Coding is very much in vogue – especially for kids. Teachers, schools and parents the world over are realising how valuable it can be to teach children the value of learning how the technology around them actually works.
It follows that there are a wide range of toys and robots designed for kids to get to grips with coding, although they vary widely in their approaches. Some focus on teaching the importance of sequencing while others allow you to dabble in AI. One major lesson from them? Your child is never too young to start learning to code.
This list comprises some of the best coding toys and robots out there, offering a number of options to suit a range of ages and budgets. Some will require you to supply a smartphone or a tablet to work, while others focus on just having fun.
Kano Harry Potter Coding Kit
This magical kit from Kano lets you build your own wand before you begin to start learning how to code. The kit, which is well put together, includes easy to follow instructions, colour coded parts, and that all-important wand.
To keep the costs down you’ll still need to provide your own device to pair it with (like an iPad or smartphone), but you’re pretty unlikely to be missing one of those, right? Young kids will struggle without some parental help, but this kit is a great way to explain some of the magic of coding.
Looking and sounding like a robot from Disney’s Wall-e, Vector is a miniature robot with a huge amount of personality. He uses AI to whizz around your kitchen table, can recognise your face and therefore say hello, and when used with a smartphone or tablet play a number of games and perform a number of tricks.
You can use the education side of things comes into play with the accompanying app that lets you code Vector. The more you play, the more you can unlock. Great fun but you will need a phone or tablet to get the most from him.
Fisher Price Code-a-Pillar
Aimed at really young children (3+), the Code-a-Pillar is about learning the value of sequencing. The caterpillar can be broken into nine segments which control whether the caterpillar goes left, right, forwards, or wiggles, among other instructions with the aim of the game to reach targets you place on the floor.
This is really entry level stuff, but it’s great fun and helps start those value building blocks of placing commands in order to get an outcome. Certainly one for pre-schoolers.
Osmo Coding Awbie
Osmo is a series of games for children designed to merge physical and app-based play using an iPad. This game – check out our full Osmo Coding Awbit review – lets you follow the adventures of Awbie as he eats his way through strawberries on screen.
To make that happen, children must place together physical coding blocks giving the instructions to move, run jump or stop. The game works using the iPad’s camera to watch what pieces you are putting down in front of the screen and then follows your commands accordingly.
Mind Designer Robot
Aimed at 6-10 year old children who want to code, the Mind Designer Robot from Italian company Clementoni is great in that, although you can enhance it with an app, you don’t need a smartphone or tablet to use it.
Instead, you can either program it via pressing a series of buttons on the back or, better still, just talk to it thanks to voice recognition. You can also load the bug-looking robot with a colouring pen to help you draw a picture.
Botley – the coding robot
Ditching the need for a smartphone or tablet all together, Botley is a fun friendly coding robot that’s suitable for young children. In the box you’ll get a stack of activity accessories to play with and the all-important remote control to be able to code up to 80 instruction steps.
It might sound basic, but Botley features object detection, loop commands and black line following. For those worried about screen time this is perfect.
BinaryBots Plastic2Code Crab
BinaryBots is a smart toy robotics manufacturer that uses the BBC micro:bit pocket-sized codeable computer inside the toy (that is sold separately, though, it’s key to note). Featuring a mechanical meccano-like approach to play, kids have to build the robot before they can code and control it.
There are three kits to start with: Totem Crab, Totem Tortoise, and Totem Spider, and these can all be merged and expanded on. One for older kids looking to experiment further.
Logiblocks is an electronic coding toy that lets you physically snap “commands” together to build an electronic system. The blocks which are battery powered and sealed to allow for non-supervised play, can be arranged in a number of ways to create everything from rain detectors to a Morse code machine.
There’s a range of sets available with a range of different projects to complete. Everything is interchangeable, so you can expand as you go. The company is also planning on introducing a Bluetooth bolt on to allow Scratch programs to control the Logibloc circuits and vice versa.
Sphero Mini is a miniaturised version of the original app-enabled robot toy. The size of ping pong ball, you can control it with different modes in the Sphero Mini app, or you can just use your face thanks to a new feature called Face Drive. As you might expect, this uses your facial expressions to steer the ball.
Sphero Mini sports a little gyroscope, accelerometer and LED lights, as well as colourful, interchangeable shells.
It uses Micro USB charging and gives you about one-hour of play after an hour of full charging. It also comes with three mini traffic cones and six mini bowling pins for different games.