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A Kid Reviews the Coding Critters from Learning Resources

This screen-free toy that teaches coding was a hit with Stephen, Actual Human Child, age 5.

Deena Campbell · 1 day ago

  • toy
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Dogs are a hot topic in our household. Whenever our family is within 10 feet of a dog of any size or kind, our kids shout, “Puppy!” at the top of their lungs. Here’s the deal: Our 2-year-old daughter (Campbell) and 5-year-old son (Stephen) desperately want a dog, but my husband and I don’t want the extra responsibility. At least not now, or anytime in the immediate future. This means toys that feature puppies, like Coding Critters, get all the attention.  

You can imagine Stephen’s delight when he saw the little guys in the Learning Resources Coding Critters box. “Mom, does the puppy bark? Wow, it has a house, too? Does it roll over?” I began to slowly remove each item from the box. His excitement grew by the second.

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I should mention that this was our second attempt at playing with the critters. We had opened the box a week prior, only to discover we needed 3 AAA batteries, and at the time we only had AA batteries. Rookie mom mistake, for sure. Note to self, and to you: Always keep several sizes of batteries around the house, because the toy is always going to require the kind you don’t have. 

Two minutes later, everything was out of the box and spread out on the floor—we were ready to start coding. I began reading directions to Stephen. “Press the DIRECTION button on Coding Critter’s back to begin inputting a coding sequence of up to 30 steps.” 

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The steps went over his head at first: He’s a dive-in and “learn as you go” type of child, which I respect most days. He gets it honest. But this time I wanted him to get a full picture of the rules. I gave in (rookie mom mistake #2?) and started pressing buttons. “He barked, mommy!” We were off to a great start.

For our first round, we decided to code Ranger to the tree. “So he can bark up it!” said my precocious Kindergartener. Our sequence consisted of seven steps (five forward, one right and one forward). Initially, I thought this would be too many steps for a little guy, but he wanted to go for gold, and who was I to stifle his coding experience?

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“This is fun,” he declared. “We can tell Ranger to move anytime we want.” The next few sequences consisted of multiple forward and backward moves and Stephen’s favorite: pressing his nose, forcing him to make a sound, back up, and turn. 

Next up, we toyed around with play mode, allowing Stephen to take care of Ranger. As a parent, I grew proud watching him feed and put Ranger to bed. Watching Stephen take ownership of our new “pet” almost made me consider getting a real pet. Almost. Who knew a 5-year-old could learn responsibility from a coding toy? And it’s screen-free! 

We continued to play for another 30 minutes until Stephen had a bright idea. “Can I screentime with Brian to show him Ranger?” You bet he could. A toy that allows for a parent to have a moment to themselves is a total win in my book.

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He grabbed the phone with total excitement. “Brian! You move three steps to the right, then to the left, and then move forward again, but only when I tell you,” he said. 

Wait. Was he really trying to code his friend

“Baby, you can’t code friends. Only Ranger the dog,” I said. 

“Oh. Can we get a dog and name him Ranger?”

Touché, my love. Touché.

A few must-know tips about the Learning Resources Coding Critters toy:

  1. 1.

    Kids will need your assistance. Unless your kid is a genius or has coded before, they’ll need your help setting up and getting the concept of making Ranger move.

  2. 2.

    Play on the floor. We started on the kitchen table, but when Ranger moved around, we learned he needed more space to freely move about. The floor allowed for more opportunities for exploration. 

  3. 3.

    The sound isn’t obnoxious. If you’re anything like me, you try to avoid loud toys like the plague. Rest assured that Ranger doesn’t bark too loud. There’s also an off button, just in case you’ve truly had enough.  

  4. 4.

    Have fun! Of course the point is to introduce young kids to coding, but don’t forget to have fun in the process. Embrace the craziness. After all, coding can be fun!