My five- and seven-year-old constantly fight over who gets the iPad first. We have one, and they get to use it in tiny doses, usually when I’m at my wit’s end. Their favorite app? ScratchJr, MIT’s go-to coding tool for kids. They like to code. No. They love to code, like the good little 21st-century humanoids they are.
They love coding so much and I am so unwilling to give them their own devices that I decided to try something new. It’s also something that sounds so counterintuitive it actually might work: screen-free coding.
With the latest studies presenting a pretty damning picture of screen time’s effects on children’s development, I’m delighted to hear that screen-free coding is all the rage now. It is exactly what it sounds like: a way to explore the key concepts of coding sans screen. At its core, coding is simply giving a set of specific directions to someone or something to produce a desired result. Nothing in that definition demands a screen.
It is about computational thinking though and the ability to identify and solve problems by breaking the problem and solution into workable chunks. You could teach your kid computational-thinking strategies by asking them to tell you how to make a peanut butter sandwich and it meets the screen-free requirement.
While my kids may want to consume peanut butter sandwiches while they code, hearing that they’re “coding” by telling me how to make them wouldn’t go over well. They want to turn ScratchJr purple and make him curse and jump. They want some form of pixels and plastic to beep and whir and zing. They do not want to watch their mother botch sandwich making because of their bad directions.
Enter mTiny, Makeblock’s cube-shaped robot for the preschool set. It’s cute. It’s fun. It talks. It twirls and giggles and sings. It’s screen-free but uses the same graphics found in ScratchJr in the form of coded cards.
In addition to the USB-rechargeable mTiny robot — with cute panda ears and tail — the kit comes with 36 coding-instruction cards, which are essentially cardboard versions of the ScratchJr graphics. To build codable scenes for mTiny to navigate, Makeblock includes 24 themed, reversible map blocks that kids put together like jigsaw pieces.