Not too long from now, coding will become as important a skill as reading and writing, some experts say. Coding is already a mandatory part of the school curriculum in many European countries. Some public schools in the US teach coding, too, and instruction is available through websites and private classes. Meanwhile, though, certain companies are turning out toys designed to make it not just easy but fun to learn to code. Here are some that we think are worthwhile — and fun!
With the Think & Learn Code-a-Pillar from Fisher Price, three-to-six-year-olds get an early taste of coding by connecting segments of a huge toy caterpillar in various ways. Each segment tells the Code-A-Pillar to either go straight or turn left or right. Kids try to put together the caterpillar in a sequence of segments that will move the robot to a target destination in the room.
The box includes a cute motorized head for the caterpillar, along with eight segments for kids to connect and two targets. The caterpillar head flashes its eyes and makes character sounds to make playing with the robot even more fun. Pricing is $50.
KinderLab Robotics' Kibo is designed to let four- to seven-year-olds build, decorate and program just about any kind of small robot they want, whether that's a helicopter, a dancer, or a nursery rhyme character. As with Code-A-Pillar, no screen time is involved.
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After the robot is built, the kid then use Kibo blocks to create a sequence of instructions. The child scans the robot over the blocks and pushes a button to turn the robot on and see it follow the commands.
Priced at $230, $370 and $400, respectively, the three Kibo kits contain progressively more components for programming and mobile robotics. The $370 kit adds an a stage art platform, while the $400 kit adds the stage art platform plus a rotating art stage and extra materials for building a robot that can sing, dance, and flash multicolored lights.
The company named Ozobot recently added to its lineup of tiny coding toys for kids aged five and up. The original one-inch Bit robot is now joined by the pricier but more social Evo. Both bots move across flat surfaces like a table or a tablet screen. Each also has infrared sensors on the bottom that detect colors.
Kids can start to program Bit or Evo simply by drawing lines on paper using special markers supplied in the box. Different colors -- and combinations of colors -- correspond to various commands. Let's say that your kid draws a black line, and then a red line, followed by a green line and a blue one. What will happen? The Ozobot will speed up.
After your kids have gotten through the hours of activities in the box, they can download an Ozobot app for Android or iOS, or discover new games, lessons and coding challenges on the Ozaobot website. Kids can also use the company's OzoBlocky website to actually program the Ozobot using blocks of pre-written Google's Blocky code
The fancier Evo robot starts to entertain right out of the box by making cute robot sounds and flashing its LED lights. At your child's command, Evo can make friends with other Evos, anywhere in the world, and then use special emojis like OMG or LOL to communicate with its friends. Evos can respond to incoming emojis in a variety of physical ways. Spinning around is one. Also your kid can dress up an Evo as various Marvel Comics super heroes through the use of optional skins. Starter kits are $60 for Bit and $128 for Evo.
Sphero SPRK Edittion
Sphero SPRK Edition is based on the same sphere used in Sphero's highly popular Star Wars-inspired BB2 robot. With the SPRK Edition, though, the robot's cover is translucent, allowing kids to see inner workings such as the robot's programmable sensors.
The robot works with an app available for both iOS and Android devices. The app includes a physical diagram of Sphero, showing where different components are located.
Beginners can learn basic principles of coding by playing games included in the app. As your kid moves along, she can start to use Sphero's visual, C-based language (known as OVAL) to program Sphero using pre-written blocks of code.
Programming ranges from simple routines to rather advanced programs that even an adult software engineer would love. In one simple routine, a child can make the sphere turn colors and then fade just by selecting colors and a fade button in the app.
Able to move at up to 4 mph, Sphero can respond to commands such as reversing directions upon impact or jumping up into the air. In another nice touch, kids can opt to actually see the pre-written OVAL commands, to give them a sense of what computer programming language looks like. Pricing is $130.