Review: Kano Computer

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What is the right age to buy your child their first computer? In this era of ever evolving technology I doubt there’s a parent out there who doesn’t think computer skills are going to be relevant to their child’s future in some manner. So when’s the right time for your child to have their own – upper primary? High school? And what are you expecting a truly computer literate child to be able to do? Just use computer programs? Or perhaps better than that, invent the programs themselves…

On their site Kano supply this statistic:

‘The modern world is filled with billions of machines. But 1% of us can open them up, and change them. We create computers you make and code yourself.

There it is, that word – CODE. You’d have to be living under a rock to not have heard about the push towards getting kids to code – to learn to speak the language of the computer. And truly, this is why I think Kano is brilliant. It’s solved all my kids computer dilemmas in a single purchase: first computer and introduction to coding in one. Here’s a computer kids can not only assemble themselves to demystify what’s inside that magic electronic box, but once its built – they can use it for school projects, access the Internet in a safe environment ( it includes a comprehensive set of parental controls to restrict aspects like internet browsing ) AND they’ll learn to code on it too. Much of the time they’ll just enjoy playing on the computer – the Kano comes loaded with over 150 hours of ready-made projects that teach you how to code, including art, animations, games, and step-by-step coding challenges. But almost every activity has a coding bias, so the kids are playing, but they’re learning to code at the same time. Talk about two birds with one stone.

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My oldest Mr 8 got the Kano when he was six. He still loves it. He’s made accounts on it for the whole family which is great for his younger brother who’s keen to get on the Kano too. It’s based on the tiny Raspberry Pi computer so is super transportable and has been on flights with us and various trips away. Mostly we plug it into our flat screen TV which has two bonuses: 1. We can see what he’s doing, which is always my preference when my child is using any device with internet access; 2. We don’t have to carry around a heavy screen as it just plugs into pretty much any modern flatscreen TV where ever we are via it’s HDMI cable. After he started getting school projects to work on at home Mr 8 began to access Google docs on it, doing his homework on his own computer. Sure its not super fast, and he pushes it hard and it does crash, but he learns to trouble shoot and get it up and running again. It’s not perfect, but currently the pluses outweigh the minuses.

So in our house, the right age to get a computer turned out to be six, and we haven’t regretted it because the Kano is pitched just right. I’m happy because everything on it is educational (with the one possible exception of the game Flappy Judoka), whilst allowing him to explore further useful tools on the internet such as the Google suite of programs in a safe environment (managed by me in he parental settings). He loves it because it has fun games, enables him to do research online which makes him feel grown up and gives him some independence from having to ask to use my devices all the time.

Kano

He doesn’t just build in Minecraft, he’s learnt to hack it with code. He uses Scratch on it and enjoyed solving the mysteries of Terminal Quest. He loves the Story Mode which I wasn’t thrilled with to start, thinking it was just some slightly crap 80’s style platform game (and the music is unbearably tinny and repetitive, so we unplug the speaker). But I was proved wrong when he started to learn coding terms and names for various computer parts like HDMI, pixels, processors and binary. In fact it takes you on a tour internally through the landscape of the Raspberry Pi computer. We’ve compared this ‘inside land’ of Story Mode to the ‘outside land’ of the actual Raspberry Pi device, noting where the ports are in relation to each other and how they match up in both ‘lands’. It’s pretty cool and he’s very motivated to fill up his codex and learn as many terms as possible.

On the downside we haven’t been able to run updates on our Kano and receive no doubt many added features. The device offers us the option to clear space which we accept, but it never clears the space, meaning we can’t update. The device still works in the meantime, but this is a frustrating aspect.

The Kano Store hosts a number of additional extras, most notably the screen for the full personal laptop experience (which we also have and Mr 8 uses if there is no big screen available), but now also a pixel light kit, motion sensor and coming soon a codable camera.

We look forward to further developments from Kano, a company doing a great job supporting kids learning 21st century skills.

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