3 Gift Ideas for Kids Who Want to Code
Coding is the latest craze among tech lovers and their kids. Consider these toys if you want to develop your kid’s coding skills.
Fisher-Price® Code-a-pillar™ Review
Code-a-pillar is a toy aimed at the youngest learner. It is intended to introduce 3-6 year-olds to the concepts behind coding. Right out of the box, the caterpillar comes with batteries installed and is ready to play with, a big win for children in this age group.
You will need a large open space with a hard surface. The goal for your child is to connect the pieces of the caterpillar in order to make it move in the intended direction. A picture showing the intended move appears on the top of each caterpillar piece. Children can rearrange the pieces and see the effect on the caterpillar’s movement. There is a delayed reaction to the initial movement, which could be frustrating for some children. Also, if you do not have a large enough area for the caterpillar to move, it ends up running into furniture or other objects, which can lead to frustration or a lack of understanding of how the caterpillar is intended to work. To reduce frustration, remove some of the caterpillar pieces so only 3-4 directions are used to guide the caterpillar. Parents, be sure to guide your child in this process of discovery because the cause-and-effect relationships of the symbols to the caterpillar’s movement may not be apparent. After your child understands the idea of the toy, see if they can navigate the caterpillar around a single object or multiple objects.
Code-a-pillar comes with colorful circular cards that can serve as obstacles. Overall, the Code-a-pillar is easy to use and does introduce the foundations of coding, but children may need guidance to make a secure connection between their play and the coding signs. Also, the toy is noisy and does not have a volume control button. Code-a-pillar also offers expansion packs, which include additional caterpillar pieces that move the caterpillar in different directions or make additional sound or light actions.
Scroll to the bottom to enter a giveaway for the Code-a-pillar that was reviewed for this blog post.
Osmo Coding Review
The Osmo Coding system works with the Osmo base and stand. Once opened, the Osmo system does require about 20 minutes for set up. The steps are easy to follow. You must set up the Osmo stand and mirror on your iPad, download the coordinating app, and create an account to get started. The account lets you create multiple profiles for different children in your household and track their progress.
The object of Osmo Coding is to move a friendly blue monster through the woods by using the hands-on pieces to help him move in the direction of his favorite fruit, strawberries! Children must use the pieces to tell the monster the correct code to obtain the desired strawberries. The app does a very nice job of visually showing your child which pieces to use to obtain the desired code in the beginning. As your child progresses, the codes become more challenging, but the app does provide support and hints for children along the way. The game is designed in a virtual world with stops along the way for coding challenges. The game does take some tenacity to complete the challenges and may frustrate some children without parental guidance. There is a pink bar that pops up along the way to show how far along in each challenge your child has progressed. The only obstacle we had while using Osmo coding was keeping the pieces within range of the camera. As children change the pieces, it is easy to move out of range of the camera. Be sure to keep the pieces close so the mirror can read each piece.
Scroll to the bottom to enter a giveaway for the Osmo Coding system that was reviewed for this blog post. (You’ll need the Osmo base and stand to use this toy.)
Wonder Workshop Dash Robot Review
This robot is not for the faint of heart. A basic knowledge of coding on the child and/or parent’s part is helpful in having a successful experience with the Wonder Workshop Dash robot. There are so many capabilities of the robot that initially using it can be overwhelming. Dash does come ready to play without the box; simply charge the robot, and your child can begin interacting with it via the coordinating apps. The robot is not compatible with all generations of iPads, so be sure to check their website to be sure your tablet is compatible. The app does support both Android and Apple products. The robot does appear to be well made and works well on hard surfaces or carpet. You will need a large space to be able to use the robot easily.
First download and open the app and begin to navigate the robot with your child. The apps do not provide much support in getting started, so be sure to help your child and be ready to experiment to figure out what works well. The robot does have exciting capabilities such as recording your own voice, dancing, singing, or avoiding obstacles. There are several apps that work with the robot: Blockly for Dash & Dot Robots, Go for Dash & Dot Robots, Wonder for Dash and Dot Robots, and Path for Dash robot.
