Best Coding Toys iMore 2020

Technology is a vast and exciting topic that permeates every aspect of our lives. Each year it moves forward faster and becomes a more critical part of the way the world works. Getting kids involved in STEM at an early age allows them to be part of this as they get older, but trying to find the toys that do it well isn't always easy. There are plenty of coding and robot enabled toys on the market today. But the best one available is Botley the Coding Robot. This toy teaches kids the fundamentals of coding without ever needing a screen to do it.

Best Overall: Botley the Coding Robot Activity Set

Plenty of people say that the amount of time kids spend looking at a screen should be limited. This concern can make it challenging to try and encourage STEM learning at a young age. Botley, the Coding Robot, aims to bridge that gap by delivering a fun STEM learning experience that never requires any interaction with a screen to play. Kids can learn coding basics, using looping commands, watch Botley follow black lines you lay out for him and plenty more.

This activity set comes with 77 different pieces that your kids can play with as they learn. These include tiles with black lines for Botley to follow, robot arms, 40 coding tiles, and even a guide with a starter coding guide. There is also a remote that kids can use when controlling Botley and even hidden challenges they can uncover as they play.

Botley the Coding Robot delivers everything you want to encourage STEM learning from your kids while they play. The fact that you don't need any fancy tech -or a screen at all- makes this toy even easier to snag for families that are on a budget. With tons of pieces, there is also a high replay value for kids, allowing children as young as 5 to start learning the fundamentals of coding.

Pros:

  • 77 pieces included for tons of fun
  • No screen time required
  • Botley has activities for kids as young as 5

Cons:

  • Not a great toy for sharing

Best Overall

Botley the Coding Robot Activity Set

Learn STEM skills without a screen

Code Botley for up to 120 steps, watch him use smart logic to avoid objects in his path, and more with this 77 piece activity set.

Best Value: Code Master

Getting kids interested in STEM in general, and coding, in particular, isn't always an easy task. Code Master aims to make it easier by delivering a fun and affordable board game. It uses methods like sequential reasoning and problem-solving skills to get kids interested. It's also great to see a board game built for a single player, making it an excellent choice for the STEM-minded only child in your life.

The game of Code Master has you using your avatar to travel an exotic world filled with crystals. Each level requires a specific sequence to complete the puzzle. You'll win when you figure out the right sequence and collect all of the crystals, and there are 60 different levels to play through. They start quite simple and then become progressively more complicated along the way, delivering a great experience that helps you to learn as you play.

Pros:

  • 60 different levels to play through
  • Teaches planning, sequential reasoning, and problem-solving skills
  • Uses offline approach to teach coding basics

Cons:

  • Directions may be unclear to some players
  • Completely offline approach may not appeal to everyone

Best Value

Code Master Programming Logic Game

Programming becomes a board game

Use programming logic to complete 60 different levels, each with a single sequence that will solve the puzzle you are looking at.

Best for Toddlers: Fisher Price Code-a-Pillar

Fisher-Price aims to make learning about coding as much fun as any other toy with their Code-a-Pillar. This little caterpillar comes with eight segments, and each one tells it which direction to move in. They are all connected by USB, which makes it relatively easy to plug and unplug them as your little tyke figures out what each one does.

The Code-a-Pillar uses bright colors and sounds to be as attractive to small children as possible. They'll be able to figure out which segments tell their Code-a-Pillar which direction to go and you can help them to navigate small mazes around the room. There are a few downsides to this toy though. Namely how noisy when it gets going, and the fact that it quickly picks up hairs and fibers which can muck up the internal mechanisms.

Pros:

  • Each segment works as code
  • Bright colors and sounds make learning easy for kids
  • Fun for children from 3-6 years old

Cons:

  • Hair from carpet can jam mechanisms
  • Toy is very loud which can be irritating for parents
  • Plugging parts in may be difficult for younger children

Best for Toddlers

Fisher Price Code-a-Pillar

Each segment teaches kids about coding

Connect segments of the Code-a-Pillar to tell it which direction to crawl and explore whole rooms as your child learns about coding.

Best Robot: Sphero SPRK+

Trying to learn how to code or program used to be a highly frustrating endeavor. However, now you can use an app on your phone to do it by playing with Sphero SPRK+. This little robot inside a sphere is scratch-resistant, water-resistant, and can teach you how to program whether you're just getting started, or already a pro. You can run programs from the app, or using your new know-how to build your own instructions telling Sphero what to do.

Programming comes in three forms, and you can use Javascript, draw and drive commands or scratch blocks that tell Sphero how to respond. The way the app is set up, there is a progression in learning, so your kids are never confused about what comes next. Command your robot to follow a specific path, drive through a maze, and plenty more. With the Sphero Edu app, there is plenty to learn and have fun with, in the process.

Pros:

  • Shell is clear, durable, water and scratch-resistant
  • Teaches beginner to pro-level programming
  • Sphero app gives you a variety of options for how to learn

Cons:

  • Only has 60 minutes of battery life
  • Long charging time

Best Robot

Sphero SPRK+

Have fun while you learn to program

Go from beginner to pro as you use this spherical robot to learn how to program!

Best Activity Set: Go Robot Mouse Activity Set

Activity sets deliver the ability for kids to learn STEM skills without even realizing it. These sets provide tons of fun with active educational elements that use games to help kids learn the basics of coding and programming. The Go Robot Mouse Activity Set uses visual and tactile learning to help kids understand coding as they complete mazes. It makes learning easier for kids as the sounds and lights are used to get them interested and keep them that way.

This activity set comes with 83 different pieces. These include 30 coding cards, 25 maze pieces, 16 grid pieces, 10 activity cards, one robot mouse, one cheese wedge, and an activity guide. Kids use the coding cards to build a maze and then input coding commands for their mouse to follow. Since the goal is always to get your mouse over to the piece of cheese in each maze, and there are multiple ways to complete mazes, it also offers up plenty of replay value.

Pros:

  • Uses tactile learning to teach coding basics
  • Lights and sounds help kids to know when they're on the right track
  • 83 different pieces included

Cons:

  • Not suggested for children younger than four due to choking hazards
  • Recommended for one child at a time

Best Activity Set

Go Robot Mouse Activity Set

Make coding a visual activity

Use Go Robot to learn coding with guided coding exercises, a mechanical mouse, multiple maze solutions, and screen-free coding fundamentals.

Bottom line

Every toy that made our list delivers a great experience that gets kids more interested in coding, programming, or STEM in general. While each toy here provides a slightly different experience, from screen-free activity, sets to robots that you can play with, the absolute best toy is the Botley the Coding Robot.

Botley aims to give kids the fundamentals of learning to code, without ever requiring fancy tech or a screen to get it done. With 77 different pieces to play with your kids will learn about coding while having a good time in the process.

Credits — The team that worked on this guide

Jen Karner has ben a STEM enthusiast for years and spent hours scrolling through reviews to find the most excellent coding toys on the market. You can follow her on Twitter

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