Tommy the Turtle - Learn to Code

App review by
Christy Matte, Common Sense Media
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Cutesy coding intro just barely scratches the surface.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this app.

Educational Value

Kids can start to understand the basics of coding logic, but without more commands and options, they can't get too far. 

Ease of Play

A quick tutorial leads kids through the basics, and a set of challenges helps them pull it all together. Kids will find it easiest if they can already read, but the app does read commands out loud.

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What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Tommy the Turtle - Learn to Code introduces kids to the basics of coding logic while not actually teaching them to create usable code. It's simplistic, with only a handful of "commands," and kids should have no trouble picking up the basics. Kids will do best if they have basic reading skills, although the app does read commands out loud. Since it's designed to be accessible, it can be paired with a switch that allows kids to control it using an alternative to the touchscreen (sip/puff, grasp switch, button switch). Read the app's privacy policy to find out about the types of information collected and shared.

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What's it about?

TOMMY THE TURTLE - LEARN TO CODE starts with a quick tutorial to help kids understand how things work. Kids give instructions to Tommy the Turtle by tapping on them. Commands include forward, backward, grow, shrink, turn, spin, jump, and spin. There's also a simple looping option to repeat commands. Once the tutorial is complete, the challenges encourage kids to take things a bit further, asking Tommy to use certain commands to interact with his friends. There's also a free-play mode where kids can create their own "programs." 

Is it any good?

This introduction to coding will be too easy for most kids who want to learn, but it can serve as a simple first step. The great thing about Tommy the Turtle - Learn to Code is that it clearly shows kids how they need to string together commands in a logical way to get the computer (turtle) to do what they want it to. While some kids understand this intuitively, it's a much more difficult concept for others. However, there just isn't really enough meat to get kids truly engaged. Asking a turtle to hop and sing will only get you so far. Some kids will enjoy playing with it just for the fun of getting him to spin around and do other tricks, but most kids will outgrow it quickly. Also, there's one flaw in terms of actual coding: The challenges occasionally ask for repetitive behaviors but won't allow kids to use a loop to achieve them, which goes against good coding practice. In the end this is merely a quick intro that would need more content to truly teach coding. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about logic and how it's used in Tommy the Turtle - Learn to Code. Have kids practice giving and taking step-by-step instructions in real life. Can you give clear directions that another person can follow? 

  • Talk about using screens in balance with other activities. How do you like this app as compared with other apps you could use? If you had to choose the best use of your time on a screen, would you pick this app over other apps on your device for communication? Why, or why not?

  • Discuss programming. What is coding? What is it used for? What types of things would you like to learn how to code?

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