When you have a hard or daunting task to do, making it into a game turns it into fun.
There are plenty of coding toys for kids designed make learning fun and teach programming and coding skills. Here are some of our favorite toys for teaching coding through play:
Build. Code. Play. – It’s right on the box and sums up the thought behind Lego Boost perfectly. If you or your kids ever wanted to build robots or bring their Lego creations to life, you’ll want to take a look at this kit.
The Boost set includes pieces to build 5 different robots: Vernie the Robot, Frankie the Cat, the Guitar 4000 (which plays music), the Multi-Tool Rover 4 (sort of like a bulldozer), and an Autobuilder, which is like an assembly line robot that can build small Lego creations itself.
These can be controlled with an app that gamifies learning to code. Through the app, kids (or curious adults who like to play) can control the robots and play games.
You can see what comes in the box as well as the different robot builds in the video:
Lego Boost also has a Star Wars set worth checking out: LEGO Star Wars Boost Droid Commander
Lego Boost sets are “officially” marketed for 7-12 year olds, though I’d give that range a bit of leeway on both ends. Younger kids building with Legos can get a head start coding with this kit, and it’s appeal goes way beyond 12 years old.
Lego Mindstorm Robot Inventor is an awesome set on its own, and integrates with the SPIKE line.
Lego Mindstorm is more than just a toy, more than a teaching tool, more than a building set. It’s a gateway. I have to stop and wonder how many Mindstorm enthusiasts went on to become engineers, roboticists, AI designers, or developers.
The heart (and brain) of the Mindstorm is a brick computer that controls sensors, servos, and motors in addition to the traditional Lego building blocks. You can get an idea of the capabilities in this programming guide from Washington State Library. The folks at Hackucation did a nice article on the evolution of the Lego Mindstorm.
Want more power and more capability (and more fun) from your Lego Mindstorm? You can connect your Lego Mindstorm to Scratch. For more on this, check out the link to the official Scratch site. Microsoft MakeCode also can connect to the Mindstorm, for another spin on block based coding to text based Java coding. Find instructions and tutorials here.
Lego Mindstorm is recommended for ages 10 and up.
We’re really enjoying the Makeblock mBot Ranger 3-in-1 Robot Kit. You can have fun controlling the mBots with a mobile app or optional game style controler. They’re also fully programmable, and support various block and text based languages.
The mBot Ranger is a versatile educational robot kit that’s designed for beginners, educators, and robotics enthusiasts. The design is sleek and modern, with a sturdy aluminum frame that can withstand rough handling (our kids tested this aspect out thoroughly.)
The Ranger kit includes various sensors, motors, and other components that can be used to build different robot models, such as a robot tank, a three-wheeled car, and a self-balancing robot. You can read our full review of the mBot Ranger.
Makeblock offers educational packages if you’re looking to get some STEM kits for your classroom.
The Sphero SPRK+ is a robot ball with programmable sensors including a gyroscope, accelerometer, motor encoders, and LED lights. The ball is made from clear plastic, so you can see the “guts” of the robot as it follows commands and rolls around.
You can use a table or smartphone to load the Sphero Edu app and get started. There are sample programs included in the app, so you can start having fun right away. The sample programs also serve as examples to learn from.
Tired of coding and just want to play? You can also use the app to directly remote control the Sphero and just drive it around.
The Sphero’s run time is a little over an hour per charge, and it does take a while to recharge to full power. Plan your activities in bursts to make the most our of your charge time.
Ozobots are tiny (about 1 inch square) robots. If you can draw a line on a piece of paper, you can program the Ozobot. It’s as simple as that.
This coding toy for kids (or adults) can help teach basic programming skills by simply drawing lines or using stickers in color coded commands. It’s literally color coding, as the different colored lines issue different commands.
To get the most out of your Ozobot you can check out the app and issue commands through “OzoBlockly” block based coding. Creations can be shared with the #OzoSquad, which is an online community build around Ozobot.
You can find some add ons like this wooden puzzle set with color coded tracks to build mazes for your Ozbot:
WonderWorkshop makes a series of coding robots. The Dot is a fairly simple model to get started. Things get progressively interesting with the Dash and Cue.
For a great way to get kids stared with coding, we’d suggest taking a look at the Dash robot from Wonder Workshop.
Dash offers an open-ended learning platform making coding simple and accessible, helping kids gain a foundation of programming through play.
