PhotoThough they may not yet be potty-trained, you can now teach preschoolers how to code. Fisher-Price’s new caterpillar bot — the “Code-a-Pillar”  teaches kids the basics of coding, such as sequencing and programming.

Part of the company’s Think & Learn series, which seeks to inspire critical thinking and problem solving skills in three to eight-year-olds, the Code-a-Pillar is branded as a toy for the 2035 coders.

If the idea behind connected pieces which form instructions proves thrilling to your child, then who knows: you could have a potential future coder under your roof.

How it works

The concept is simple enough. The caterpillar’s body features eight segments that snap together linearly, all labeled with different colors and symbols. Each segment has a different function: turn left, turn right, make a funny noise.

Once the segments are connected and the start button is pressed, the smiling caterpillar will take the route that it was programmed to by the child. The caterpillar “code” can be as long as you want, too, thanks to the availability of add-on segments.

Fisher-Price claims the toy builds the basic skills needed to understand more complex programming languages later in life. The Code-a-Pillar also connects to a free companion app, which proposes additional programming challenges for kids to solve as they get older.

Part of a larger movement

The Code-a-Pillar is part of a larger trend to get kids introduced to computer skills from a very young age. Even though this demographic will grow up surrounded by screens and apps, toys like the Code-a-Pillar are taking digital principles and applying them in a more hands-on, creative way.

"As children spend more and more time interacting with digital devices, they don't have very many opportunities to create and experiment," MIT Media Lab's Mitchel Resnick recently told NPR, adding that parents should take care not to let devices control kids.

"Oftentimes it's playing, clicking, consuming, as opposed to designing and expressing. I would tell parents to look for either the apps or the toys where the child is in control,” said Resnick. “If it feels that the toy or tablet is in control, then I'd be much more cautious about it."

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 it will appear on store shelves next June. The company will release additional details about the product at the Toy Fair in New York City in February.

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