Tiny Tech: Coding Goes to Preschool

Tech will be at the top of many parents’ shopping lists during holiday season, and this year there are far more choices, for a broader span of age ranges, than ever before.

Products from established brands in this space such as WowWee, Spin Master, Wonder Workshop, Sphero, Ozobot, Lego Mindstorms, Activision and Anki continue to appeal. What I find most of interest right now, however, is how newer entrants into the kids’ tech space are bringing the essential skill of coding to younger and younger kids — even preschoolers. This is particularly timely with the annual Hour of Code taking place next week (December 5-11). The Hour of Code is a global movement by Computer Science Education Week and Code.org reaching tens of millions of students in 180+ countries through a one-hour introduction to computer science and computer programming.

One of the best known new products designed to teach coding to little ones throughout the year is Code-a-Pillar from Fisher-Price. By changing the segments in the tail of what looks like a giant, colorful caterpillar, kids can make the toy go in different directions. In the process they develop problem solving, planning and critical thinking skills. Ages 3-6$50.

Smaller, more niche-focused companies are also creating coding opportunities for the tiniest techies.

Designed for children ages 3 and up, just-launched Cubetto from U.K.-based Primo Toys is a screen-less programming system that lets children write their first computer programs. The Cubetto Playset consists of a friendly wooden robot named Cubetto, a physical programming console, a set of expandable coding blocks, a collection of beautifully illustrated maps and an activity book. By placing the blocks in different patterns on the control panel, children create sequences of instructions that program the robot’s movement. In the process, they develop computational thinking skills that help them understand the basic principles of coding — all of this, in a very age-appropriate way that respects a child’s natural way of learning. $225. (Full disclosure: Primo Toys is a Child’s Play Communications client.)

There are even apps to help the youngest kids learn how to code. HeR Interactive, known for its Nancy Drew-themed apps and games for grown-ups, earlier this year launched Nancy Drew: Codes & Clues to teach kids 5+ the fundamental principles of computer coding while they solve a fun Nancy Drew mystery. There’s something particularly appropriate about using an iconic character known for solving mysteries to teach this modern-day problem-solving skill. Available for iOS and Android devices. $3.99.

Bitsbox encourages kids ages 6-14 to code their own apps. When families create an account on the Bitsbox website, they get a virtual tablet. Kids learn by copying code into a text editor next to their tablet, which in turn runs their new apps. Bitsbox combines free access to activities on the website with the option of a monthly subscription box filled with fun exercises to encourage kids’ interest in coding on an ongoing basis. The physical box costs $40 per month if paid month to month, and as little as $30 per month if prepaid for a year.

Officially launching this fall, Jewelbots are technology-enabled friendship bracelets for tween and teen girls that light up when a BFF is near or buzz to send messages to a pal across the room. In addition to being a wearable-tech social tool made just for them, the product enables girls 7-14 to program their Jewelbots to do just about anything they dream up, opening their minds to STEM during an age when many lose interest. $69.

Kids learn through play. Whether as a tie-in to the Hour of Code, a holiday gift or anytime during the year, these toys and apps help introduce the important skill of coding to boys and girls at an age when learning is fun.