The app, Go for Dash & Dot Robots is the easiest to use with Dash, and I would recommend starting with this one. This app would be appropriate to use with children ages 4-8. The app allows you to immediately control and move the robot in a simple way. Use the joystick to move it forward and back, turn its head, change the light color, and play a set of preset sounds. Next, use the Path for Dash robot app. This app provides children with an arena to experiment with the controls used with Dash but in a more purposeful way. Children can complete a maze on a racetrack and add fun noises, such as wheels squealing and honking horns, or move the robot around the farm while making animal noises. This app would be appropriate for children ages 5-8. Finally, Wonder for Dash and Dot Robots and Blockly for Dash & Dot Robots provide a more structured and in-depth look at coding. These apps are appropriate for children 8 and older. Also, check out Dash’s additional extensions, including Dot, a compatible smaller robot, Wonder Workshop Xylophone for Dash Robot, Wonder Workshop Launcher for Dash Robot, and Wonder Workshop Build Brick Extensions for Dash and Dot Robots.
Wonder Workshop Dash robot is a complex robot that would be valuable for families with a high interest in learning coding skills, small education groups, after-school learning, and summer camps. The robot is long lasting in that it offers a variety of levels of learning in the area of coding and has multiple extensions that can be explored with children.
KinderTown Tech Toys Sweepstakes
Make learning coding cool with one of these tech toys. You can even win one of the toys mentioned in this blog post. You’ll get our gently-used review copy in the original packaging – they’re as good as new! Check below to make sure you’re eligible to win, then register by entering your email address.
Read more of our tech-related reviews & guides here.
Tags: coding, interactive, robot, young learner
4 Excellent STEM Apps for the Summer
Help! Someone recorded a birthday on the calendar but didn’t include the name with the date. Whose birthday is it? Goldie has a solution. She’ll make cupcakes for everyone in the town. In order to do that, she needs help from Ruby Rails to solve the puzzles and make the cupcakes fast and efficiently. As your child solves the puzzles, they are learning beginning coding skills. Along the way, take a break and enjoy a mini-game or play with the stickers you have earned in your room. The app costs $2.99 and is appropriate for children ages 5-8.
Monster Physics™ helps your child learn physics and so much more. Spend time on the “learn” page, where parents and kids learn physics vocabulary together. Move through the missions, starting with the “tutorial” level that introduces necessary strategies and tools. There are 50 different missions that can be accessed at any time with enough content available for a long shelf life. “Free build” is a personal favorite for watching kids invent to learn. In addition to all the physics, this app cultivates innovation, strategy, and persistence, which are not skills to be neglected. The full version costs $1.99 and is appropriate for children ages 6-8.
Toca Lab is the chemistry lab for young kids, and it is the perfect place for exploring how different materials interact. The app is designed around the world of a science lab. The incredible part is that children do not have to be able to read or understand all there is to know about chemistry in order to engage in tinkering in the lab. As children tinker with the “elements”, they create new “elements” for their own periodic table. Please note that the “elements” and periodic table are not based on actual scientific reactions but rather give children the understanding that, when elements are placed under certain conditions, a new element can be created. Be sure to provide lots of vocabulary and ask your child lots of questions while using the app. For example: What do you think is happening? How can you change the current state? What happens if you add water? Encourage them to ask questions, too. This app will make your child feel like they have all the tools of a mad scientist! The app costs $2.99 and is appropriate for children ages 4-8.
Science experimentation without the mess! Thank you, Piiig Labs, for this inquisitive app that brings science-friendly activities to preschoolers. The budding scientist in your house will love making a volcano erupt, building a light bulb, and tinkering with a radio. The app does touch on themes such as electricity, chemical reactions, and cause and effect, but the app is designed for children ages 3-6, so the activities are age-appropriate. Each experiment is accompanied by a short science fact for kids. The app costs $2.99 and is available for iPad only.
Tags: chemistry, coding, physics, puzzle, science, steam, vocabulary
Coding Gift Guide for Kids
We’ve recently talked about apps that promote coding skills, so here are some less techy gifts that will inspire that same higher-level thinking and problem-solving required for programming.
