Can kids learn the logic of computer programming even before they learn to read and write and without the use of any screen? Any such product would be like a dream come true for parents who want to prepare their children for success in a digital world. A friendly wooden robot for children between three and six years of age does just that through a series of adventures and hands-on play. Cubetto, developed by Primo Toys, teaches kids the basics of coding without requiring a smartphone or tablet screen.

Primo Toys Cubetto
Image by Jacob Wolinsky / ValueWalk

Essential to learn coding logic early

Cubetto, which is made by Randi Zuckerberg-backed Primo Toys, is far more socially engaging than smartphone apps that tend to isolate children. It is the first coding toy to be approved by Montessori educators. When Primo Toys launched its Kickstarter campaign last year, the goal was to raise just $100,000. But the campaign ended up raising about $1.6 million from 6,553 backers. They received another 20,000 orders from parents and educators in more than 90 countries between October and December 2016.

To meet the growing demand, Primo Toys expanded its manufacturing facility in Shenzhen, China and set up fulfillment centers in Chicago, Holland, and Hong Kong. They have also opened offices in Seoul, Tokyo, and Italy.

The record-breaking numbers are a testament to how desperately parents want their kids to learn to code right from a young age. Primo Toys co-founder and CEO Filippo Yacob says learning to code in the early years is essential, but it should also be “fun, playful and age-appropriate.” Cubetto was born when Yacob wanted to create a toy that would help his son learn the basics of coding in a fun way.

Letting your kid program Cubetto to carry out different functions

Priced at $225 and up, the toy set consists of a physical game board, a cube-shaped robot, a mat where the robot can roam around, an activity book, and a set of 16 colorful coding blocks. Kids can program Cubetto to perform different functions by moving the colored blocks. Each colorful block represents a different instruction. For instance, the red block makes the robot turn right, the yellow one makes it turn left, and the green one makes it move forward. They have to slide the colorful blocks into the board before pressing the blue “Command” button.

Initially, parents can help kids recognize the functions performed by each block. Once children pick it up — and they do, as numerous real-life experiments have shown — the game is fun. Primo Toys has also created different maps to represent different worlds. They include Outer Space, Deep Sea, and Ancient Egypt. It facilitates horizontal learning while allowing kids to explore creative ideas. The use of different maps also keeps the activities fresh.

The entire toy set is visually appealing and has a friendly appearance. You expect that from something aimed at children younger than six years. Primo Toys says the robot was designed to be gender-neutral. It boosts a child’s critical thinking and creativity. Cubetto also promotes inclusion in the learning environment. The toy combines touch, sound, and movement to help kids with disabilities enhance their focus.

Our experiences with Cubetto

Even adults at ValueWalk liked the toy, though it is not intended for adults (don’t mock us). However, there appeared to be a functional issue with the set that we received for review. The Cubetto robot was not moving perfectly in the direction of our commands, although it worked overall. It doesn’t matter whether we adults liked the toy, of course. It’s built for children, so we wanted to see how kids interact with Cubetto.

ValueWalk founder Jacob has three children aged three, six and eight years, and his wife works with young kids in therapy and teaches fifth grade. Based on their feedback, the kids fit perfectly in the age group Cubetto is targeting. All three of their children found it to be fun, cute, and a bit silly in a good way.

Jacob’s 3-year-old son is smart for his age (according to others, not just his parents). He was too young to understand the planning and different keys, but he enjoyed making it move around the room. The six- and eight-year-old had difficulty in learning, but it was a good challenge and they were able to get the functions working. We think it is more appropriate for children above five and is excellent at teaching them skills in an innovative and cool way. Additionally, there were certain verbs that they wouldn’t know or remember in the packet, so they would do better with adult help.

Jacob and his wife really liked the lack of a screen. Since the kids already spend so much time on screens, they think it is healthy to have some learning that isn’t glued to a tablet.

Cubetto is getting new maps to expand play

Zuckerberg Media founder Randi Zuckerberg said Cubetto will give children around the world an “opportunity to learn about the basic building blocks of coding, and engineering, without being glued to a computer screen.” In their latest Kickstarter campaign, Primo Toys raised another $781,823 to fund the launch of a new ecosystem of maps and activity books that will expand the play and learning.

The new maps and activity books are Polar Expedition and Swarmy Swamp. Yacob said these extensions will further elevate the “learning-through-play” proposition.

How it differs from other toys that teach coding

Cubetto can be compared to Robot Turtles and the BBC Micro:Bit. The BBC Micro:Bit is a tiny PC designed to teach kids 11 years and up the basics of computer programming. Robot Turtles is an analog board game that, like Cubetto, aims to teach children the logic behind coding without getting into the complex machine language of programming.

However, Cubetto is more advanced and sophisticated than Robot Turtles. Primo Toys’ robot can move itself to let kids discover coding without any instruction from an adult. Though Robot Turtles is also designed for children in the three- to six-year-old age group, it requires a grown-up to interpret the child’s code. Yacob says Cubetto’s block-based coding language makes it “a true innovation.”

These are not the only options available to parents looking to teach their children computer programming. There are other toys as well, such as WowWee Elmoji, Hasbro FurReal Makers Proto Max, and Sony’s KOOV. However, they all require the use of screens. Sony recently launched an Indiegogo campaign for KOOV to gauge consumer interest and gain insights into the U.S. toy market.

Conclusion

Overall, Cubetto is a fun way for kids to learn the basics of coding. The well thought-out design and stories keep your child’s attention without them being glued to a screen. It makes a great addition to preschool children’s play activities to enhance the hands-on learning experience, though it does require the assistance of an adult sometimes. It may not help your child land a job at Facebook, Google or Amazon, but it certainly gives them the understanding of coding logic while making them familiar with terms like “Command.”

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