Kano successfully ignites a love of learning within our children by making computers and technology fun.
As a parent of three small children, nine and six-year-old sons and three-year-old daughter, I sometimes struggle to find activities that can outcompete YouTube and iPad gaming. As a Xennial, I was born to a world that my parents knew and grew alongside the technologies that my children now enjoy. My boys have been involved with cub scouts, little league, and soccer but still lean towards the tech-heavy activities. If they had the choice, they would neglect the outdoors, books and turn themselves into iPad Zombies. My wife grew up in the country and wants more for our children than what our current society has to offer. We want to make well-rounded adults, conversational adults, critical-thinking adults and that is why we offer them a variety of opportunities. Cub Scouts now have cyber badges, internet safety badges, programming activities, etc. and our schools/education are embracing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). Bring the STEM into your home with the build-it-yourself Kano Laptop.
The Kano make your own computer kit arrived in a visually appealing 14 1/8 inches wide by 8 inches wide by 4 1/4 inches tall orange retail package. The cover displayed components of a DIY portable computer, keyboard, tablet-sized screen, USB connections, red power port and a variety of components. The verbiage, along the bottom, promised simple steps, build-it-yourself, learn to code, Hack Minecraft, 100’s of playful projects, make art, apps, games, and music. Both of the side panels provided details about the software and hardware of the device. Combine the Raspberry Pi 3, 8 GB microSD card with SD card reader, Battery, Sound sensor, 10.1″ HD screen, colorful HDMI/power/sound cables, installation storybook, 3 USB ports, wireless rechargeable keyboard, case/stand, DIY speaker and lifetime care into a functional computer. Once completed, you can utilize the device to access YouTube, Google Maps, Web Browser, Wikipedia, WhatsApp, and hundreds of other apps. The back of the box described the use of the storybook to build the computer, the ability to portably enjoy the device, the ability to make your own apps/games and the ability to utilize a sound sensor to record sounds, music and enhance your experience further. The artistic designs were fun, cartoony, colorful and child-friendly. These characteristics were masterfully showcased on an orange background. Like a traffic cone, the orange coloration demanded attention. Walking along the tech aisle at Toys-R-Us, I could not help but smile as I saw the device shining like a beacon against the other white boxes. I had to give kudos to Kano on their packaging.
After you lift the flap of the box, you will see how Kano intelligently utilized the underside to house their storybook instruction manual and sticker page. To access the main prize, lift away the thin foam black sheet and enjoy the product. Kano showcased their DIY computer in form-fit black foam. Along the right, you will find the Raspberry Pi 3 and the Kano USB reader/8GB micro USB card and to the left the clear back of the computer with the orange keyboard. Setting the computer backing aside, you will find the power button, the cable guide, battery speaker, sound sensor, data block, USB board. Setting the entire tray aside, you will find the screen/components and the USBA to USB-micro cable. Once you have learned about the components, you can start to build the computer. My children did not seem to care about the pieces, but the book and the build process may have been the best 30 minutes of their lives. My only regret about this step was that it was a one-and-done process. The instruction manual reads like a story and does not use a lot of jargon. Not only did I have an amazing family activity, my six-year-old and nine-year-old had to read to complete the task. They took turns reading the pages and adding the component to the computer. You will see pages like “This is your computer’s brain. It’s tiny but powerful.” Then the next page stated “Let’s give your brain new powers. Grap the memory card, and slide out the micro card.” The steps are basic, but the experience and the DIY, read-and-learn process was priceless. The instruction manual turned the computer into a giant Lego experience, and my children devoured this kit.
Each step of the manual added upon the previous step. First, we were instructed to add the microSD card to the Raspberry Pi 3. We then had to add the power button to the pins and the “brain” to the brain block and ultimately the entire device to the screen. The screen had two circles that accommodated the voids on the brain block. Sorry to use the lego analogy again, but the instruction manual even noted to “click them tight, like building blocks.” Add the cable management block, the yellow HDMI cable, the sound DIY speaker, USB Port to the USB hub block and then run the cables through the cable block. Each piece easily fits into a set location, and my children loved how quickly the process progressed. Add the battery to the correct location, run the USB power cables from the battery to the power button of the Raspberry Pi 3 and the edge of the computer and then install the Bluetooth USB keyboard dongle into the USB hub. Once complete, connect the clear back panel to the screen and then add the sound sensor into the open USB port on the outside of the computer. Pages 68-69 of the instruction manual were the best of the pages as my boys were able to “Hold the power button for 3 seconds to…” You can remove the keyboard from the storage compartment in the back of the computer and “…bring your computer to life.”
