Tech for tots: Using toys to teach coding to 3-year-olds

Photos by Tequila Minsky Code-A-Pillar is a caterpillar-shaped robot made up of interchangeable segments, each of which adds a different movement command to the overall contraption, allowing kids to program its behavior.

Photos by Tequila Minsky
Code-A-Pillar is a caterpillar-shaped robot made up of interchangeable segments, each of which adds a different movement command to the overall contraption, allowing kids to program its behavior.

BY COLIN MIXSON

This Downtown prep school is turning rug rats into code monkeys!

Broad St.’s Léman Manhattan Prepatory School has filled a new learning space dubbed “The Wonder Lab” with a cornucopia of robots, video games, and other state-of-the-art gizmos to teach kids as young as 3-years-old the concepts of computer programing.

The curriculum may sound advanced, but that’s what it takes to prepare today’s youngsters for occupations that don’t yet exist in the tech-oriented job fields of tomorrow, according to the school’s headmaster.

“You see all these startups, people looking at what the needs of the world are and then creating businesses and jobs,” said Maria Castelluccio. “That’s what we want our students to do, to be creators of their own futures.”

Tots at Léman Prep are spending at least a half hour a day in the tech-filled Wonder Lab, where they’re unleashed to explore the digital marvels at their own pace.

Among the gadgets is Code-A-Pillar, a caterpillar-shaped robot comprised of interchangeable segments, each of which adds a different movement command to the overall contraption, allowing the stripling scholars to program its behavior as they work out a pattern that gets the bot from Point A to Point B.

Photos by Tequila Minsky Dash Robot has a color-coded xylophone that kids can program.

Photos by Tequila Minsky
Dash Robot has a color-coded xylophone that kids can program.

Dash Robot, another mechanical gizmo, is outfitted with a color-coded xylophone which is programmable through an easy-to-understand iPad interface that allows kids to prompt simple rhythms and melodies from the droid.

Many of the toys-turned-tutors, like Code-A-Pillar, don’t require any reading skills to interact with, thus allowing the kids to start programming the bots before the can even read, according to the school’s technology advisor.

“The beauty of something like Code-A-Pillar is that it’s a pre-reader and writer, so the kids don’t need to know how to read or write words in order to participate in coding,” said Brynn Turkish.

The curriculum doesn’t teach computer programing per se — not being able to read or write makes composing strings of code a bit beyond a 3-year-old — but the lab imparts the concept that all these wonderful gizmos require human direction, Turkish said.

“This is coding in the sense that that robot doesn’t know what to do unless you tell it what to do, so you get to be the brains that teaches that computer what to do,” she said. “They’re the brains behind the technology.”

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