Hello Ruby is a captivating story about a little girl named Ruby who has to solve a puzzle. She is spunky and bold. She is given a map to solve the problem and must travel to different locations in an adventure world. Along the way she is solving different clues in order to gain the rubies she needs. The book is organized into chapters and each chapter includes a problem to solve and introduces a special character. In the back of the book, there are activities to complete with your child that go along with each chapter and use the type of thinking skills presented in the chapter. For example, Ruby learns how to repeat the task of connecting sticks with rope to create a ladder, and uses that skill to solve the problem of reaching the ruby. Overall, the storybook is delightfully crafted and appeals to children ages 6-9, with parents interested in facilitating learning activities.
Robot Turtles is a board game for kids that revolves around the concepts of the Logo programming language. Players as young as 4 can dictate the movement of their turtle on the board by using cards that give commands to the turtle. The commands tell the turtle to turn, move forward, or side to side. The goal is for your turtle to reach its own jewel. The game has other components that can be introduced gradually once your child has a basic understanding of how the game works, such as obstacles, repeat cards, and lasers. These additional components make the game interesting and challenging for older children. Lastly, Robot Turtle has done a great job of making programming understandable for parents, and providing clear directions in the booklet that accompany the game. I especially appreciated the Quick Start Guide and the additional resources provided online. The game is well developed for parents as well as children.
Tags: coding, problem-solving, puzzle, skills
PBS Kids ScratchJr
Want to explore coding with your child? Check out PBS Kids ScratchJr, and see what you can create together.
PBS Kids ScratchJr Review
PBS has developed a coding app using their most famous characters in an interface designed to inspire your youngest coder. The app features coloring blocks that snap together to create a code for the characters to follow to make a mini-movie. Make Peg and Cat jump up and down, or make sea creatures swim with the Kratt brothers. KinderTown likes the “Story Starters” section to fuel your learner with the possibilities of coding. This is helpful for parents new to coding, too. Also, check out the “How to” video the first time you explore the app. You’ll find that the beauty of coding is that your child is creating with technology, not just interacting with a device. The app is appropriate for children ages 5-8, and is available for both iOS and Android.
Related Blog Post:
Best Coding Apps for Young Children
Tags: coding, kids
KinderTown’s Top 14 of 2014
KinderTown transforms mobile devices into powerful teaching tools by finding and organizing the best educational apps for kids ages 3-8 years old.
Our mission is to improve early childhood education by empowering parents with the tools to be better teachers. We work hard to find the best educational apps for children. Each app we select for KinderTown has been tested and reviewed by educators, parents, and most importantly, children. Not all (or even most) of the apps meet our high standards. We take many factors into account including educational value, ease of use, engagement value, design features, artwork, cost, and shelf life. It’s through this process that we believe we can help parents use their iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touches to teach their children anything.
Learn with Homer is a full “Learn to Read” series of lessons for kids. The app features letter sound instruction, sight word introduction, read aloud stories, and a mixed review of concepts presented. The app does a nice job of mixing reading instruction, a review of previously-taught concepts and the reading aloud of real books, which are all key components to learning to read. The developers of Learn with Homer conducted research using their app on children who were beginning to read, and showed that the use of the app 15 minutes a day led to an increase in their beginning reading skills. Learn with Homer is free to download but does include in-app purchases to buy additional lesson content.
Marble Math Junior is an excellent example of how to merge quality game design with significant educational value. This app moves kids through the sequence of understanding the question, tapping into knowledge to form an answer, and creating a strategy for navigating the gameplay maze. Getting answers wrong is not an issue here, where it’s highly motivating to learn through trial and error, too. Take time to read the information pages to learn about all the features and customize the problems and levels. One of the most engaging, educational math apps we have played to date.
Rocket Speller offers children an engaging space scene in which to practice spelling. The app presents words to students and they must reconstruct the word. To reinforce vocabulary development, each word is presented with a picture. Rocket Speller has the option to have the word displayed (visual hints) so students are reconstructing the word in order to continually practice spelling it, building visual memory of the letters. Children like how getting a few correct answers leads to different choices for designing their own rocket ship and eventually blasting it off into space. Rocket Speller has five different levels that provide options for visual hints and audible hints, as well as smart technology that can determine when a child is having difficulty in order to provide what is called Adaptive Assistance.
Barefoot World Atlas will completely mesmerize all members of your family. Open to a globe dotted with images that just beg to be tapped. Read and listen to fun facts by touching the images on the screen. Looking for more depth? Search by country and region to learn facts that give you a look into the lives of people and places around the world. This app is completely worth the price of $4.99 and will be appreciated by both the adults and children ages 4-8. Find a time to sit with your child and enjoy Barefoot World Atlas together.
The Human Body is an app made for exploring and asking questions. There is animation to accompany the six different body systems. Encourage and answer your child’s questions while exploring, and they will direct their own learning. Tap different parts of the brain, and an animation pops up depicting what that area of the brain controls. The app is not narrated, so parents need to provide the support for learning. In addition, the app offers a parent section and an option to set up multiple profiles for different children. Children can record questions while using the app, and parents can respond to them. Tinybop has even made a helpful parent guide to accompany the app. We highly recommend downloading it and using it with your child. It’s perfect for answering the tough questions your child may ask about their body. This app is brilliantly designed for scientific discovery.
In Thinkrolls, rolling character balls take the stage as your child solves increasingly complex problems to allow their character to progress through the maze. There are two levels of game play, easy and hard. Easy is recommended for children 3-5, and hard for children ages 5-8. KinderTown recommends that all children begin at the easy level to understand the goals of the puzzles. Your child does not have to spend a long time at this level to be ready to move to the harder levels, but this will set them up for success. A blinking “redo” symbol flashes in the corner to assist your child when they are stuck and unable to complete the challenge. The challenge is then reset with the maze. The challenges in the mazes come in the form of obstacles. Some unique obstacles include fire blocks, ice blocks, balloons, and KinderTown’s favorite, the jelly block. The jelly block allows your character to jump up from one area to another. Another child tester favorite was the fire block. Watch out! If your character rolls into the fire block, it will turn black and burnt, which our child testers loved! However, the goal is to not become burnt. Children eventually solved the puzzles after experiencing the burnt characters. As the levels progress, children have to use visualization skills to predict the cause and effect of several “moves” in the puzzle. Concepts about physics and chemistry are sprinkled along the way when children must make decisions about the moving gear box, figure out how to make the balloon pop and move the ice to quench the fire. The app offers an amazing amount of content in the 90 levels of easy game play and 90 levels of hard game play. Be sure to read the Chapter descriptions in the settings section for parents in order to have a complete understanding of all the challenges presented in each level or chapter. Thinkrolls is a truly unique app priced at $2.99, available for iPhone and iPad, and is recommended for children ages 3-7
Draw and Tell brings the best features of drawing apps into one fabulous art experience. Choose from a blank page, your photos, or one of the app’s backgrounds, and start creating. Tools like crayons, stickers, paint and erasers are used while this app records your child singing, talking, and moving stickers all over the screen. Not feeling up to creating your own picture? Try out the variety of coloring pages where you get to drop paint into the lines to create a vibrant scene. The real gem is the final product where your child’s voice and artistic creation are made into a personal movie.
Kodable is an introduction to coding for young children. When children use the app, they are coding fuzz balls to move around the screen. The app starts off with very simple mazes for the fuzz balls to complete, and progress as your child completes the puzzles. The children we tested this app on loved to earn color changes for the puff ball by successfully completing puzzles. Kodable is for kids ages 5-8 and is free, but does include in-app purchases to unlock additional levels. With the free version there are 45 levels with interactive tutorials. Kodable Pro offers all of the in-app purchases in one app for 6.99 and includes interactive tutorials and learning guides. Check out their website for more information on their line of apps. Kodable also offers another feature called Kodable Sync, which is designed for classrooms in order to accommodate multiple students.
KinderTown loves the creative approach to numbers that Dexteria Dots provides. Dexteria Dots designed a game in which players are developing visual tracking, visual memory and visual motor planning skills through manipulating different sized dots within the app. While playing with the dots, children are learning math concepts such as comparing numbers, counting, adding and subtracting. In addition, fine motor skills are used to slice and connect the dots on the screen. The unique design relates the size of the dots to the numeric value. For example, a 4-dot has twice the diameter of a 2-dot. There are two different games inside Dexteria Dots 2, Make Equal Dots and Compare Dots. In the Make Equal Dots Game, children are challenged to use all the dots to make two equal dots. In the Compare Dots game children combine dots to see which side of the screen is larger. As the games advance, the numeric representation on the dots disappears, developing visual memory and discrepancy. The app is $1.99 and appropriate for children learning addition and subtraction concepts who are approximately 4-8.
Daniel Tiger’s Grr-ific Feelings provides an app in which kids can learn about different types of feelings while playing and singing with Daniel Tiger. Our kid testers loved the trolley game in which children navigate the trolley to 12 different games. Each game has a specific feeling to complete an activity, such as feeling frustrated and having to find a lost toy, or feeling happy and making Daniel Tiger dance. There is also a sing-along section where kids can sing about feelings with Daniel Tiger, as well as a drawing area that includes paint, crayons and stickers. This app provides an age-appropriate way to explore different types of feelings with children ages 3-5, and is a great way to start conversations with your children about feelings. The app is $2.99 and available for iPad.
Endless Alphabet is a super silly, wacky, hilarious vocabulary learning app for kids. Scroll through words inside a friendly blue monster’s mouth. Tap on one that looks especially interesting, and learn what the word means. Kids need to build the word, letter by letter first, then watch, listen and learn about the meaning of each word. Wacky, weird letters and colorful, interesting (non-scary) monster characters play the starring role in the app. You won’t find any high scores or multiple levels in Endless Alphabet. This app is just about learning new words in a playful, discovery-focused way.
Grandma’s Kitchen is sure to delight your youngest chef while practicing a variety of skills including patterning, counting tens and ones, visual discrepancy, telling time, and ABC order. Grandma’s Kitchen has a nice balance of creative play, skill-based practice and informational videos to build vocabulary. Grandma will even give your child prompts if they are having difficulty answering the question. After your child answers the question, they are rewarded with an activity with grandma such as adding ingredients to the mixer to make a cake, watching an informational cooking video, dancing with Grandma, or our favorite, giving Grandma a kiss! Parents, be sure to check out the settings area where you can decide which skills your child is practicing. Check out the fun facts section for tidbits about food, nutrition and cooking. The app is $1.99 and is appropriate for children ages 4-7.
Kids Discover is a jam-packed, non-fiction learning experience for kids. Kids Discover has a variety of topics that they offer in magazine/book-styled apps. Each topic contains pages with information and interactive elements. The app does contain a large amount of text, which is not read aloud. Parents read aloud the text to your child, or help define the topic-specific vocabulary words your child may not be able to read themselves. The apps contain great real pictures, drawings, diagrams, and areas to learn more. At the end of each app there are activities that relate to the topic of the magazine, and multiple choice quizzes with an answer key. Check out their website for excellent parent guides. They also have a teacher area with free lesson plans to accompany each of the apps. Visit their webpage to see all of the app magazine topics like electricity, the Incas, geology, the Civil War, galaxies and much more. Each one is $2.99 and appropriate for children ages 6-8.
ABC PocketPhonics brings three important language skills together into one app. In abc PocketPhonics, children learn to recognize letters, hear letter sounds, form letters by tracing, and use the letter sounds to build words. Parents are able to create multiple users, have control over the font and letter types, what letters their child can work on, and how flawless the writing needs to be. ABC PocketPhonics tracks each user’s answer and will not advance a user unless they first demonstrate mastery of the basics. The app is $6.99 and is appropriate for children who are learning their letters and their sounds ages 4-6. Try the Lite version first to see if it is a good match for your child.
Tags: coding, free, handwriting, human body, kids, letter sounds, logic, math, multiple skills, parenting, Reading, science, spelling, visual memory
Buy This, Not That: Coding Apps
There are many coding apps out there, but I wanted to tell you about one I liked and one I wouldn’t purchase.
This week is Computer Science Education week, and to celebrate, everyone is invited to the Hour of Code. Everyone, ages 4 to 99, are encouraged to spend an hour learning how to code. It is the basis for our heavily digital environment. There are coding exercises for preschoolers through adults. Spending an hour together as a family, learning to code, would make a great family activity.
The Foos is a programming game geared toward the youngest coders. Right away, it was easy to tell how to proceed. Tap the play button, then choose the first level. This app is ideal for children who do not have any coding or programming experience. The app prompts you to slide the block into place to make the character walk forward in a bright and cheery town. Instantly, the character walks through the star and the child ‘wins.” The levels progress very easily and slowly in order to set up a basic understanding of programming. There are 8 different levels with each of the 3 main characters to complete. At the end, your child can earn a certificate for completing the Hour of Code. The app is free and does not include any in-app purchases. The Foos is appropriate for children ages 3-8.
When first opened, Cato’s Hike looks old and outdated. After choosing your character, a boy or girl, a tutorial walks your child through how to start. Even after reading the short tutorial, I was unsure of exactly how to proceed. In order to help my child, I began randomly selecting button to see if I could program the character. After figuring this part out by trial and error, the app does work to move your child from easy programming to more complex skills. After choosing a level, I wanted to exit the level because it appeared too difficult. I found myself searching for a “home” button. It did appear at the top, after I tapped around the screen but I was frustrated that it just didn’t appear all the time. In addition, I found the music to be distracting, but the settings area does allow you to turn it off. The app includes a nice manual, but it is 20 pages long! This might be suitable for a teacher in a classroom with multiple days set aside for programming, but for the average parent, the guide is overwhelming. Cato’s Hike is $4.99 and does not give coding an easy start, nor a welcoming, fun feel. Choose The Foos if you are looking for that, for free, instead.
Tags: coding, hour of code, young
Best Coding Apps for Young Children
Coding. It’s the latest, most popular, and slightly geeky topic to be teaching your children right now. A recent New York Times article called Reading, Writing, Arithmetic…and Lately Coding, talks about the trend and it’s significance. I like this trend and feel that teaching coding is teaching problem solving, strategic thinking, visual/spacial concepts and math. It’s all of these skills wrapped up into one area, and usually weaved with game-like qualities that make it fun for kids to learn. That’s why coding is a great addition to your summer learning. Check out these top coding apps for young children.
Kodable is an introduction to coding for young children. The Kodable website uses the tag line “Learn to code before you know how to read.” This is an interesting thought in our digital age. When children use the app they are coding fuzz balls to move around the screen. The app starts off with very simple mazes for the “fuzz” balls to complete, and progress as your child completes the puzzles.The children we tested this app on loved the option to change the puff ball’s color as they earn additional colors when they successfully complete the puzzles. Kodable is for kids ages 5 and up and is free but does include in-app purchases to unlock additional levels. With the free version there are 45 levels with interactive tutorials. Kodable Pro offers all of the in-app purchases into one app for 6.99 and includes interactive tutorials and learning guides. Check out their website for more information on their line of apps. Kodable also offers another feature called Kodable Sync, which is designed for classrooms in order to accommodate multiple students.
Daisy the Dinosaur
Children can program Daisy the Dinosaur and learn some basic rules of programming in the process. Daisy the Dinosaur has two sections for your child to explore, free-play mode and challenge mode. In the free-play section, children can experiment with commands and see how Daisy moves as a result of their program. In challenge mode, children are presented with a problem to solve. They must use the commands given to complete the challenge. Use the easy drag and drop icons to make Daisy move. Daisy the Dinosaur lays the very basic foundation for learning programming in the future. The amount of content in the app is not expansive, but a good amount for a free app. This app would serve as a great introduction to programming or to test your child’s interest in the topic. Daisy the Dinosaur is appropriate for children ages 5-8 and is free.
Move the Turtle
Move the Turtle is reminiscent of the turtle that I used to program on the Apple II e. Move the Turtle is a much more updated version of the basic programming I learned as a child. It offers three areas to explore; Play, Compose and Projects. In the Play area there are nine different chapters with directions to instruct your child on how to program the turtle to accomplish a basic goal such as moving to a diamond or drawing a line with a pen. Children earn diamonds, trophies and stars along the way. In the Compose area your child can apply what they have learned in the Play area in order to create their own project or experiment with commands. In the Projects section, your child can explore what other children have created. Move the Turtle also offers the option to create multiple accounts for children in your house or in a school setting. Move the Turtle is $2.99 and appropriate for children ages 5-8.
Tags: coding, hour of code, logic, problem-solving, programming, puzzles, young