It’s no secret, our kids are surrounded by gadgets and technology.
Far more comfortable with a tablet and kindle than a notepad and paperback, they consume media and adopt technology at an unprecedented rate. Yet, there’s very little out there teaching them to master that technology, transforming them from consumers to creators.
That’s why many parents today are looking for ways to get their kids into electronics and coding, and have turned to DIY kits and the maker movement to help their kids develop the real world skills they’ll need to build and use technology to solve tomorrow’s problems.
The Raspberry Pi is one such device that has developed an enormous fan base online, using it to create ingenious, sometimes crazy but always impressive projects that dazzle audiences around the world.
Small, kid-friendly and affordable, if you’re a way to help your kids get started designing and creating really cool projects, Raspberry Pi may be just what you’re looking for.
What is Raspberry Pi
Developed by the Raspberry Pi Foundation and released in 2012, the Raspberry Pi is an affordable and very small (about the size of a credit card) computer.
It can be plugged into a keyboard, mouse, TV, monitor, as well as any number of Raspberry Pi accessories on the market, such as cameras, various sensors, touchscreens, and remote controls.
In that way, it can form the core of any number of interesting DIY codable electronics projects, such as home computers, smart devices, streaming systems, robots, video game devices and more.
Developed as an accessible starting point to learning electronics, computing and coding, and as an introduction to the DIY maker movement, the Raspberry Pi has developed a large online community around it, and has seen increasing adoption in schools and classrooms around the world as a powerful educational tool for kids.
How much does a Raspberry Pi cost?
Raspberry Pi has attracted so much attention and interest partially due to it being quite cheap to buy.
As with any real computer, there are a variety of different models, with different hardware and capabilities. Some models are more powerful than others, some are more up to date than others, but in general the Raspberry Pi is far less expensive to buy than even a well-used desktop or laptop.
Prices range from under $10 for the extremely barebones and tiny Zero W, to the more robust, powerful and practical quad core Raspberry Pi 4, which you can get for under $75.
It is important to remember that Raspberry Pi is really just the heart of a computer and, while pretty cheap to buy, to start interacting with it you’ll still need to factor in costs for things like:
- A monitor
- SD cards for storage
- A case if you want to turn it into something permanent
As well as any other project-specific hardware you may want to buy, which you may or may not have lying around the house.
That said, there are any number of kits on the market that provide more or less everything you need to get started for about $100-150.
At what age can kids start using a Raspberry Pi?
When it comes to exploring the world of electronics, Raspberry Pi is really best for kids over the age of 11.
At around this age, kids have already undergone a number of cognitive developments that will help them with exploring, planning, building and solving problems using the Raspberry Pi with less parental oversight.
They have developed stronger logical thinking skills, have firmer and more strategic problem solving skills, and have developed deductive reasoning skills.
They also have developed an improved capacity for testing their ideas systematically, and begin to draw conclusions from hypothetical situations and thoughts, rather than requiring concrete examples.
That said, we think it is possible that a Raspberry Pi can be used by kids as young as 8 with the right amount of parental supervision and if they’re really interested in electronics.
Raspberry Pis are affordable, relatively durable, the connectors plug in,they support visual block coding and there are tons of fascinating, DIY projects aimed at elementary school kids.
Very young kids (under 8), however, may struggle with the device, however. It can be damaged by excessively rough handling and it does require some understanding and interest in electronics to be interesting, especially as some projects can take quite a while to complete.
What can kids do with Raspberry Pi?
The Raspberry Pi is a programmable micro-PC that can plug and swap into any number of hardware accessories on the market through its several USB and HDMI ports.
Raspberry Pis are also programmable. They natively support C/C++, Python and Scratch, but because it’s a real computer, it can be loaded up with various compilers and be used to learn pretty much any coding language.
These two factors, the ability to plug into different hardware and be programmed to do pretty much anything, means that there’s an unlimited number of projects out there for kids to try.
The only real limit is their imagination, willingness to learn new skills and, of course, parental permission.
Kids (and their parents) have built their own personal computers, weather stations, alarm clocks, traffic lights, arcades, security systems and more.
The real question is what they can’t do.
Is Raspberry Pi a desktop replacement?
In a pinch it could certainly do so, and as a first computer for a child it can be a great and affordable option, but it’s not the most ideal choice for a main household computer.
While the Raspberry Pi is a full computer, it is Linux based (Raspbian), which is going to look, feel and work a bit differently out of the box than your standard Windows or Mac computer.
It also means that it isn’t always that compatible with the various software that kids need today or some of the educational software options out there.
