Coding can sound scary and complex. In fact, a lot of adults have no clue what coding even is. When you break it down, it’s essentially entering instructions into a machine to program it to do something. Kids as young as 4 years old can learn the basics of coding with Coding Critters, the interactive pets from Learning Resources.

Some people might think that coding is too complicated for preschoolers, but this educational toy makes it easy to understand. Each set comes with an interactive pet, a 22-piece play set, and a coding storybook that introduces the critter so kids can get to know their new pet on a personal level.

The coding critter has arrows on top for kids to enter the codes into, and it features two modes: code and play. Kids can put the critter into “code mode” to enter directions using the arrows to make the critter move around and complete challenges. Kids can press the forward, reverse, left, and right arrows to input a coding sequence of up to 30 steps. The critter has thin wheels on the bottom, making it roll according to the directions that kids input.

The included storybook instructs kids to follow simple coding commands to get their critter to complete tasks. For example, in the storybook of the dog-themed set, Ranger (the coding critter) is playing in the yard when his friend Zip (a miniature critter, also included in the set) decides to hide from him. Kids can look at the photo to arrange the play set in a certain way so that Zip is hiding behind a tree, then program the coding instructions to “use left turn and forward commands to help Ranger find Zip!” Once kids plug the code in using the arrows on Ranger’s back, Ranger will turn and move to get from point A to point B, bringing the story to life.

There are three different sets: a dog-themed set starring Ranger and Zip, a cat-themed set starring Scamper and Sneaker, and a dinosaur-themed set starring Rumble and Bumble. The critters, accessories, and stories are different in each of those sets based on the themes, so kids can collect multiple sets if they want. In the dog set, kids can code the critter to play fetch; in the cat set, kids can code the kitty to chase the yarn; and in the dinosaur set, kids can code the critter to bash the boulders, in addition to other tasks. Kids can even get creative and make up their own coding stories across multiple play sets for some imaginative play.

For more ways to play, kids can also switch the critter into “play mode” and turn it into an interactive pet. In this mode, the arrows take on alternate meanings — feed, patrol, dance, naptime, and pet — so kids can take care of their critter in different ways while it reacts with sounds, such as barking, meowing, or roaring.

Preschoolers will learn tons of early STEM concepts as they get to know their new pet.