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Dan Shapiro’s Robot Turtles board game Kickstarter showed there is serious appetite for kids’ games that aren’t just fun to play with but also sneakily teach core coding principles. Instead of the $25,000 he was aiming for, Shapiro raised more than $630,000. Geeky moms and dads clearly have money, and will spend it on the right bit of educational kit.
With that kind of Kickstarter community response, it’s pretty likely we’re set to see a wave of educational toys doing cool fun stuff with programming principles. To wit, meet Primo: a physical programming interface that teaches children programming logic while they control the movements of an Arduino-powered robot.
All of Primo’s electronics are concealed inside wooden boxes, so from the child’s point of view they’re playing with blocks, a board and a cute little robot. But as they snap the coloured pieces (instruction blocks) into the board (the physical programming interface) they are building up a set of instructions that the wheeled bot will execute when they push the big red button. So they get to see their program come to life as the bot moves around the room and navigates around household objects.
The instruction blocks comprise four different coloured pieces: forward, to move the bot forward; left; right; and the green circular function block. The function block adds a little more complexity to the basic instruction set as it calls the last line of blocks on the board every time it’s called. Aka it’s a sub-routine.
The function element, used in conjunction with the setting of longer physical paths for the robot to complete, then requires kids to use logical thinking to build up longer sequences of instructions to complete the challenge. And that’s the subtle learning it’s hoping to achieve.
It’s certainly a lot more basic than the Kano DIY computer Kickstarter — but the idea is to offer coding ‘baby steps’, for four-to-seven-year-olds, not throw kids in at the deep end.
“Skills are mastered gradually. Mountains are climbed one step at a time. Think of Primo as the very first step in a child’s programming education. Primo provides the very basic ABC of programming logic,” Primo’s U.K.-based (Italian) creators note on their Kickstarter page.
They’re aiming to raise £35,000 to get the kit to market. The full, assembled kit costs £160 to early Kickstarter backers — or £135 for a DIY version that you can self-assemble at home. They’ve already managed to raise more than £5,500 since the campaign kicked off on Friday, with 27 days left to run. If it hits its funding target, they’re aiming to ship to backers next August.