Meet Cubetto. He's a happy-go-lucky wooden robot that will teach your kid the basics of computer programming. Geared at ages three and up, Cubetto is the ultimate smart toy for girls and boys.
Leading the pack of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) toys available for kids, the Cubetto kit includes a robot on wheels, a mat, activity book, and blocks that fit into a wooden game board.
Each block represents a command that a programmer might find in a simple programming language, such as right, left, and forward. Kids create code by placing blocks on different parts of the game board. The goal is to move the robot around various obstacles on the mat.
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What's amazing about Cubetto is that it doesn't require an app or a computer.
Designed by Primo Toys, Cubetto is being sold to families, but will hopefully hit schools as well, providing kids of different socioeconomic backgrounds a chance to develop an interest in programming.
Primo Toys is leading the STEM movement in getting more girls interested in coding and engineering. Their marketing efforts are geared at both girls and boys, providing all kids with an equal opportunity to engage and learn.
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I had a chance to speak to founder and COO of Primo Toys, Valeria Leonardi. As a woman in tech, she has lots to say about Cubetto and its efforts to encourage girls to pursue STEM fields.
Q: What is Cubetto?
A: Cubetto, from Primo Toys, is the only screen-less programming system, powered by a revolutionary coding language that lets children write their first computer programs. Using a friendly robot made of wood, a physical programming console, and a set of expandable coding blocks, Cubetto helps children understand basic principles of coding in a very age-appropriate way.
Cubetto represents a major benchmark in the field of computer programming, as it significantly lowers the age barrier for learning to code by removing screen-based interaction.
Q: Who invented it, and why?
A: Filippo Yacob, Founder/CEO at Primo Toys along with Matteo Loglio, Co-founder & Head of Design invented Cubetto.
In early 2013, Filippo met up with Matteo to see what he was up to in life. He was already working on toys and games as part of his design studies, and he was also thinking about moving to London.
Shortly after, Filippo found out he was going to be a dad, and decided that working with Matteo on building smart toys is what he wanted to do. Filippo is a designer by trade, and loves gaming. The timing couldn't have been more perfect!
Filippo and Matteo both agree that programming, computing, and "tech-toys" for children at large, was, and still is, an industry on the rise. 70% of coding toys on the market have come about in the last two years. That tells you something. Primo Toys is a way to do something they both loved, and an opportunity to make a positive contribution to the world they live in.
Q: What makes it unique?
A: Cubetto is powered by the first programming language you can touch, allowing children to learn and explore real programming through storytelling and hands-on play. The Cubetto Playset helps girls and boys learn how to speak to a machine (i.e. computer programming), and it does this without the need for screens or literacy.
Cubetto is being launched at a time when many countries are introducing coding as a subject in early years. To adapt, schools are starting to use toys to teach STEM skills. Cubetto comes to the aid of teachers and parents by offering a toy that is age appropriate and allows hands-on play that makes learning programming more approachable.
Q: Who is Cubetto marketed towards?
A: Cubetto is aimed at parents and educators of children aged three and up. We are living in a time of high-speed technological changes, and it's important that children learn the basics of computational thinking, even if the end aim is not for them to become coders, it is about 21st century literacy skills.
However, by playing with Cubetto children also learn transferable skills including logical thinking, problem-solving, spatial awareness and storytelling, which will be valuable to children throughout their life.
Q: How does Cubetto contribute to women's equality?
A: We made a conscious decision to design Cubetto to be appealing to both girls and boys. We think of it a gender-neutral coding toy, and our experiences with families and schools have proved that children have a brilliant response to the smiling little robot, regardless of gender.
They love to take Cubetto on adventures and become emotionally invested in the stories and map quests that accompany the playset - we hear reactions such as: "Oh no, don't let Cubetto get eaten by the crocodile!"
When we encourage girls to cultivate an interest in subjects that society at large shows them are predominantly male fields - such as coding - then we are helping to break down barriers that will eventually benefit us all. With Cubetto, parents and teachers can nurture this interest subtly, through hands-on play, and the learning follows naturally.
Q: Why are toys like Cubetto important?
A: Cubetto comes at a time when reaching a child's full potential means a healthy understanding of technology that surrounds us. This can help to promote a relationship that might turn them into creators of IT, or conscious consumers/users of the technology that is enabling modern life .
Coding is a basic 21st-century skill, and should be introduced in the same way we do reading or arithmetic, starting at preschool level. As Randi Zuckerberg, kid tech evangelist, mother and Cubetto supporter, expresses it: 'We have to make technology accessible to all genders, languages and cultures, and it starts young.'
Q: Do you think the toy market is changing?
A: There have been some encouraging changes recently, with campaigns such as Let Toys Be Toys, which is calling out retailers and manufacturers that use heavily gendered marketing to the detriment of girls' development.
We covered this recently on our own blog. They have been successful in effecting change in numerous cases including children's publishing, and this is something we welcome at Primo Toys. In fact we are so supportive of getting more girls interested in STEM subjects that we are running our #CodingGirls campaign.