Hi Alex @alexpikkert and Ian @Hixie,
Thank you for the link to GitHub. Indeed, I see there is even the firmware there for the older bits should someone want to build his or her own.
I see from their Tips & Tricks that the o28 has very nice OOTB functionality http://littlebits.cc/tips-tricks/led-matrix-bit. One can make it do interesting things by manually selecting a mode and using switches and dimmers as inputs. A nice abstraction layer from the littleBits engineers.
The o28 also is well supported for programming by their education division using its Code bit and Sketch.
Using Sketch is probably a good choice for educators to assist them in managing their classroom time. Less to explain and debug, but the Code bit Sketch approach comes with at an entry cost of $299 -- and I already have boxes of bits.
For my 10-year-old grandson, he already understands Sketch, and the Arduino provides a sandbox for learning programming using a text editor. Of course, even the Arduino is a short-term item based on small microcontrollers. Moore's Law has made Apple's Swift Playground the current programming platform for many young people. We just need some packaged bit integration. Nonetheless we will still need protocol specs to actuate devices.
Well, in any case, I've taken your advice and submitted a request for some documentation on setting modes and sending data to the o28 from the Arduino.
Thanks for the suggestion!