This kit provided a plethora of opportunities for my children. The 9 7/8 inches long by 3 7/8 inches wide QWERTY keyboard was quite narrow for my hands but fit the tiny hands of my children well. The “F” and “J” keys had the home row localizer ridges, and it was possible to use the function key (to the right of the spacebar) to access the extra keys above the number row. The functions were intelligently highlighted, with a white bar, along the top of the keys. You could press fn + P to run code, fn + spacebar to change the mouse speed, fn + o will share creations, and then fn button + number buttons will access commonly used coding symbols. To the right of the keys, you will find a 1 15/16 inches wide by 3 1/8 inches tall mousepad. The mousepad was sensitive and exquisitely functional. The mouse “click” button was intelligently placed to the bottom left of the keyboard. For your convenience, the screen was functional in upright and lying down positions. Power the computer on by holding the red power button to the right for three seconds and short press the red power button on the back of the keyboard. The screen was brilliant, clear and rivaled their iPad Mini 4 screens. You may chuckle, my children certainly did, but it took more than once for me to remember that the screen was non-capacitive.
You will need to create a log on and add a parental email. My children created their own marvel-esque name and excitedly started to play the game. To the left, you will be able to access Story mode, and towards the center, you will find a series of five 3×3 App groupings. To the right, the Kano staff provided staff pixel image pictures. For this review, we spent most of our time in the Story mode. You will start out on a beach scene and have a pong board in the middle of the screen. You can use the arrow buttons to move your character and talk to Gregory or Allan the Pong teller or the Info teller. If you talk to Allan, you can select “Play Pong, Make Pong and Maybe Later.” If you choose to make pong, you can drag objects to change the startups, color, logic, events, actions, numbers, getters, setters. You can adjust the color of the board, the ball size, speed, and style. You can essentially adjust every aspect of the game. The kids have to use the keyboard to control the character, use the mouse to navigate to the appropriate location and then type, program and move objects. The best part of this activity is that they have to read constantly. Some of the words “exploring” may be a little difficult for smaller children, but a nearby parent could quickly cultivate a love for science, reading, and gaming within their child. To return to the menu, you can press the Esc button and then select the home icon with the mouse click button. The apps along the middle seem to be shortcuts to the activities inside of the “Story Mode.”
It is important to note that this device will connect to networks and children can access the internet. There are included apps like Gmail, Google Drive, ePDFView, GoogleMaps, Leafpad, Painter and Tux Typing. One of the most useful skills in our modern tech-heavy world is a mastery of typing. The Tux Typing teaches children how to memorize and use the keyboard to complete a variety of tasks. Destroy asteroids with comet zap, catch fish with a penguin on Fish Cascade and work on lessons. When they are tired of that activity, they can paint or work on other games. Hack Minecraft allows you to quickly program some of the features of the game. You can learn about coding while building and the kids absolutely loved this game as well. Truthfully, this may be one of the best devices that I have seen for children. The bright screen, the portability and the educational nature of the kit make this product shine.
I highly encourage this kit for those with children over the age of six. My sons have actually asked to play these games, and without realizing it, they are learning. I am a huge Apple fan and love my iPad as much as the next person, but we often use them for simple personal interest activities, rather than work/business or education. I have work related apps on my device but spend more time internet surfing or playing War Robots than working. Kano focuses on the education alongside the fun. This clearly proves the overall strength of the kit. Enhance the computer with motion sensors and pixel kits and simply let your kids play. They will quickly learn how the computer works, the basics of coding and all before they realize that they were playing more than a game. I rate the overall experience at 5/5 stars.
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