Kids can control the Dash Robot with voice commands and explore coding concepts like loops, events conditions, and sequences. Dash is programmable though apps that can be run from most tablets or smart phones.
The Dash is also expandable. If your kid is looking for additional things to do with the Dash, check out this pack of challenge cards or turn the Dash into a catapult with this launcher kit. This xylophone kit allows kids to compose songs or remix tunes from a song library to make the Dash play, move, and provide a light show.
Dash is used in over 20,000 schools and is gaining popularity in classroom use, so you know it’s a top choice for educators to get kids started in coding concepts. It was chosen for Good Housekeeping’s Toy of the Year award, and cited by Melinda Gates as a top choice for STEM toys.
Wonder Workshop’s Cue Robot is a bit more sophisticated, and takes leaning and play to the next level. It’s designed for kids age 11 and up, and with 40 challenges out of the box there is plenty to keep kids engaged.
The Cue features an interactive AI with 4 unique personality avatars (Charge, Zest, Pep, and Smirk.) With a vocabulary of over 170,000 words and 30,000 text responses, Cue can chat about books, tell jokes, and more.
The cue is rated to run for 30 hours per charge, so chances are you’ll run out of juice before your robot does.
If you’re serious about your Dash or Cue and take it with you, check out this hard shell travel case made specially to protect your robot and accessories.
Kids can explore, collaborate, and compete through the Wonder League community platform.
Want more out of your WonderWorkshop robot? Head on over to GitHub and check out an official Python based API that allows real time access to the robot’s commands and sensors.
Littlebits kits are electronic building blocks. The magnetic “bits” blocks snap together allowing you to string together different circuits.
You can uses parts from different littlebits kits together, so the more kits and parts you have, the more options you have in what you build and how it works.
With the littleBits Electronics Arduino Coding Kit, you can create projects like a digital etch-a-sketch or pong game. It’s a great way to get into coding or Arduino (or both.)
Check out the video to get an idea of how easy littlebits are to work with, and how powerful they can be.
The Code-a-pillar is a cute smiling caterpillar and early coding and problem-solving toy for preschoolers ages 3-6 years. It has a motorized head and 8 segments. Each segment performs a different action or command.
Kids can connect the segments to make the Code-a-Pillar move in the directions indicated on the arrows on each segment. Each segment lights up as it performs its command to give kids a visual cue of what instruction is being followed.
Challenge kids to maneuver around obstacles and program the Code-a-Pillar to reach an objective.
The Code-a_Pillar is expandable, with kits to provide additional segments like this one that includes left, right, and forward pieces.
There is also the Code-a-Pillar Twist, which comes at a lower price point and has its 5 segments permanently attached, so they can’t get misplaced (it also means it’s not compatible with the expansion pieces.) Twist the dials on each of the segments to determine where the Code-a-pillar moves or make it play music and sound effects.
Geared for preschoolers aged 3-6, Kinderbot is a friendly looking brightly colored robot. Kids can interact with Kinderbot in several ways to learn basic sequencing and programming skills. The buttons on top of Kinderbot’s head can be used to issue commands to program a path and watch the robot follow their instructions.
There are also learning challenges to help teach counting, colors, and basic math skills. The challenges start off simple and gradually increase in difficulty. Positive reinforcement is offered to guide kids along to the next challenge.
Code and Go Robot Mouse is somewhere between a game and a toy that teaches elements of critical thinking, problem solving, sequencing, and programming.
Kids can construct a maze, and guide Colby the robot mouse through the maze to find the cheese. Colby is programmed using the arrow buttons on its back, and is screen free – no app needed.
The set includes 16 maze grids, 22 maze walls, 3 tunnels, 30 double-sided coding cards, 10 double-sided activity cards, cheese wedge, and Colby the robot mouse.
Bee Bots are durable little bumble bee shaped robots that help teach counting, sequencing, estimation, and programming skills. Blue Bots are basically the same toy, though with a transparent skin allowing a view of the circuitry instead of the bright yellow bee.
Bee Bots and Blue Bots are programmed using the directional buttons on their backs, and can accept sequences of up to 40 commands. As each command is completed, the Bee Bot beeps and blinks for visual and audio cues as it runs through its program.
Bee Bots and Blue Bots are a bit pricier than similar toys like the Code-a-Pillar, Kinderbot, Code and Go Robot Mouse, and seem more intended for classroom use. They are available in bundles, and have a variety of specially designed sets and mats available to expand their capabilities.
