You’ve likely heard about the importance of coding, especially in helping prepare your children for their future careers. Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) skills are increasingly vital in all walks of life.
But it can be intimidating. Where exactly do you start? What’s the right age for your kids to start learning how to code? Do they need prior expertise?
Fortunately, you can find great toys for all youngsters, and make learning fun.
Suggested age range: 5- 12 years.
The key to getting kids into coding is inspiring them to see its potential and normalizing that attitude. That’s where the Barbie Robotics Engineers Doll comes in.
This brand has been a staple of the toy industry for over half a decade and has survived by adapting. Its latest development is a partnership with Tynker, a gaming platform that replaces source code with colorful building blocks.
Dolls come with six free lessons that can be unlocked on the Tynker site. These games are designed around an impressive assortment of careers: Robotics Engineer, Astronaut, Beekeeper, Farmer, Musician, and Pastry Chef.
They’re not especially intensive either. A course takes between 45 minutes and an hour, so your kids shouldn’t get bored.
And you can leave them to it because the program guides users through potentially complex notions like sequencing, problem solving, and debugging without the need for assistance. Nonetheless, Tynker offers instructions for parents and tutors if they do want to help out.
Suggested age range: 7- 12 years.
Lego’s popularity knows no bounds, so this is the perfect way to get your kids interested in coding. Yes, it seems a bit pricey, yet no more so than a full-sized Millennium Falcon, the Hulkbuster armor from Avengers: Age of Ultron, or any of the Technic sets.
Plus the Lego Boost Robotics Toolbox is educational, so you can justify the $160 price tag without sweating too much.
You can build five models: the robot plastered over the box; a cat; a guitar; the Multi-Tooled Rover; and, perhaps coolest of all, an auto-builder—that is, a miniature production line for Lego bricks. Each take a couple of hours to make (alas, using the same bricks, so you can only have one robot at a time).
It’s ideal if you want to spend some time with your children. But they can also learn independently, using the tutorials available through the free Boost app. You’ll need a tablet running iOS 10.3/ Android 5.0 or newer; smartphone screens are simply too small.
It’s so fun, youngsters won’t even realize they’re learning something so valuable. And once they’ve finished with Boost, they can progress to Lego Mindstorms. Alternatively, the Raspberry Pi is an excellent next step, giving kids a similar level of hands-on experience.
Suggested age range: 4- 10 years.
Once more, you’ll need a tablet for this one; it does offer some variation, however, as you can connect it to two apps via Bluetooth. WowWee Elmoji is a small, brightly-colored robot with a simple screen for a head; by default, it displays the red Sesame Street character.
Elmo is a solid entry-level character, intended for preschoolers. But the two apps allow you to change its face into an emoji if you’re worried your kids are too old for the Muppet. Indeed, this is based on the Coji device, so you can learn to code using emojis.
Elmoji won’t occupy your children for countless hours, but it will prove a good distraction for a while. Considering this, the $60 RRP seems steep, but many retailers offer it for a much lower price, making this a fair introduction to coding.
Make sure you buy plenty of batteries, however. The three AAA batteries required are not provided and you’ll go through them surprisingly quickly.
Suggested age range: 5- 15 years.
Kids bugging you to get a pet? Here’s a neat solution which you won’t have to feed or clean up after!
Okay, your youngsters will probably still want a dog, but the Code & Go Robot Mouse should keep them preoccupied for a while.
This is more hands-on than many other sets as you don’t need a tablet to take part.
You use 16 grids, 22 partitions, and three tunnels to create a maze for the robotic mouse, Colby, to navigate. With 30 coding cards and ten activity cards, it might seem intimidating at first—which is why this is an excellent toy for parents to get involved. If all goes according to plan, it won’t be long until your children will be able to carry on independently.
It’s a reasonably priced set, though a cheaper variant, including a mouse called Jack plus coding cards, is also available. The two together would make a great Christmas present for siblings.
Suggested age range: 6- 15 years.
Ozobot’s main selling point is its marrying of technology and art. You’re encouraging STEM skills and creativity!
The robot moves by following marker patterns—your child draws on a piece of paper using different colored pens and the robot follows. Of course, it’s not quite that simple, but the accompanying OzoBlockly editor app is easy to understand.
The classic Ozobot Bit is suitable for ages 6 and above, while the newer Evo adds sounds and special features and so has a bigger appeal.
Our favorite bit is the custom skins to stick on your Ozobot. Don’t underestimate the appeal of superheroes on youngsters and big kids. It’s massive fun dressing your robot up as Rocket or Groot from the Guardians of the Galaxy. There’s also a great Spider-Man set (in which the wall-crawler is packaged alongside a Venom skin), but if you’ve got an Evo, bulkier Avengers models are available.
Just don’t be surprised at how tiny they are.
Where to Next for Kids?
These toys might take a little time to master, but let’s not underrate kids’ ability to pick up new skills. In fact, you might have to work hard to keep up!
So what can they advance onto? We’re great advocates of the Micro:bit—this little device is supported by the BBC, and distributed primarily to educational institutions. But you can get your hands on one anyway. They’re perfect for beginners, and if your children show enough enthusiasm, there’s chance to grow their knowledge even further using various accessories.