Blocks That Give Toddlers A Foundation In Programming

It's never too early to learn computer programming. To prove it, a research lab at NEC Corp. has built a set of palm-size "Algoblocks" for young children. The blocks fit together in different combinations to move images on a personal-computer screen.

Each block has a computer chip and sends low-voltage signals to a communications box at the base of the PC. The computer interprets the different connection patterns among the blocks as steps in a program. One combination may tell an animated submarine on the screen to surface, while another opens a net to catch a fish. Children learn by trial and error and can "debug" their simple programs by finding better combinations. NEC is still testing the blocks in play groups. After that comes the easy part: marketing Algoblocks to Japan's education-crazed parents.