How do you introduce kids to a computer in a way that won’t turn them into screen junkies? Try making them build the thing before they use it.
That’s the premise of Kano, a DIY computer kit company that today is releasing an update to its successful build your own laptop kit. “We thought, what would be cooler than a laptop you make yourself? A touchscreen laptop you make yourself,” says Kano’s CEO and cofounder Alex Klein. He hopes the touchscreen addition will make Kano’s computers even more accessible and desirable, given that touch is often the first way that youngsters interact with screens, while also inspiring them to build their own tech.
Klein originally launched Kano with a Kickstarter campaign in 2013 and set off a wave of DIY technology toys for kids. The company’s products, which include its computer kit as well as kits for a Harry Potter wand, camera, speaker, and pixel grid, has built a cult following, with more than 250,000 users and 600,000 creations on the company’s online platform. The kits are all designed for kids over the age of 6, with a storybook-style instruction booklet and color-coded parts that snap together. For younger children, it’s probably something they’d do with their parents, but as they get older, the colorful block-based coding makes it easier for them to learn the basics of programming on their own. Once the computer is built, Kano’s operating system is filled with different levels of coding challenges to help kids build their own apps, including tutorials to make painting and music applications.
With the addition of a touchscreen to its computer kit, Klein hopes to compete not only with other DIY computing toys but with professionally made tablets, too–maybe even replacing the ubiquitous iPad that parents use to quiet their screaming children. “With this product we want to create a competitive offering to… tablets, [for] parents and kids who are hungry for a first computing experience, one that’s shared, one that builds the mind as well as consumes time,” Klein says.
And while a Kano touchscreen computer, built using a Raspberry Pi, definitely won’t match the quality of a device like the iPad, it does have a 16GB storage capacity and three hours of battery life, plus it supports apps like YouTube and WhatsApp on Kano’s operating system. (For a child who’s just getting started with screens, it’s probably a good thing that the battery doesn’t last very long.)
Most importantly, it’s meant to get kids interested in building technology, not just consuming it. “It provides a real computer that’s fast and can run YouTube and Minecraft but that pushes you into the joyful moment of discovery and creation,” Klein says. “We want to show why in 2018 the first computer you get should be one you build and code yourself, and it doesn’t have to be a less exciting or engaging experience just because it’s creative and constructive.”
Research has found that children who use maker kits in school tend to be more interested in STEM-related fields, (though there’s little research as to whether building technology as a child will change the way you use it or help you have a healthier relationship with technology when you’re older). Still, Klein’s conviction that building technology will help young children be more engaged with how it works in the future is a hopeful one: In a world where the public’s lack of understanding about how technology works can have devastating consequences, the more we educate our children, the better.
The Computer Kit Touch is available online on Kano’s website and in retail stores for $279.99.