Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the lights on at MakeUseOf. Read more.
Over the years, toys have proved to be a remarkable tool when educating young children, especially when it comes to more complex subject matters. Toys can cleverly disguise the act of learning through an immersive and interactive activity, which makes developing a new skill fun for your kids.
This is the fun way many kids are learning the basics of how to code. Considering that the industry is growing at twice the national average, there has never been a better time for children (or adults) to start coding.
Why Is It Beneficial to Learn Programming?
As I’m sure you’ve noticed, the world is becoming more and more digital each day. For a lot of us, the majority of our days are spent in front of a screen, whether that screen is your computer, your smartphone or even the digital dashboard in your car.
For every screen you use, there was someone (if not many people) who had to program those features and functions. Therefore, learning basic coding and programming skills can open up many new career opportunities for you, the majority of which pay quite well, might I add.
Learning to code also gives you many opportunities to be more creative. You can make an interactive website, a helpful tool that solves a common problem or anything else you can dream up. For examples, check out these cool uses of HTML5.
If you’re a parent, you should also know that learning to code can give your kids more access to scholarships when they decide to go to college. For an idea, check out these coding bootcamps that offer college funding for young women.
With so many benefits of learning to code, why wouldn’t you want to start your child’s learning early? Check out the seven toys below that can help make this goal a reality.
Programming Toys for Your Kids (or You) to Enjoy
The best thing about toys is that learning will be a “side-effect” of play. Start your research into the educational toys suitable for your kids. Any of the seven here can make the grade.
Dash & Dot [No Longer Available] (Toy costs $170+)
While some of the other toys on this list set a pretty brisk pace, Dot & Dash appeals to all ages. This toy stimulates the way children learn best by letting them choose how they’d like to play, be that with building blocks, adventuring with a friend or using their imagination to do something else.
Your child’s mission will be to teach either the Dash or the Dot robot how to play, by remotely controlling (via your mobile device) their actions.
The creative possibilities are endless and kids can program the robots to squeal when they’re held, navigate sharp corners or even avoid objects. There are a number of add-on or accessory packs available for purchase that can also increase the bot’s versatility.
Your cheapest option will be to go with the standard Dash robot, which costs $169.99. Both robots can be purchased as a bundle for $229.99, if you prefer.
Puzzlets (iOS, Android, Mac, & Windows, Price not yet available)
Despite the reputation that coding gets, it can actually be a physical activity and Puzzlets has realized this. While there are many mobile apps designed to teach children the art of coding, Puzzlets lets kids learn programming with their hands.
Using a number of puzzle blocks and a special keyboard-like device, children are able to interact with the toy and code a character’s movement through in-game obstacles. If you don’t mind your younger ones handling your iOS or Android device this could be the perfect coding toy for you both.
Puzzlets is scheduled to launch around the end of September. We’ll likely learn more information about its pricing closer to that date.
Download: Puzzlets game app for free [No Longer Available
littleBits ($99 & up)
The concept behind littleBits is pretty creative: Choose and connect tons of modules together to see what you can create with a little bit of power and your imagination. Feed your cat at the tap of a button, power a light or start a countdown timer.
By snapping small circuitry pieces onto one another, you and your kids can learn how circuits work and develop your programming abilities, all while creating something awesome.
Of course, littleBits products are put through rigorous testing to ensure their safety. They are approved for use by children of ages eight and up, although you should certainly supervise your children’s use of them.
Prices for littleBits start at $99 for the Base Kit and go up from there. The Base Kit includes 10 modules and is suggested as a good starter for younger littleBits users.
Hello Ruby ($9.99 for the eBook)
Venturing into familiar storybook territory is Hello Ruby, a whimsical way for kids to discover and learn about programming through a classic adventure story. The book will be available this fall, with companion apps in the works.
Hello Ruby teaches the principles of programming by way of breaking down big problems and pattern recognition via a structured and proven approach. As Hello Ruby’s creator, Linda Liukas, puts it:
“Ruby’s world is an extension of the way I’ve learned to see technology. It goes far beyond the bits and bytes inside the computer. This is the story of what happens between the ones and zeros, before the arrays and the if/else statements.”
Over the course of 96 pages and the companion apps, readers will be able to put what they’ve learned into practice and create things they never thought they could in code.
You can pre-order the Hello Ruby book for $9.99 on your Kindle or $12.96 for the hardcover version.
One of the best ways to learn about how computer programming works is to understand how the computer itself works. This philosophy finds its way into Kano, a computer building and programming kit for all ages.
Using the kit, children (or adults) can build their very own computers and begin designing games.
While it may sound fairly technical, Kano comes with instructions, a manual, and an extensive online help center. It’s actually very simple for most to grasp and this is the only thing like it currently on the market.
If you’ve ever thought about building your own computer but had no idea where to start, think of Kano as the training wheels for just such a goal.
You can buy Kano for $149.99, which includes everything you need to get started…and free shipping.
Robot Turtles ($24.99)
Robot Turtles strives to combine coding and creativity and it does this in a way that no other item on this list is able to do.
Essentially, it’s a Choose Your Own Adventure that blends programming best practices into physical and digital board games.
The creator of Robot Turtles, Dan Shapiro, designed the game to appeal to his kids and, by extension, everyone else’s. As kids move their turtles around, they have to combine individual commands, which essentially creates a line of code. In this way, Robot Turtles sneaks the basics of programming into a fun board game.
Similarly, the game also teaches basics like how to read a line of code and execute it, how to troubleshoot and fix bugs and how to break large problems into smaller steps.
Robot Turtles is recommended for children between the ages of three and eight.
Sphero ($99.99 & up)
Remember those RC racing cars you played with as a kid? Sphero is the next generation, smarter version of those.
Sphero and its companion product, Ollie, will teach your kids the basics of programming by letting them control the actions of this cute little robot. Turn your surroundings into an obstacle course, use an augmented reality app to battle virtual zombies, or play “Pass the Sphero” via one of the toy’s multiplayer apps.
There are many different apps that you can download to control your Sphero or Ollie robot, most of which are available for iOS and Android devices (although some are only available for iOS).
If you’re looking for a fun way to get your kids excited about programming and technology, this toy is a great choice.
Sphero can be purchased for $99.99, with upgrades and various accessories available for an additional cost.
The Necessity of Programming Skills
As those with programming skills begin to be looked upon more and more favorably by potential employers, it’s desirable that children familiarize themselves with the technology early on. Considering the fact that kids now spend 50 percent less time in unstructured outdoor activities, you want to make sure that your kids are doing something beneficial in all their free time.
Hopefully this list will have provided you with a few great places to start when traveling down the path of computer programming.
Are you or your children already learning computer programming through toys? Tell us about the experience in the comments section below!