My kids are engaging in those midsummer clichés that drive parents crazy; jockeying for position to create a string of code, peppering me with factoids about cause and effect and playing quietly for hours on end with games of their own design.
Wait, is that not the summer activity you were expecting?
Maybe the fact that we were recently given the Wonder Workshop’s new Dash robot to review has something to do with it. (Like 100 percent to do with it.) Have you heard of this great, award-winning company? Through their Dash and Dot robots, they’ve managed to teach creativity and critical thinking through the medium of hilarious and fun robots, and make advanced computer science concepts “as easy as finger painting.”
So let’s meet Dash–or, as my kids renamed him, “Robie.” (The creativity reinforcements came just in time.) He’s blue, he’s adorable and he’s exceedingly polite. Within moments of entering his new information, my daughter Susannah somehow managed to elicit a shy “howdy-do” from him. So, right off the bat, my 4-year-old was hooked.
After the brief charging and updating period, we downloaded a few of Wonder Workshop’s fun–and entirely free–Dash and Dot apps. We typed in Robie’s new name, chose his color wheel preference (purple, obviously) and then pretty much just let loose.
The “Go” app was a great starting off point, which let us drive Robie around the room, change his eye position and master basic commands. It was at this point where Jasper, my 2-year-old, decided that Robie was the exactly like the remote controlled pal for which he’d waited his entire life. During those living room floor treks, Jasper even figured out how to make Robie spin in circles, bark like a dog and beep like a car horn.
We tried the “Wonder” app next, which is part coding fun and part adventure series. Suzy dug the story aspect of it while my oldest, Nora, salivated at the idea of completing quests and adding skills to her Inventor’s Log.
But the real genius of the Dash bot was unleashed when Nora, six, played the Blockly app. Geared for 8+ (or Kindergarteners fresh from a killer first academic year with a teacher who adored coding), Nora had a blast stringing together code. In no time, she had Dash zipping around the world, responding to external stimuli and wash, rinse, repeating. Her next big project? Figuring out the steps to get Dash to actually play tag with her.
These intuitive programs grow with your child–and are intended to transition with them from Kindergarten to middle school–making the $150 price point pretty darned family-friendly. The separately sold accessories are ridiculously cute, too, from the bunny ears the robots can don to the Launcher tool intended for projectile fun. Building brick connectors are LEGO compatible, and Dash even knows how to use a bulldozer bar. (Toy cleanup, anyone?)
As if that weren’t enough reason to love the No. 1 rated robot toy on Amazon, the minds behind Wonder Workshop have also created Wonder League, an international community of coders aged 6-12. Every fall, the Wonder League Robotics Competition challenges those coders to create technological solutions for real world problems, and participants have the chance to win $10,000 for their districts. (This year’s competition theme? Saving the environment!)
Sturdily constructed, I have no doubt that Robie/Dash will be living with us for a long, long time. And even though he requires near daily (or nightly) recharging, it’s an extraordinarily well-earned rest. After all, single-handedly (or, single-wheeledly) saving brain cells and zipping us through an inspired summer vacation is downright exhausting work.