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Kano Computer is the best gift I have ever given!

It's not hard to get most kids excited about programming. You say "Hey, how cool would it be if you could make your own games?" and watch their faces light up. The problem is often what comes next.

There's a handful of fun and educational apps online that will help a child establish the core thought patterns needed to actually write a program, but most of them really need that guiding hand from someone who has written code before to push those patterns into something useful. If your idea of writing code is that one time you customized a theme for your MySpace page in 2005, chances are you don't have the tools needed to help a child become a programmer. That's not on you, in fact, it represents a real problem with accessible education in this space.

I recently stumbled across a clever combination of hardware and software that may not be the perfect answer for everyone, but gets closer than any solution I've used yet to truly encouraging kids to learn how to code almost entirely on their own. It's called Kano Computer, and it is very likely going to be my go-to gift for any kid under age 15 for quite a while.

Kano Computer

I loved learning about that machine, and wanted to share a piece of that experience with my son.

My decision to purchase a Kano Computer came entirely from a desire to give my son a different kind of computer. When my aunt and uncle gave me my first computer, I spent days taking it apart and learning everything I could about it. When I had to give it back to them to replace the power supply a few months later, it took me less than a day to notice new drivers on the system for the CD-Rom drive they were giving me for my birthday. I loved learning about that machine, and wanted to share a piece of that experience with my son. Building a PC isn't likely to be a skill he's going to need in 10 years, so instead of a full desktop I started looking at something a little more compact.

Kano Computer is a Raspberry Pi with a speaker built into the enclosure and a wireless keyboard that includes a trackpad. Assembly is simple, but detailed enough that you learn along the way there's more you can do with this computer than what is available in the box. Connect your Kano Computer to any HDMI display with the included cable, connect a power cable, and you've just "built a computer" with your kid.

The impressive part of Kano Computer isn't the hardware, it's the software. From the moment you start your Raspberry Pi, Kano OS is built to be as child-friendly as possible. I don't mean large, friendly text bubbles with giant colorful icons either. Kano OS offers simple explanations for tasks and walks you through completing them — starting with a command prompt. Once your child creates an account, they're taken to a Legend of Zelda-esque video game world full of people in need of help. Each person offers a challenge, and each challenge requires some form of programming knowledge.

If you're interested in exposing your child to the beginnings of software development, this is the environment you want them learning in.

The Kano OS map breaks down each group of challenge out to make it easier for your child to pick what they want to learn. This includes vector art, Python, and basic if/do blocks for beginners. The challenges mostly involve learning inside of a game, which means your child is actively changing the game they are currently playing. They alter a line of code and immediately see the effect, followed by the ability to save the version they've edited to be shared with friends and family.

Even things like system management are part of this game environment. System updates are achieved by walking to the service station and asking for an update, as though it's part of the game being played. The whole Kano OS setup is highly functional, but it's also a ton of fun. It encourages an entirely new level of exploration for would-be software developers, and for parents that don't have that strong software background, it's very easy to follow and participate with your kids.

Kano Computer

I've never been so happy with a gift I've given before. Kano OS is entirely open source, and Kano Computer is exactly the kind of compact and portable system a child should have. If there's ever a point where my son has outgrown the software but the hardware is still useful, it's just as easy to replace the software on this as it is any other Raspberry Pi. If you're interested in exposing your child to the beginnings of software development, this is the environment you want them learning in.

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Russell is a Contributing Editor at Android Central. He's a former server admin who has been using Android since the HTC G1, and quite literally wrote the book on Android tablets. You can usually find him chasing the next tech trend, much to the pain of his wallet. Find him on Facebook and Twitter

17 Comments
  • Do you have any recommendation for a minimum age?
  • I'm interested in this question as well.
  • Reading age. If your child can read comfortably, they can start this.
  • From the Amazon page (linked in article) "For ages 6+ (no technical skills required)." He also said he'd give it to anyone under 15.
  • I got my sons an Arduboy for much the same reasons. Completely open source, and designed to make it easy to build games. It's based on Arduino instead of the Raspberry Pi, so you get the Arduino IDE, which was designed to make it easy to program. Other advantages include being a mobile platform (it's about the size of a credit card) and half the price. The last win (or maybe you think it's a loss) is that it's an 8-bit platform, so you can only do retro 8-bit games.
  • How about a maximum age? I don't know crap about programming myself.
  • Honestly, I think anyone can use this and get something from it.
  • The built in os and software sounds neat for kids. Do you know if it's open source or if it can be downloaded and installed on a different computer?
  • It's open source, and can be installed on other computers as well.
  • I just googled it and found this link-
    http://developers.kano.me/downloads/ So it looks like they give you the os and the book so you can use it if you already have a raspberry pi. That's really cool. Thanks for sharing.
  • Thank you for finding this link! Now I can download the Kano OS and just buy a raspberry pi separately. Much cheaper than the Kano kit at $200 (Canada).
  • It depends if your child is interested in computer and playing, learning something new. I am 74 young and just stated with the Raspberry Pi CanaKit with everything I need to play except a keyboard/mouse. Go to http://www.raspberrypi.org and there is tons of stuff to look at and learn. As we just cut the cord on TV service, I am looking at Kodi with Exodus to watch streaming content. The Raspberry Pi boots from an SD card, 32GB in the CanaKit with NOOBS_v2017 OS pre-loaded. Raspbian is the OS to do the projects in, and it is a GUI screen like Windows. If I would have seen this kit it may have been the one I bought. So why not get it and see if you child will be interested to learn something new instead of being on there phone or tablet playing games all the time? I am learning something new and having fun reinstalling the OS from scratch and seeing which OS is what works best for me. If you can when you get your kit, copy the OS on the SD card to a folder on your computer, then when something go south, use SD Formatter program to format, then copy that folder content to the SD card, and now you are ready to reload and OS on your Raspberry Pi. I have three 32 GB SD card now to experiment with several different OS's. Thai can be a project for you and your child to play with together and have fun.
  • Awesome! You're an inspiration.
  • I think I'm interested in this for myself. I'm a network systems administrator. I also tinker with and learn my way through many gadgets, but I've never gotten into programming.
  • Kano is a great idea - I just hope it's bugs have been resolved. I purchased two separate kits last year and both had enough different issues that resulted in having to return them. One would have difficulty holding a wifi connection (if it could even connect to begin with) and the other would freeze up way too often to use. Kano recommended OS updates but those did not help either so I returned both kits for a refund.
  • Russell, Mind if I chat with you on Hangouts about this? I really want to get something like this for my niece, but I'm not sure what the best approach is for getting her more interested in technology.
  • Please gift me too. Please gift me too. Please gift me too. Please gift me too. :P Interesting stuff.