Artificial intelligence shapes the future, and parents and educators want kids to be prepared. There has been a surge of interest in introducing children to AI through educational programs, toys, and media.
According to Google Trends, searches for “AI for kids” have increased by over 300% in the last year. Similarly, searches for “coding for kids” exploded in popularity earlier this decade. With AI poised to impact every industry, coding and computer science skills are now widely recognized as foundational for future success. Many parents want their children to reap these benefits, too.
“We’ve seen a huge uptick in interest for teaching kids about AI,” said Michelle Connolly, founder of LearningMole, one of many educational businesses catering to this demand. “Parents want to ensure their kids are literate in technologies that will be commonplace by the time they enter college or the workplace. In recent years, “Coding for Kids” was all the rage, but today, “AI for Kids” is what parents and teachers want.”
AI Camps and Classes
Companies like Amazon Future Engineer and Elite Tech Academy launched afterschool clubs and workshops to expose kids in underserved communities to AI skills and careers. Khan Academy has its own AI tool for kids and shares its thoughts on the future of education.
Some education experts predict AI clubs will become as common as school robotics or even chess clubs. “AI is already creeping into many aspects of daily life,” said Michelle Connolly, founder of online education platform LearningMole. “Introducing children to core AI concepts like machine learning models and neural networks is quickly becoming as essential as teaching coding and maths. By making kids aware of what AI is and how it works, they will be better prepared to utilize these technologies in productive and ethical ways. Our new AI videos aim to demystify AI for young learners, just as computer science education has provided a foundation of computational thinking skills for today’s youth.”
AI Toys and Media
Toy companies have raced to bring AI and coding toys to market for kids as young as toddlers. Popular options combine traditional play with app connectivity, teaching coding basics and AI concepts through hands-on interactions.
- Osmo Genius Kit (ages 6-10): This kit includes a tablet, various physical game pieces, and an app that teaches kids coding, math, and problem-solving skills.
- Sphero Bolt (ages 8+): This robot can be controlled by a smartphone or tablet, and it can learn new tricks and behaviors over time.
- LEGO Boost (ages 7+): This set allows kids to build their own robots and vehicles and then program them to perform different actions.
- Cozmo (ages 8+): This AI-powered robot can recognize faces, follow instructions, and even tell jokes.
- LittleBits Code Kit (ages 8+): This kit allows kids to build their own electronic projects, such as a talking bird or a light-up alarm clock.
Many parents find these early introductions to AI appealing. A 2020 survey by the Pew Research Center found that 72% of parents of children aged 0-17 believe that AI will have a major impact on their child’s life. Of those parents, 62% said they are excited about the potential benefits of AI for their children, such as helping them learn new skills and prepare for the future.
Another survey conducted by the National Retail Federation in 2021 found that 65% of parents are interested in buying AI-powered toys for their children. The most popular reasons for this interest were that AI toys can help children learn new skills (58%), be more creative (54%), and be more engaged (52%).
These statistics suggest that many parents are open to the idea of introducing their children to AI at a young age. They believe that AI can be a valuable tool for learning and development, and they are willing to invest in AI-powered toys and media platforms.
Of course, there are also some parents who are concerned about the potential risks of exposing their children to AI too early. These concerns include the possibility that AI could be used to manipulate or exploit children or that it could lead to social isolation.
It is important to weigh the potential benefits and risks of early introductions to AI before making a decision about whether or not to expose your child to these technologies. Ultimately, the decision is a personal one that should be made based on your child’s individual needs and interests.
Questions Around Data and Bias
As the field expands rapidly, some also raise concerns about data privacy and bias in AI aimed at children.
AI systems rely heavily on data from users. For example, AI models need large volumes of voice recordings or facial images to improve speech recognition or emotional classification. This has sparked calls for stronger child data protection.
Researchers also caution that biases embedded in AI algorithms could be amplified through toys and media aimed at kids. For instance, an AI chatbot trained predominantly on white voices might not understand children of color. An emotion recognition tool relying on visual data alone could fail with autistic children.
The Path Ahead
As AI permeates our lives, introducing AI in age-appropriate ways could prepare children to navigate our increasingly tech-driven world. But more work is needed to embed ethics, provide equitable access, and balance screen time.
Caregivers, ethicists and companies building products are responsible for developing AI for kids that drive social progress. Kids also need knowledge and skills to think critically about how AI impacts society. With the right approach, the future looks bright for young people to lead the way in developing AI to enhance human potential.