My son is 6, and his favorite subject in school is coding — mostly because he gets to play with little robots, but it’s still a very worthwhile and useful life skill. He also loves all things Star Wars, so when Kano offered us the chance to review their Star Wars The Force Coding Kit, we had to give it a shot!
Setting up the Kano kit is fun all by itself. The goal here is to give kids a bit of hardware education, not just playing with the app, so the first step is to assemble the companion device so the app can “sense” your “force” movements. The entire thing is very easy to assemble, so much so that while I was reviewing the instructions, my son had unpacked it, put it together, and was already debating whether to use the rebellion or first order signifiers.
I double checked his work, but he got it right just from looking over the pieces, and he asked a lot of questions about how it worked, what the different parts were, etc. It was a great opportunity to discuss how all technology is built on circuit boards, which led to a wide-eyed “THAT’S what the inside of a computer is like??” I was really impressed with this aspect, more so than I expected, because it really did help him visualize how hardware and software worked together.
Installing the app and pairing the sensor was a snap. The app pairs with the sensor over bluetooth, and it did so absolutely seamlessly. No need to mess with settings or anything, which is good when you have a very impatient child breathing on your neck asking “Is it ready yet? IS IT READY YET?” (He was a little excited.) Kano does a great job with the buildup too, because after it pairs, the app booms out the iconic Star Wars music. So by the time we got to the part where we did the coding and playing, my son was practically vibrating with excitement.
The actual coding is fairly easy to start, as the app walks you through all the steps. I would say that if a kid is under 8 or so, they’ll probably need some adult help — there are a lot of instructions to read, and I could see the finer drag and drop spots being difficult for a kid still working on their finer motor skills. The instructions explain what each coding line is for, and how it impacts whatever you’re doing (wielding a lightsaber, piloting an x-wing, bouncing R2D2 with the force…). You also get walked through how the logical steps and math instructions work together, and you wave your hand over the sensor in various directions to see the instructions play out in real-time. As you start to get more comfortable, you can create your own instructions, or play around with designs others have made. In addition, you can save your creations along the way, so you can go back and bounce R2D2 all day if you want. And for the record, my son did just that!
The Kano app runs on Mac OS, Windows, iPadOS and newer Fire devices. I used a MacBook Pro for testing, and it worked beautifully. The sensor runs on AA batteries, and so far it is running strong on the original batteries after a few weeks of use.
Overall, I’m deeply impressed with the Kano app and device. I can see it being something my son and I can use for quite some time-right now it’s a collaborative project we can do together, and as he gets older and more comfortable, it’s something he can do on his own as well. It has cute animation, fun stories and makes coding easily accessible for anyone who can point and click. At $79.99, it’s affordable when you consider the wide age appeal and the hours of potential fun (and sneaky education!)
Source: Manufacturer provided review sample
What I Liked: Intuitive to put together and set up; appeals to a wide range of ages; walks you through coding at your pace; fun Star Wars themed games and stories
What Needs Improvement: Limited tablet apps to Fire and iOS