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No-Tech Board Games That Teach Coding Skills to Young Children

Although the Logo language may seem crude by todays standards, its powerful ideas still resonate. Programming a computer meant that the learner created his or her own working system. Students were learning how to think. In fact, the Logo initiative lives on it evolved to the visual, interlocking brick language today calledScratch, which was followed up with Scratch Jr.

To start the game, the adult (parent or teacher) known as the Turtle Mover — places the Robot Turtle Card at the start square and then places the Jewel Card (the goal of the turtles quest) elsewhere on the board. The Turtle Mover is the only one allowed to move the turtle. He or she also provides feedback by making beeping sounds. The child or Turtle Master then selects forward, left or right directional playing cards, which serve as commands to advance the turtle to the jewel.

A child can build cognitive skills by playingRobot Turtlesbecause when a child plays, or programs, a card, he or she is applying logic, according to Bill Ritchie, CEO of ThinkFun, which published the game. Robot Turtlesis a great example of what coding means for a preschooler, Ritchie explained. It is about sequencing instruction by instruction, and then being able to recognize the consequences. Its a mental framework that is appropriate for a preschooler. In other words,Robot Turtleshelps growing minds think about thinking.

Another board game that captured imaginations, and major crowdfunding onKickstarter, isRobot Turtles, which teaches basic coding concepts to preschoolers. Unlike other childrens games (think:Candyland, Chutes and Ladders), the mechanic of play does not rely on luck. All cards are face up and the players work together cooperatively to win.

Rather than correcting a childs mistake, the adult is instructed to simply make a beeping sound. The child Turtle Master can then tap on the Bug Card, a round card adorned with a ladybug. After announcing Debug, the child can adjust his or her set of commands. Here, failure becomes iteration.

No-Tech Board Games That Teach Coding Skills to Young Children

If you ask me the one thing I want my kids to feel about learning, it is that you cannot be afraid to try things and see what happens, Shapiro said. It was crucial for me to build that [debugging] into the game more than the skill of learning about computers. The ability to undo the last move with no penalty or loss of points where you just try something and then try again, really gets into the heart of the educational mission of the game. Its not about learning how to program. Its about learning how to learn.

There are severaldigital gamesdesigned for kids as young as 5 that turn coding into a fun activity, such asKodableandScratch Jr.But some game designers are going further back to programmings fundamentals by creating physical games that cant be found in any app store.

Teaching children how to code is not new; it dates back to the 1970s and 1980s. Most notable, perhaps, are the initiatives from MIT professor Seymour Papert. His MIT lab helped bring theLogo languageinto schools. In Logo, users programmed a graphical turtle on a computers screen. This exemplified Paperts notion ofconstructionism, the learning theory that can be summed up as learn by making.

Any programmer will tell you that coding a computer is more than entering lines of instructions. When a programmer clicks run, the results may fail. The next step is debugging the often painstaking process of error-checking code. Debugging until a solution is found is similar to the 21st century competency of design thinking: trial and error based on a challenge.

Cards program Robot Turtles to blast, turn or proceed to their destination. (Courtesy of Matthew Farber)

No-Tech Board Games That Teach Coding Skills to Young Children

EntrepreneurDan ShapiroinventedRobot Turtlesbecause he grew frustrated whenever he played board games, along with his two young children. One of the things that led toRobot Turtleswas because [childrens] games give parents an unfair advantage, Shapiro said. Either the parent wins over and over again or they end up throwing the match. Part of the inspiration forRobot Turtleswas to create a game where parents and kids could come to it at their own level; the parents do one thing and the kids do a different thing.

Meaningful social cooperation between parent and child superseded Shapiros desire to teach coding skills. The interaction would be something really magical, he continued. It [Robot Turtlescreation] didnt come about because I wanted to teach kids to program; it came about because I wanted a fun way for kids and parents to interact.

InRobot Turtles,when the child gives an adult a wrong card for example, a move that takes the turtle off of the games board an opportunity to learn emerges. Ritchie explained, If a child puts down a bad set of cards, then the parent has an obligation to allow the child to own the responsibility. The child then has to make the decision to debug and to change.

Thanks in part to STEM education initiatives and the tech boom, coding in the classroom has become more ubiquitous. Computer programming tasks students to persistently work to solve problems by thinking logically. Whats more, learning how to code is a desired 21st century career skill.

When a child wins or levels up inRobot Turtles, additional challenges unlock. Obstacles include stone and ice walls, as well as wooden crates. More complex game cards include Function Frogs, which can be coded to repeat a series of programmed instructions. In essence, the adult is the computer to the child programmer.

One tabletop game isCode Monkey Island. It features sequencing and looping statements printed on playable cards. In effect, the cards are the language; choosing correct conditional statements correctly can leads to victory.

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