12 Gifts To Inspire The Next Generation Of Coders
By Natasha Lomas as written on techcrunch.com
Are you buying a gift for a budding coder or hardware hacker? Kids today are truly spoilt on this front, with a very wide range of specialized kit that offers to teach tech smarts in a fun and engaging way. We’ve pulled together some of the best children’s gifts in this category right now, starting for kids as young as three, all the way up to teenagers. The listed products also cover a wide range of price-points, so whether you have more than $300 to spend on your favorite budding coder or just a few bucks you’ll find some holiday gift ideas to get you started.
Robot Turtles board game
Sure kids love watching cartoons on the iPad. But they also love playing with physical stuff, so developer and parent Dan Shapiro decided to embed a little coding logic into a board game format — and Robot Turtles is the result. The age range for the game is three- to eight-year-olds. Gameplay involves moving pieces (the turtles) around a board using instruction cards, which in turn are designed to teach kids basic coding concepts such as sequential thinking and the concept of undoing actions. Originally crowdfunded on Kickstarter, it’s now manufactured by ThinkFun and sold in stores or on Amazon.
Cubelets robotic building blocks
Cubelets are like electronic Legos. Indeed, you can directly combine them with Lego (via adapter bricks) to visually augment what you build. The modular Cubelets snap together via magnets, allowing kids to easily combine blocks to create robots with different functions. For example sensor blocks can be used to probe for things like distance and temperature. While action blocks offer functions such as rotation or forward motion. It’s not required to do any actual coding in order to build functional robots — making Cubelets suitable for kids as young as four — but more advanced behaviors can be unlocked and controlled by using a Bluetooth Cubelet block (included in this twelve-block kit) and either a programming environment for Mac or Windows, called Cubelets Studio. Or, if you upgrade to the latest Cubelets OS, a companion iOS or Android app. So there’s additional learning potential, beyond plug and play trial and error.
Piper Minecraft maker box
Piper is aiming to piggyback on the unrivaled power of Minecraft to harvest kids’ attention and re-channel it — via an electronics maker kit housed in a wooden box which combines a selection of hardware bits-and-bobs with a screen where they get to play a modified version of Minecraft that’s in turn connected to whatever they connect up on the breadboard… If you can’t tear the kids away from Minecraft, then you need to put the electronics into Minecraft is the thinking here. Ages five and up.
Kano DIY computer kit
Kano‘s grand claim is that it lets kids build their own computer. What that boils down to is plugging in a series of pre-fabricated pieces, following a story book which offers some context for what they’re doing. Advanced electronics this is not; think of it as a primer to get kids as young as six interested in how hardware works. That is only the half of Kano though. The other half is a software platform that runs atop the Raspberry Pi-based Kano platform offering a kid-friendly, gamified environment where they get to tinker around with bits and bytes of code too.
Lift-the-flap Computers and Coding pop-up book
Children’s book publisher Usborne has a new pop-up book that aims to fire kids’ curiosity about how electronics’ kit works. The Lift-the-flap Computers and Coding book offers an illustrated overview of computing, explaining things like programing logic and digital storage in an accessible way. The book is suitable for kids age seven or older. Usborne also has another new for 2015 computing title covering coding for beginners but specifically focused on MIT’s visual drag-and-drop programming language, Scratch.
LittleBits Gizmos & Gadgets Kit
LittleBits is another company that sells kits for kids designed to break gadgets down into a series of friendly-looking components to be toyed with and connected together. It has a large range of products but the Gizmos & Gadget Kit, pictured, while pricey is specifically targeted at children. It offers 12 different projects that can be built from the contents, such as a wireless doorbell and a rotating lamp. The kit is recommended for eight-year-olds or older. One for those most interested in hardware tinkering.
Ozobot Bit optical bot
Ozobot Bit is a small, programmable optical robot whose movements and actions can be controlled in two ways: first by drawing different colored lines on paper or a screen — with the different colors corresponding to different commands. And second via a visual, block-based editor, called OzoBlockly (itself based on Google’s Blockly library for visual progamming editors). So kids can start by drawing colored lines, and graduate to creating programing by dragging and dropping code blocks. NB: Only the Ozobot Bit is compatible with the latter interface so avoid the slightly cheaper ‘starter pack’. The bot is suitable for ages eight or older.
Codie app-programmed robot
If you live in Europe and you’re willing to take a gamble on a gift shipping in time for the holidays then point your eyes at Codie: a programmable robot designed to teach coding principles via a companion app which kids use to control how the bot moves. The coding element has been simplified to a proprietary visual programing language — and it’s apparently suitable for kids as young as five to play around with, although the primary target here is nine-year-olds and above. The team behind Codie launched a crowdfunding campaign back in April and are continuing to take pre-orders via their website. Again, make sure you’re happy to buy a gift on pre-order (and a crowdfunded one at that) before parting with your money for Codie. And remember: EU-only shipping.
Raspberry Pi microcomputer
Older kids who need less hand-holding than Kano’s or LittleBit’s target market could just go straight to the Raspberry Pi. The original mission of the Pi Foundation was, after all, to encourage more children to take up programming, and the organization offers plenty of (free) online learning resources to get Pi users programming. There’s even a version of Minecraft made for Pi that has a Python coding environment where kids can hack around making code to manipulate Minecraft blocks. There are a range of different Pi models to choose from. The most recently launched Pi Zero costs just $5, while the more powerful and capable Pi 2 costs $35.
Price: from $5 to $35
Learning platform Tynker
If you want to gift learning software that feels a bit more substantial — and a bit less suspiciously toy-like — online learning platform Tynker offers self-paced coding courses and interactive tutorials designed to step kids through code-building projects, and familiarize them with concepts such as loops, conditional logic, sequencing, and algorithmic thinking. Once again this is done via a visual drag-and-drop logic blocks interface to simplify the process. Gamification and puzzle-solving elements are also built in to the platform to try to keep kids engaged as they learn. Lessons are tiered, starting at courses for ages seven to nine, and going up to 12-year-olds or older.
Price: $50 per course
Bitsbox coding challenge box
If all this dragging and dropping of pre-fabricated ‘code blocks’ seems a little too easy to be truly educational, then Bitsbox takes a different tack: leaning on kids to learn by typing actual lines of code into a computer — y’know, like earlier generations of coders had to… How does it trick kids into doing something that boring? By adding a box full of kid-friendly tactile materials to excite them about the cool game they’ll build if they get through the typing task. Bitsbox can be bought as a monthly subscription, with a new coding challenge plus box of accompanying tricks arriving every month. But you can also just buy a one-month ‘subscription’ for a one-off gift. Its primary target is kids aged six to twelve.
Price: $30 per month
Hopscotch coding game
If you’re on a very tight budget but still want to pay for something to encourage kids to engage with programming principles then you could always offer to pay for some in-app purchases in Hopscotch — an app that lets kids build their own games using its simplified drag-and-drop code blocks. Hopscotch also offers free video tutorials and coding challenges. The in-app purchases merely unlock particular in-game characters that kids might want to feature in their creations. But if the price of engaged learning is a few bucks for a few digital avatars so be it.
Price: $0.99 (per in-app purchase)
December 7, 2015
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