Raspberry Pis are also kind of slow and underpowered compared to full desktops and laptops, meaning that while it can be quite an affordable computer for day to day tasks like browsing the internet, doing homework or streaming video, it really won’t run the advanced games they want or do any real heavy lifting (video or picture editing, for example).
Educational Value of Raspberry Pi for Kids
Raspberry Pi isn’t just a fun weekend project or hobby, it does offer a variety of educational benefits to kids.
Easy introduction into electronics and computing
Raspberry Pi is a great tool for introducing kids to the fundamentals of electronics and computing.
By its nature, it is a programmable computer and, when combined with various electromechanical accessories, kids can:
- Learn about and build electronic circuits using LEDs, resistors and switches that will pique their interest,
- Understand digital and analog sensor systems and how they interconnect and can be controlled
- And get a firmer understanding of how components are controlled and operated by computers
And they’ll do so ideally while completing a project that’s personally interesting to them, whether it’s building a robot, an arcade or even a security system for their bedroom.
Also, because the Raspberry Pi is relatively inexpensive, there’s less risk involved in using it. This means kids can be bold and feel a little more confident in exploring the device and its components and push it to its limits.
Get Kids Learning to Code in a hands on way
Raspberry Pi is programmable in Scratch, as well as Python and C++ for more advanced coders.
Scratch in particular is a great way for kids to learn to code. A drag and drop visual coding program, kids can start creating their own programs without having to get bogged down with the syntax of coding and instead focus on learning the fundamentals and logic behind the code.
There are any number of good learn to code programs out there for kids but whether its getting sensors to work or having lights bling or completing a complex project, Raspberry Pi allows them to see tangible, physical effects of their code through the device as they work with it, as opposed to programming a game or app on a screen.
Develop Stronger Computational Thinking and Logic
Finally, as they think through, design, plan and start building their projects, kids will have to begin thinking more sequentially and algorithmically, reasoning and using logic to ultimately figure out how this small computer will carry out their idea and solve a particular problem.
This computational thinking is a valuable skill that carries over into pretty much every STEM subject, particularly in math, engineering and computer science.
How to get started with Raspberry Pi for Kids
It’s easy to get carried away with Raspberry Pi, after all there are an almost infinite number of cool projects out there to try and it’s very tempting to try something really cool and ambitious.
When it comes to kids, however, it’s important to keep in mind that most often their intrinsic interest in electronics won’t be all that high, and it’s easy for them to get frustrated or bored if a project drags on.
It’s also important to note that many advanced projects out there, while admittedly quite cool, may involve things like woodworking, soldering or even light welding.
These require a good deal of supervision or help and that can quickly make a child feel as if a project is really becoming their parent’s project, which can cause them to disengage or lose interest in the best case or lower their self-confidence and feeling of achievement in the worst.
Ideally, you should consider a Raspberry pi kit that’s ready to go right out of the box and that isn’t overly complex to start, so kids can get right down to the project at hand with minimal start up and installation time.
This is less likely to bore or frustrate kids and allow them to take a more hands on role in the project, which ultimately lets them learn more and develop a stronger sense of accomplishment.
Our top pick to get your kid started
Piper Computer Kit
The Piper Computer Kit is a Raspberry Pi kit that provides kids with everything they need to build their own Raspberry Pi portable computer, learn the basics of electronics and even learn to code…with a little help from Minecraft.
Designed to be easy to use with minimal parental oversight, kids are guided through the kit’s assembly and taught various concepts in electronics by a unique game-like Minecraft environment that is filled with humor and a colorful cast.
Unlike some other DIY Raspberry Pi computer projects out there, the Piper computer kit doesn’t involve merely hooking up the Raspberry Pi to a monitor.
Instead, the game forces kids to learn to connect wires, switches and sensors and assemble devices in order to complete the game’s missions.
The Piper kit also has an in-built, very hands-on learn to code program, called Pipercode. Pipercode helps kids build a variety of interesting electronics projects, and then program them in a Scratch-like block code, which is pretty cool.
Overall, the Piper computer kit is a somewhat challenging project (although not overly so) that requires minimal parental involvement and, once assembled, gives kids a strong sense of satisfaction. It also gives them the opportunity, and perhaps a desire, to continue learning electronics and coding.
As such, we believe it is an excellent and useful starting point for getting kids using Raspberry Pi.
For more information you can Read our in depth review of Piper computer kit.
About the Author
David Belenky is a freelance writer, former science and math tutor and a tech enthusiast. When he’s not writing about educational tech, he likes to chill out with his family and dog at home.