This article was updated on Jan. 6, 2015, at 1:08 p.m. ET.
Bill Gates was 13 when he started to code. Elon Musk was 12 and Mark Zuckerberg was 10. Compared to today’s growing crop of software-savvy kids, they learned coding pretty late. Nowadays, when it comes to learning the ABCs of coding, you can’t start too young.
Today, there’s no shortage of books, toys, classes and camps to nudge the next generation of coders along the path to promising careers in technology. Among the latest are Dash and Dot, a pair of funky robots that school kids in the pillars of programming. There’s also Hello Ruby, an entire ecosystem of exercises, games and apps designed to dole out the basics of coding to pint-sized geeks. Even Barbie went techie for a controversial minute.
Not to be left out of the tiny tot tech toy trend, news arrived today that Fisher-Price is finally joining the race. Last night at CES in Las Vegas, the legacy mainstream toymaker debuted its first coding-focused toy for preschoolers -- yes, for preschoolers -- technically kids ages 3 to 8.
The colorful plastic toy -- which features an adorable motorized head, twists and turns from side to side and lights up -- is called the Think & Learn Code-A-Pillar. Mattel, long Fisher-Price’s parent company, filed trademark paperwork for the product’s clever name last January.
The interlocking segmented gizmo won’t exactly educate preschool kids on the specific intricate nuances of writing code, but it will expose them to a handful of simple computer coding gateway skills overall.
“As an early childhood development company, we wanted to create a new, fun way to expose preschoolers to critical thinking and problem solving, which are skills they’ll need to be successful in life, not only in the computer programming profession,” says Fisher-Price spokesperson Amber Pietrobono.
Code.org co-founder and CEO Hadi Partovi agrees that preschoolers aren’t too young to pick up the basics of coding. “Any preschooler can learn the ABCs of computer science, which can help prepare them for a society that is increasingly interwoven with technology,” he says. "Every 21st century child deserves a chance to learn some foundational basics about how technology works, and how to give complicated instructions to computers or robots.”
As for how it works, the Code-A-Pillar’s 8 removeable segments contain USB port-like connectors that enable them to be snapped together. The smiley-faced musical gadget executes different programmed movement sequences based on how kids arrange its illuminated command shape-emblazoned segments. It can also be programmed to travel to targets set up throughout a room.
“The future coders of 2035 may only be preschoolers today, but their journey to tech hubs around the globe begins now,” reads the text of a promotional image for the toy. “When playing with the Think & Learn Code-A-Pillar from Fisher-Price, kids will be exposed to the foundational skills of coding, like thinking skills, problem solving and sequencing."
The Code-A-Pillar, which works in tandem with companion iOS and Android apps, will retail for $50, with various expansion packs priced at $15 each. Fisher-Price says the code-themed toy caterpillars will appear on store shelves next June.
The company will release additional details about the product at next month’s Toy Fair in New York City. In the meantime, to see the Code-A-Pillar in action, check out this short video from Fisher-Price.
Related: What To Expect From CES 2016