Kano, the runaway Kickstarter success that raised $1.52 million on a promise to teach kids how to code and assemble a Raspberry Pi-based computer, is now widely available to the public. Priced at $149.99, the kit includes everything you need to get started — other than a display, which you'll need to provide yourself. (An HDMI cord comes in the box.) But beyond that, it's all there: the Raspberry Pi, a custom-made Bluetooth keyboard with built-in trackpad, the plastic case that holds this mini-computer together, and plenty of stickers and colorful options for customizing your Kano. The first of two illustrated guides walks younger users through piecing Kano together, and most everything in the kit is color coded to make setup a breeze for all ages. The second book will teach you how to start using the Kano OS software, which comes preloaded on an SD card that plugs into the Raspberry Pi.
But as with many things, the best way to learn is really to dive right in. Based on Linux, Kano OS is kid-friendly through and through, with a leveling system that rewards users as they modify games like Snake, Pong, and even Minecraft. You can change the way games behave by experimenting with "Kano Blocks," which look like puzzle pieces to the user, but actually spit out real Python code based on what you do with them.
That's the magic here: kids can instantly see exactly why what they're seeing on the screen is changing as they tackle new challenges with Kano Blocks. Once you're done with games, there are also music and video players to toy around with, and since Kano is open source, you'll find plenty of other projects to work on if you connect it to a Wi-Fi network. I have relatively little interest in coding, but the formula still proved addictive after co-founder Alex Klein dropped off a demo unit at The Verge's Manhattan office. I spent more than a couple hours tinkering with Kano, and it's easy to see kids — both at school and at home with their parents — spending even more time learning about all it can do.