Introducing Robot Turtles to a Two-Year Old

Robot Turtles is a great board game that aims to teach early programming skills to young children.

I participated in the Kickstarter launch back in September knowing that my youngest son would be too young to play for some time.

I didn’t think he was ready developmentally. So when it was time to play Robot Turtles with my older son, I would frame it as something my younger son could play when he turned three. And he was okay with that.

But now he’s almost three (at the end of this month). I gave him the option to play with us tonight and he was very excited to join in.

I am documenting my onboarding strategy and results in the hopes that it helps someone else introduce the game to their little one.

First, I showed him the turtles and gems and let him choose which turtle he’d be controlling.

Then I showed him the blue, yellow and purple cards and drew his attention to the corresponding coloured flowers on the turtle tile — at this point I don’t think he understood the connection. But that’s fine. I didn’t feel it was worth holding up the game for this.

Game One

Game One - straight line to the gemMy goal with the first game was to make it as simple for him as possible. I wanted him to make the association between him playing a card and me moving the turtle. I set the gem three paces ahead of the turtle — without obstacles. I had given him access to blue, yellow and purple cards.

In retrospect, the game would have gone smoother if I had just given him blue cards. He seemed to be selecting cards based on some complex pseudo-random number generator. Maybe he learned that at daycare? :)

Anyhow, I let him make mistakes at first. But after a few mistakes I would say things like “Uh oh, he’s facing the wrong way now… should we play a different card?”. Eventually he got his gem and was very excited.

Game Two

Game Two - Ice walls unlockedWith a straight line under his belt, I chose to throw some turns at him in game 2. Out came the ice walls. The second map design was also simple but he had a difficult time with turning. Sometimes he would try to turn when he should go straight, and vice versa. But this time it was different. It appeared like he was actually trying to pick the right card.

However, I noticed that sometimes he’d lose focus and revert to his random card selection algorithm. Specifically, sometimes when I’d announce it was his turn, he’d go straight to his card pile without even looking at the game board.

After that I would ask him to hold on and look at his turtle before choosing a card… At first I gave hints like “which colour flower is closest to the blue gem?” but he would flat out give the wrong answer. So I had to adapt.

On the next turn I pointed with my finger and prompted, “Look, the blue flower is blocked… which flower is not blocked?” This seemed to help him make the connection. It also helped that there were a lot of ice walls and only one goal path — so most of the time there was only one right answer.

Game Three

Game Three - No new challengesI didn’t introduce anything new here. It was already bed time and I was pleased with what felt like a victory for Dad. So I gave him more of the same to cement the which-flower-is-not-blocked strategy.

Overall, I was very proud that my son was starting to understand the game. I think I’ll keep him on the ice walls level until he’s demonstrated a better understanding of turning. But I’m sure he’ll be on to lasers in no time.

(If you don’t have the game yet… go to ThinkFun)

Do you have any experience introducing the game to a very young child?
I’d love to hear about what worked and didn’t work for you.