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'Look Mum no screens!': Toys unlock secrets to coding for kids

28-Feb-17
Article By: Angeline Albert, News Editor

Move over iPads, pre-schoolers are now getting clued up about coding thanks to innovative toys that don’t require any time spent glued to a screen.

Coding can be fun for pre-schoolers

Britain’s young iPad generation may find it easy to adapt to a technology-led world quicker than their parents but even the concepts behind coding are now being learned by toddlers in more creative ways across the UK.

Code-A-Pillar, Cubetto, Ozobots and KIBO may sound like strange beings from another planet but they are actually toys that teach children as young as three about coding.

Coding before they can read?

With the headline-grabbing slogan: ‘Teach your child to code before they can read’, the makers of Cubetto - a smiling cube-shaped wooden robot – have significantly lowered the age barrier for learning to code by removing screen-based interaction.

The robot is a programming console which comes with a set of colourful blocks that represent commands for Cubetto to follow in sequence e.g. move back or turn 90 degrees.

Cubetto gives children the opportunity to learn the basic building blocks of coding. By placing the blocks in different patterns on the control panel, children can create sequences of instructions that program the robot’s movement. There is also a book and map with activities that children can make the robot do.

’Sensorial interaction’ away from a screen

Its problem-solving nature means it is a Montessori-approved coding toy for children.

Montessori teacher Melissa Stockdale says: “Cubetto really appealed to me because its made of wood, it’s a cube and it complements all the Montessori sensorial materials. I introduced it to the children and I was really amazed by the impact. The children concentrated for great lengths of time. There’s fantastic sensorial interaction and they concentrated way beyond the time they would with any other technological toy that I’ve had in the nursery before.”

The toy boosts a child’s creativity, critical thinking, spatial awareness and communication skills and in the process children can develop computational thinking skills that help them understand the basic principles of coding.

Computer scientist Chris Mairs says: “Kids don’t need to read in order to understand the real fun and creativity that comes with coding”.

With fewer young people, particularly women, in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields in the UK, such new coding toys are effectively STEM toys designed to attract girls as well as boys at a young age.

Toys to rival Beebots?

Beebots used by nursery children at Eleanor Palmer Primary School  Credit: Eleanor Palmer Primary School

Eleanor Palmer Primary School in London is just one of a number of nurseries that is familiar with using Beebots to develop problem-solving skills in young girls and boys. In one activity, children were given a map used by polar bears to get to the top of a mountain in the Unicorn play 'The Polar Bears Go Wild'.

Nursery children used the map to help programme BeeBots to follow the same journey. The children estimated and counted how far the BeeBot needed to travel across hills, ice and a river and then put their ideas into the floor robot.

But with the arrival of more STEM toys, it may be a case of make way Beebot, as the rise of the machines…or in other words… creative coding toys continue.

KIBO

KIBO is one toy that gets children as young as four-years-old designing, building and decorating their own robot. Once built, children can create a sequence of instructions (a program) using wooden KIBO blocks and scan the blocks with the robot body to tell the robot what to do. Pushing a button then makes the robot come to life.

The toy’s maker KinderLab Robotics spent over 15 years researching learning technologies for young children and child development at Tufts University, including testing with over 300 children and 50 teachers before launching KIBO.

KIBO Credit: KIBO

KinderLab Robotics states: “It is different from any other kit out there because it appeals to both technically-minded kids and those that connect more to arts and culture or physical activity.

“Young children learn by doing. With KIBO, young children can become programmers, engineers, designers, artists, dancers, choreographers and writers.”

Ready Set Code!

Toy manufacturer Fisher-Price has produced a pre-school learning toy, Code-A-Pillar for children as young as three.

Code-A-Pillar has nine easy-to-connect segments that pre-schoolers can arrange and rearrange to tell the toy how to move forward, left, right, wiggle, dance or even wait for a couple seconds before moving again.

Code-A-Pillar Credit: Fisher-Price

Children can configure the segments in such a way that the Code-A-Pillar can reach targets they set up throughout the room. It has a motorized head segment with lights, sounds and blinking eyes.

When kids connect the segments in different ways to make Code-A-Pillar move in different ways, they learn about sequencing. When children figure out a sequence that will create a path for Code-A-Pillar to reach a target, they are learning about programming and problem solving.

At the time of its launch, a spokesperson for Fisher Price said: "British children are among the most advanced when it comes to their knowledge of computing and coding."

Ozobots

Far from being confusing and overwhelming, coding can be fun with toys like this and that goes for Ozobits too.

Designed for children as young as five-years-old, Ozobots are one-inch-tall robots set to roll around on different surfaces.

Ozobots  Credit: Ozobot

Children can program the robots' paths with colour. The robots are set to follow lines that are drawn on paper and different colours correspond to different commands.

But in this fast-paced world of ever-changing technologies, coding amongst the youngest in age, leaves some parents struggling to keep up with their little ones. According to a study of 1,000 parents of children (aged from three to eight) carried out last Summer, parents would like to be able to keep up with their technologically-literate offspring.

The study reveals the top computer coding words spoken by children as young as three in the UK include 'pop-ups', 'cookie', 'virus', 'icon' and 'bug'.

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