There’s a new crop of coding toys for techie tykes

NEW YORK — Want even your younger kids to join the tech revolution by learning to get code? Maybe you should them a robot — or at least a video game.

WONDERBOT. Dash, a robot from Wonder Workshop, is among the robots and video games designed to teach kids as young as five the basics of coding. (AP PHOTO)
WONDERBOT. Dash, a robot from Wonder Workshop, is among the robots and video games designed to teach kids as young as five the basics of coding. (AP PHOTO)

That’s the aim of entrepreneurs behind new coding toys for kids as young as 6. They’re spurred by a desire to get children interested in computer science well before their opinions about what’s cool and what’s not start to gel, in effect hoping to turn young boys and girls — especially girls — into tomorrow’s geeks.

“You really want kids to learn these building blocks as young as possible and then build on them,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said in an interview at a recent coding workshop for third-graders in New York. “I don’t think you can start this too young.”

Not everyone is excited about pushing first-graders to learn the nuts and bolts of how computers work. Some critics believe that too much technology too early can interfere with a child’s natural development; others warn that pushing advanced concepts on younger kids could frustrate them and turn them off computer science completely.

But there’s a nationwide push to improve computer literacy in elementary school — and entrepreneurs are jumping aboard. Growing up in India, Vikas Gupta learned to program at a young age and was amazed at what he could do with a basic computer and some software. Now, the father of two wants today’s kids to get the same feeling from the coding robots his startup produces.

His company, Wonder Workshop, started shipping Dash and Dot, a pair of small, programmable blue-and-orange robots, late last year. Kids can interact with the devices in a variety of ways. In the most basic, kids draw a path for Dash, which resembles a small, wheeled pyramid made of spheres, on a tablet screen. They can then drag and drop actions onto its path that, for instance, might cause Dash to beep or flash its lights in different colors.

More advanced kids can use Google’s kid-oriented Blockly language, or Wonder, the company’s own programming language, to create and play games with both robots. The idea is to make building sets of increasingly complex instructions so intuitive and fun that it sparks children’s natural curiosity about the way things work.

“It’s going to be relevant for whichever profession kids choose in 20 years,” Gupta says. “Doctors, architects, anyone; they will need to be able to understand how machines work in order to be really, really good at their jobs.” (AP)

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