Coji is a robot that can be given commands via emojis and emoticons to make it move, make sounds or display emoji’s on its screen. It can help kids with trial and error problem solving though games.
Like many of the coding toys, it comes with an app to help program and interact with the toy. You can also put the app aside and just play with the Coji by itself.
Coji is a bit more budget friendly when compared to other coding toys for kids, though it may not be as sophisticated or robust as some of the other options. It’s really geared more towards a younger crowd.
If your little programmer is a Sesame Street fan or loves Elmo, check out the Elmo themed Elmoji.
The Osmo is a neat system that brings block based coding into the “real world” by stringing together physical blocks that issue commands. It fits more into the gaming category than a toy. It’s all play when you get right down to it, and provides another fun way to learn coding skills and concepts.
Note that Osmo requires an iPad to connect to the base unit (included with the Genius starter sets – the base piece, not the iPad!) If you want to check out Osmo, but don’t have an iPad, the Awbie kit is also compatible with Amazon Fire tablets, and kids can learn block coding by joining physical blocks together.
There are a whole series of expansions and add ons for Osmo, so you can keep building and keep learning. Check out the Super Studio series for some of your favorite Disney characters, solve mysteries with the Detective Agency kit, or bring your drawings to life with the Creative Kits.
Boolean Box is part of the Boolean Girl program which was created to inspire 3rd – 8th grade girls to build, code, and invent. Boolean Box was designed to help inspire young girls to investigate STEM learning and explore coding.
From assembling the computer itself, to basic scratch coding, electrical engineering projects, and Python coding, Boolean Box has a “path that fits” for all skill levels.
The kit comes with a curriculum of lessons to get started, and you can find more at their online Boolean University.
The Boolean Box includes parts to build a computer, from the keyboad and mouse to the Raspberry Pi based unit with 8 gig SD card with Raspbian OS, Scratch, Python and Minecraft. You’ll also get wires, circuits, resistors, buttons, LEDs, and a breadboard. HDMI output connects to TVs and it’s Internet/WiFi connected.
Cubelets are building blocks with robotic superpowers. Each block is a combination of hardware and software that can be snapped together for some pretty cool creations. Cubletes are one of 3 different types: Action, Sense, or Think. Blocks can be lights, servos, light sensors, temperature sensors, distance sensors, speakers, knobs, and more.
As you build a robot with Cubelets, you’re also building a program. Kids can get started “coding” just by snapping a few blocks together. Okay, they’re not building the next killer app – but they’re learning and playing.
What’s even better? Cubelets are compatible with Legos!
You can find Cubelets in several sized sets, each one adding more pieces and capabilities. Sets come with Lego adapters and a Bluetooth “hat” that snaps on to the blocks to allow connectivity with the Cublets app (Android, FireOS, or IOS.)
Discovery Set – 5 blocks. An entry level building and coding toy for kids, the Discovery set provides the basics for connecting blocks together and building some cool little robots. Great for teaching cause & effect, sequencing, sorting, and gross motor skills.
Curiosity Set – 11 blocks, including: Battery, 2 Drive, Flashlight, 2 Distance, Brightness, Inverse, Passive, Rotate and Bluetooth Hat
Brilliant Builder Pack – 19 blocks, including: Battery, 2 Drive, Flashlight, 2 Distance, Brightness, Inverse, Passive, 2 Rotate, Knob, Temperature, Bar Graph, Speaker, Blocker, Maximum, Minimum, Threshold and Bluetooth Hat. You get at least one of each Cubelet available, and can start digging into more complex creations.
You can also get individual blocks if you want to build something specific or just need single blocks instead of a whole add on set.
Check out this “Hand Washing Robot” to get a sense of what they can do:
We could have a whole website about Minecraft. If you’re not familiar, Minecraft is often described as a “sandbox video game.” I’d describe Minecraft as a virtual world of digital Legos.
There are a variety of Minecraft games as well as communities to find support and ideas.
But did you know you can make Minecraft Mods? You can make custom objects and bring them into the Minecraft world through Java.
Code.org has some Minecraft content and tutorials as well.
Coding Toys for Kids – Wrap Up
Many of these toys are app enabled. Be sure to check the app’s compatibility with the device you intend to use it on and make sure the toy will work with your phone, tablet, or computer. Nothing derails a kid’s enthusiasm more than unboxing a toy and not being able to play with it.
Beyond that, we wish you many hours of fun playtime and happy coding. Check out some of our other coding and programming articles: