We’re continuing our Technology for Kids series and today we’re talking about teaching kids to code.
I KNOW what you are thinking… Teach kids to code? Is that like teaching babies to read? No no no… This is more along the lines of getting your kids understanding the basic concepts of programming.
Here’s the deal. I get an email from Think Fun introducing me to the game. Robot Turtles. I have a son who adores robots, another that is obsessed with turtles and a husband that programs. I assumed they would find this game interesting and I was curious to see what my programmer husband thought of this approach to teaching kids to code.
The first thing we realized was that the Robot Turtles game is setup in a way to baby step your way into a more complex game. So there are a variety of ways to play which is great when you have a young child who wants to play. Our 4-year-old totally got this game. Our 3-year-old, not so much. (In the games defense, it explicitly says 4 and up – my 3-year-old just didn’t want to hear that.)
Setting up the game was super easy. You determine how you want to play and then each player (known as the turtle masters) chooses a robot turtle color. Each player gets a set of cards with different directions, as well as a BUG card. The adult acts as the turtle mover and does all the moving of the pieces on the board. The turtle mover job also is to make funny noises as you move the game pieces. The kids ate this part up. The turtle masters job is to make a program that will get the turtle where it needs to go. Turtle mover just “runs the program.”
The idea of the game is that you have a turtle and that you want your turtle to get the jewel. In order for your robot turtle to make it to the jewel, you need to tell him how to go there. That’s where the cards come in. Each player takes a turn telling the turtle mover which card they are using. There are obstacles you can put in to make it more complex. If a turtle master messes up, they can hit the BUG card and yell “BUG!” to undo a move. As you want to get more complex, the kids can choose cards and make a “function” so that the turtle just does the same move every time they use the function card.
The game totally gets your kids’ minds thinking. I love watching my 4-year-old get so into this game and determined to beat his older siblings to the jewel. Even though I wasn’t sure how the older kids (9 and 11-years-old) would like it – they have played several rounds.
I asked my husband what he thought. He started programming when he was 12. He’s now 38. He’s all about his kids learning some mad programming skills and said he really thought this was a great way to introduce early elements of programming.
Robot Turtles was originally a Kickstarter project, that raised $631,230 – which is the most-backed board game in Kickstarter history. Robot Turtles was invented by Dan Shapiro, a Seattle software entrepreneur, for his 4-year old twins. Here’s the back story:
I’m a father of four year old twins. Teaching them to program a computer is the single greatest superpower I can give them. I made Robot Turtles so that my kids could learn programming basics without needing a computer. In fact, they don’t even need to be able to read!
I’ve been told that this would never sell in the toy aisle. I’ve shown it to board game designers and manufacturers; they told me this would never work on store shelves. Learning programming just sounds too complicated.
But I disagree. I think programming can be as simple as playing with these four turtles.
Here’s a snippet of my husband and kids playing Robot Turtles:
Thanks to Think Fun for sending us the game!