Next Generation Coders: Toys That Teach Programming Skills

Making the fundamentals of programming fun for the next generation.

It probably seems like the strangest things get us computer geeks excited, and it’s true – we like things like complicated math and solving seemingly unsolvable problems. For many of us, this started long before we ever learned programming, and for those of us born before 1990, long before we’d ever laid eyes on a computer.That’s why we’re excited when we find out about new technologies that get the next generation hooked on the same problem-solving and system developing skills that we use every day. And there’s not much that we can think of that makes learning as easy as a toy that turns programming into something fun.

So as we head into the biggest gift-giving season of the year, we wanted to share some of the best new “toys” that teach kids the fundamentals of programming in hopes that maybe you can help a child in your life discover the joy that the rest of us computer geeks experience when we turn complex code into a system or solution that just works.

Many of the items on this list utilize Google’s Blockly system. Blockly was released in 2012 and is an open-source, client-side JavaScript library for creating visual block programming languages and editors. By using visual blocks that link together, Blockly makes learning to write code easier. It can generate JavaScript, Python, PHP or Dart code and can also be customized to generate code in other textual computer languages as well.

For the Smallest Coders:
While learning programming skills seems like a task reserved for older children, it’s actually never too early to learn to code. There are several toys on the market that make coding easy even for those who can’t yet read.

Take the Fisher Price Code-A-Pillar. This adorable little arthropod is made up of segments embedded with tiny commands that tell it to turn left, turn right, make a sound, light up, etc. And little ones can separate the sections, re-order and re-connect them to program the Code-A-Pillar to follow the sequence. This allows children as young as 3 years old to learn the fundamentals of coding while having fun.

Primo Toys’ Cubetto applies similar principles by utilizing colorful blocks to represent commands that manage the movement of their square, wooden robot. There are no screens or words involved. Kids just line up the color-coded pieces within the control board to tell Cubetto where to go.

For Early Elementary Coders:
While we often task our schools with introducing kids to the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields, the best way to encourage learning these technical skills is through engaging kids with fun. That’s why these toys, aimed at early elementary learners, have hit the market.

The Robot Turtles game may not involve any teenage mutants, but it only takes seconds to learn and minutes to play. And it provides endless learning opportunities as kids use Code Cards to move their robot turtles around the game board to overcome obstacles and reach a prized jewel. They won’t even realize that they’re learning coding functions and problem solving skills. The game is aimed at kids up to 8 years old, but it’s really fun for the whole family.

With the Code & Go Robot Mouse kids can build and program their way through a maze. Developed for kids aged 5 and up, this toy allows kids to build a maze and then use coding cards to create a step-by-step path for Colby, the programmable robot mouse, to follow. You can even add a second mouse, Jack, to allow for two-player racing through the maze’s tunnels and walls to find the prized cheese.

For More Advanced Coders:
Once they’ve got the basics of programming down, there’s nothing stopping kids from finding fun in a variety of programmable devices. Some of these toys even allow kids to access Google’s Blockly system to develop more complex code as they learn.

If, like most of us, you fell in love with R2D2 and wanted a robot friend of your own, you may have a hard time not buying Spin Master Meccano M.A.X.for yourself. (You can always get two!). Once your kids have built their own robot, they can customize him using drag-and-drop coding to create a one-of-a-kind robot friend who will learn about your child and the fun they’ve had together, and even recognize your family pet and move around your home with ease.

We recognize that the programming world seems to be geared mostly to men, but STEM toys have not forgotten that girls make great programmers too. In fact, Jewelbots are geared towards tech-minded girls, giving them the ultimate friendship bracelet experience. These smart bracelets can light up with LED lights when a friend is detected nearby, and by using if/then statements, they can be programmed to do a whole lot more. Want to know when you get a new “like” on Instagram? Jewelbots can tell you by lighting up or vibrating. Wearers aged 9 and up can use an easy, open-source electronics platform to develop an endless number of programs for these pretty devices.

No matter the age of your child or the children in your life, it’s never too early to start learning the fundamentals of coding. Not only will it teach kids essential problem solving skills, it could turn into a life-long love of science and technology. Investing in the next generation of programmers is something we take very seriously at Spud Software. And it’s even better if we can not only teach kids to love programming, but to ignite a passion in the future programmers who will someday join us in the development world.