It was 1984 and I was in my bedroom surrounded by my favorite toys: Optimus Prime and his noble Autobots, Starscream and the evil decepticons. I never owned a Megatron because he turned into a gun. So, in my collection, the battle over the leader of the Decepticons was always between Starscream and Soundwave—at least until the Transformers movie came out in 1986 and I got Galvatron.
Galvatron was technically a space gun, but he looked more like a satellite, so my grandparents bought him for me. But, I must confess: This is not about Transformers—it’s about coding. (Fear not! A Transformers-themed post may be coming from me in the future!)
Coding of the Past
Now, back to 10-year-old Drew in the ’80s: I sit hunched over a keyboard typing away, much like I am right now. Back then, I wasn’t writing blog posts—I was writing code. Granted, it was very basic coding language that I taught myself through a book from Texas Instruments.
I had a TI994A computer, which I connected to my 10-inch, black-and-white TV. I would write 100 lines of code just to make an 8×8 pixel man dance. Then, I would then save my program to audio tape so that I could work on it again in the future.
The process took hours. But I loved it! Naturally, I’m pretty jealous of the toys, apps and games that my kids have access to today to help them learn to code. I learned how to code through meager source material and hours upon hours of trial and error. My kids get to play with toys. My, how times have changed.
My kids now have the option to learn to code through some incredible resources, and I’m going to share three of my absolute favorites with you, including a board game, a toy, and an app.
The most accessible and easy-to-play resource for all ages is a game called Robot Turtles from ThinkFun. In this game, kids take the role of programmers while parents become the turtles. Our little programmers create a code using a series of cards, which tell their turtle to move forward, left, or right and even to fire a laser at obstacles. Parents move the turtles according to their child’s code and also provide fun sounds as they go. The game is designed for kids ages 4 and up and there are many coding terms and concepts that kids will learn through play.
LEGO Boost is a brand new toy that just hit store shelves, and it combines classic imagination and fine motor skill development that LEGO has always provided with coding education. Kids can download the LEGO Boost app (on any iOS or Android device), which connects to the Move Hub through Bluetooth, and transmits commands to kids’ LEGO build. There are five different models that kids can build with this kit, including Vernie the robot, M.T.R.4 the Multi-Tooled Rover 4, Guitar4000, Frankie the Cat ,and the Autobuilder. Each model does something different and kids can program them through a drag and drop interface on the tablet.
Kids can also learn coding concepts from apps designed just for them, like Swift Playgrounds. This is a free app from Apple that you can download on an iOS tablet. In the app, your child learns how to code by solving a series of problems for an animated character. The character needs to complete a number of tasks and by dragging and dropping bits of code, and kids will learn how to write a larger program along the way. They’ll even put their program to the test.
The character either solves their problems or fails based on the coding of the program. Swift Playgrounds runs on the coding language that Apple uses called Swift. Once your child masters the language, they can use it to code activities with a number of toys, like drones, LEGO Mindstorms (a step up from Boost), and even the new R2-D2 App Enabled Droid by Sphero.
Coding is so much easier and rewarding today than it was when I was a kid. I remember working for hours on end to make that little guy dance across a screen. Now, through coding games, toys, and apps we have available, I could have droids dancing and drones performing complex aerial maneuvers in minutes. Who knows what the next few decades will bring!