just the solid cards.

5. Topic: Attributes, Venn Diagrams. Using the fairytale bingo cards, we categorized cards in two ways: Things that Fly vs Thing that go in Water. Girls vs Scary Things.

Girls vs. Scary Things. The witch and the three bears fit in both categories.

Girls vs. Scary Things. The witch and the three bears fit in both categories.

How did it go?

There were only 3 kids this week.


The kids all enjoyed the book. They were interested to see who would win the family’s games. Drawing numbers out and making tallies was good practice for them. I had the kids read out the name of each number they drew. There was lots of excitement when someone drew 22, since it gave the kid who had chosen ‘2’ two more tallies.


First I demonstrated how to use the stones to make a program.  Then I gave each kid one box, and asked them to move it to the square closest to the blue dot.  It took each kid a couple tries, but soon they caught on.  They were all pretty good about fixing bugs and not giving up…though my son was a bit more fragile than the others.

As each kid finished, I gave them a new task. Move two boxes to the square closest to the blue dot.  One girl quickly wrote the program, but it turned out she had expected to be able to pick up two boxes at once.  My son teased her saying of course you can’t pick up two!  I assured her that her program worked and made sense, but I asked her to update it so it would work if you could only hold 1 box at a time.

Next I checked my son’s program. It turns out that he expected that the hand could hold 2 boxes, but that it would take two ‘red’ bead to pick up two boxes. He was very upset when I tried to explain that the hand could only hold one bead at a time.

Meanwhile, the girl had a new idea. She suggested we should take the program that moves one box, and do it twice instead.  I said this was a good idea, and helped her add a second line to her program, that was identical to the first one. We tested out the program, and found that the second time the hand ended up going too far left.  She fixed it by removing one green bead from the second line. I asked why it hadn’t worked, and we figured out it was because the hand originally started above the blue dot, but after dropping the first box, the hand was above the square where the box was dropped.

Next my son and the other kid both independently had the same idea that we should repeat the first program. We all worked together to try it, and then fix it.

This activity went very well, except that the kids all wanted me to check their programs with them at the same time.  I’ll have to figure out some way to remove that bottleneck. Perhaps the kids can work in pairs to check each other’s programs, now that they get the basic idea.


I let the kids vote for the next activity. Two kids voted for Set, and one voted for Venn Diagrams.  In Set the kids were fairly even, though there were many incorrect Sets picked up still.

Venn Diagrams

One kid said Venn Diagrams was boring, and I said I thought they would be fun. Once we started, everyone seemed pretty into it.  There was some disagreement on the Girls vs. Scary Things category, because one kid wanted to put the Castle and the Crown in the ‘Girls’ circle, but the other kids didn’t.

After we categorized all the squares I asked questions like: How many scary things were there? How many scary girls? How many things that were not scary and were not girls? These were all pretty easy. The only hard one was “How many things were either girls or were scary but were not both?” Some kids wanted to count the scary girls, some said they didn’t understand the question.


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