There are plenty of online resources aimed at teaching kids coding but here’s an offline take that uses old school gamification to get kids engaged and learning programming principles while they’re having some good old-fashioned family fun (as board game makers used to put it, in the 1980s). Robot Turtles is a board game designed by entrepreneur and CEO of Google Comparison Dan Shapiro — currently on leave from the day job so he can work on cool projects like this.
The board game is designed to teach basic programming principles via a series of instruction cards which move the players’ pieces (turtles) around the board. The basic object of the game is for players to navigate a maze and capture jewels but the gameplay is sneakily teaching them core coding fundamentals, such as using limited syntax to express complex ideas, getting a grasp on order of operations, and learning debugging by being able to undo instructions when they make mistakes. In other words: essential coding skills.
The game also builds in more sophisticated gameplay layers by letting kids graduate from playing one instruction card at a time, to playing three at once and finally to ‘write a program’ — which lets them figure out an entire sequence of cards to play, and then debug it when it (inevitably) goes wrong. The final unlockable gameplay element is a card called the ‘function frog': this allows players to write two programs — one for the turtle, one for the frog. In this scenario winning with the least number of cards becomes the objective.
“I’m a big believer that programming is like a superpower you can give kids, a way to ensure that the innovations of the future won’t leave them behind,” says Shapiro, who came up with Robot Turtles because he wanted to find a way to share his love of coding with his four-year-old twins.
Shapiro has taken to Kickstarter to raise funding to produce a minimum run of Robot Turtles — and has nearly doubled his $25,000 funding target after just one day of the crowdfunding campaign so he’s clearly onto something. “Kickstarter is amazing because it actually supports projects. All my career I’ve done companies: Ontela with more than $30 million in VC backing, Sparkbuy with the Google acquisition. That means waking up every day and going to sleep every night thinking about the strategy and the vision and the long term direction. It is a ridiculous, indulgent luxury to build and ship a project instead of a product,” he adds.
Robot Turtles is designed for 3- to 8-year-olds, and is being offered to early backers for a special price of $29. The game is due to ship to backers in December, in time for the holiday.