Supporting children's narrative development through coach-family learning networks.


Developed as part of the Playful Words research project at the MIT Media Lab's Laboratory for Social Machines, the Learning Loops program aims to make literacy learning — both on and off the screen — a family experience. To do this, we create small-scale coach-family networks centered around children’s play on custom-built, open-ended literacy learning apps. Through building relationships between families and coaches, these networks empower young children as authors and facilitate children’s narrative development.

What is the Learning Loop?

The Learning Loop includes three main stakeholders- children, caregivers, and coaches.

While children play with our open-ended storytelling app, StoryBlocks, data is streamed to the child’s Coach. We have developed a Coach’s dashboard, called the Coach Console, powered by play analytics which enables a Coach to rapidly inspect play traces collected from a child’s activity and pull out their salient achievements, or meaningful moments. The Coaches then translate these moments into short personalized messages for the caregiver to inform them on their child’s narrative progress and provide suggestions for how to encourage new activities around storytelling. Caregivers communicate with Coaches via text messages. Coaches can also help the children expand their sphere of learning and exploration by providing feedback on children's stories directly to the child’s device that are based on trends in the child’s play data.


Scaffolding storytelling to connect children through creative expression.

StoryBlocks, a Learning Loops app, aims to promote creative expression, literacy development, and social-emotional development through storytelling for children ages six to ten. In this app, children create personally generated, comic-style stories by inserting characters, setting emotions, typing dialogue, using words to insert images that customize scenes, and recording their voices to narrate their unique stories. With StoryBlocks, we can collect a corpus of children’s stories in order to build analysis tools that can document children’s narrative development over time, and support coaches in providing personalized scaffolding for children’s narratives.

In the following video, you can see the features of StoryBlocks. Children can use up to ten frames to create their own stories about anything they would like!

Digitally Mediated Interactions

There are several digitally-mediated interactions between Coaches, Children, and Caregivers. First, children’s play data from StoryBlocks is streamed to the Coach Console, allowing a Coach to analyze children’s stories and identify trends in children’s play to document their narrative development remotely. Second, Coaches can directly interact with the children by providing feedback on the child’s stories through sending Story Stickies. Third, Coaches can use the Console to write updates for caregivers, informed by children’s play data. They can also include short, relevant activities for caregivers and children to do together to reinforce children’s learning. Caregivers and Coaches communicate via text message, which is routed through the Coach Console. These digitally-mediated interactions complement the rich in-person interactions that occur at the workshops between Coaches and families.

The below video displays the whole Learning Loop’s digitally-mediated interactions.


The Learning Loops program is a continuation of our research at the MIT Media Lab’s Laboratory for Social Machines.
To view our publications and research that has informed Learning Loops, please see our Playful Words publication page.


Our team combines people from different backgrounds—child development, family engagement, software engineering, and artificial intelligence—who bring different perspectives to the development of this program.

Anneli Woolf, PhD

Juliana Nazaré, PhD

Sarah Ballinger

David Bonner

Michelle Shen

Professor Deb Roy

Sneha Makini (Past Contributor)



Want to learn more? We’d love hear from you!