The toy company Fisher Price has released information about a product meant to help children learn the basics of coding before they can even read.
The Think & Learn Code-A-Pillar is designed to help toddlers get a head start on technology fundamentals and learn skills that will make it easier for them to learn programming languages later, as well as exercising their analytical and problem-solving skills as they develop.
The toy looks like a cross between a caterpillar and a train set, with a cute caterpillar head (including antennas) and detachable segments trailing behind. Each of the toy’s eight “body” pieces has an icon that controls what the toy does, like move forward, turn left, or make a noise. Once the parts are connected and the child pushes the start button, the caterpillar follows the sequence of commands that the child designed, reports Katherine Boehret of Verge.
Older children who have outgrown the basic toy can use the free Code-A-Pillar companion app for additional challenges, writes Andrew Liszewski of Gizmodo. No smartphone or tablet is necessary to use the basic toy.
The Code-A-Pillar debuted at Pepcom’s Digital Experience and will be priced at $50 when it is released later this year. Three additional expansion packs, at $15 each, will increase the Code-A-Pillar’s possibilities.
It’s more common for students to learn to code in high school, and even earlier, but the Code-A-Pillar targets the youngest group of future programmers of any product so far. Jan Dizon of the Tech Times notes that learning to code not only helps children understand technology and prepares them for technological careers in the future, but it boosts their analytical and problem-solving skills.
Countries like Estonia are teaching computer science skills as early as first grade, but only 25 US states require students to have Computer Science to graduate from high school. Teachers and parents are rallying to get funding for classes like these, but in the meantime, interested parents have turned to toys to start teaching their children programming skills as early as possible.
Other products include Kano, a crowd-funded computer for kids that they can build independently and then use to create games inspired by Pong and Minecraft, and the Sphero Sprk Edition, which is a ball that can be programmed with an accompanying smartphone app. However, none of these projects are quite as tactile and intuitive as the Code-A-Pillar, making it an unparalleled introduction to these skills for the youngest learners.
According to Lulu Chang of Digital Trends, more details on the toy are expected to be released during the New York Toy Fair in February.