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10 of the best coding toys for kids

From a dancing rabbit and a bright blue mouse to robots that draw and play ball and a build-it-yourself maths calculator, we've found the best coding toys for kids aged 4 years and up

best coding toys

Tech toys of all kinds are always a must-have for iPad-happy kids – cute robots, smartwatches, child-friendly cameras and more. But it’s toys that help your child learn how to code, and become proficient at it, that tick the key educational box as well as the fun one.

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But what exactly is a coding toy? Essentially, it’s one that helps in some small way to teach your child how to code – which, in non-tech speak, basically means to execute a computer program. Websites, web browsers, apps, everyday programs like Microsoft Word and even the operating system your smartphone runs on, are all written in ‘code’. There are numerous coding languages, too. You may have heard of JavaScript, but others like Python, PHP, Ruby or C# are less well known.

For most of these toys, it’s not necessarily about learning one of these languages or actually building websites. Far from it. It’s more about your child beginning to understand the building blocks of code, and how putting all the blocks in the correct order, usually logical thinking, results in actions happening as planned. For older children, it’ll be a bit more advanced – like building robots and programming them to do things. Either way, it’s good fun.

With the help of our child testers, parents and toy experts we’ve spent hours trialling all manner of coding toys to find out which hit the brief –

Here’s our pick of the best coding toys for children, from preschoolers to preteens…

1. Coding Critters Bopper, Hip and Hop, £40

Age: 4+

What it is: A 22-piece playset, where you can use the arrows on 5cm-high Bopper the rabbit’s back to programme a sequence of up to 30 steps. Includes 2 smaller bunny companions (Hip and Hop), a coding storybook with challenges to follow, 10 coding cards and accessories including a cart, swing, slide and carrot. Requires 3 AAA batteries (not included).

Why we love it: It’s really nice to see a coding toy that doubles up as an interactive pet in its own right: we like how Boppy sings and dances and blows kisses when you put her in Play mode. The swing is a little flimsy perhaps but the coding challenges are fun, especially pulling the cart and making the tree stump pop up. Definitely needs a grown-up demoing the moves first, though.

Available from: Learning Resources, Amazon and Robocube

2. Osmo Coding Starter Kit, £99.99

Age: 5+

What it is: A smart-tablet based coding kit that’s all about using colourful magnetic coding blocks to control an on-screen character called Awbie, solve puzzles and create music. Comes with a base for iPad or FireTablet (be sure to order the kit that’s compatible with your tablet), a 31-piece Tangible Coding Block set, stackable storage, a base for your tablet and access to 3 coding apps. You can buy more apps separately.

Why we love it: lt’s pricey but all very well thought out and presented, with really clear instructions and a nice easy set-up (do build in some time to install the apps). And once you’ve got going, there’s lots of matching, grouping, sorting and problem-solving fun, with plenty of subroutines and loop blocks. We particularly rate the Coding Jam game and like that there’s a parent app that helps you keep track of your child’s progress.

Available from: Very, Amazon and John Lewis

3. Botley 2.0 The Coding Robot Activity Set, £85

botley 2.0 the coding robot

Age: 5+

What it is: A brightly-coloured 13cm x 7cm mini robot, with 2 sets of detachable arms and light-up eyes, that you can program to move up to 150 steps in 6 directions, including avoiding objects, making sounds or going in a loop. Comes with 2 face plates, 40 coding cards, 6 boards, 27 obstacle building pieces and a starter guide with coding challenges. Requires 5 x AAA batteries (not included).

Why we love it: This upgrade on last year’s award-winning coding toy now has additional buttons, meaning Botley can move at different angles (creating more coding opportunities) and he now lights up and makes sounds. The remote control is a good chunky size for small hands, and the challenges are fun – you can make Botley spin round, move balls put on a light show and even take on the character of a frog or a dinosaur. Pricey but well worth it.

Available from: Learning Resources, John Lewis and Amazon

4. Kano Harry Potter Kano Coding Kit, £79.99

Age: 6+

What it is:  A build-it yourself wireless wand that allows youngsters to learn to code and perform wizarding spells alongside an app, which features more than 70 step-by-step creative challenges.

Why we love it: This teaches the principles of coding in such an exciting, accessible (and Harry Potter-themed) way. The box is beautifully presented, the instructions are child-friendly and clear, the wand has great battery life and good motion control, and the accompanying app is very well done – with 99 challenges (masses to do!) We like how you can see the block-based coding language on the side of the screen as you tackle each challenge – encouraging you to tweak the blocks to see what effect that has on your spells.

Available from: Amazon and Apple

5. Artie 3000, £69

Age: 7+

What it is:  A 12cm-high coding robot that you can programme through your web browser and use to draw all sorts of shapes. It has 4 modes of play – pre-programmed shapes, games, art for colouring and freeform coding.

Why we love it: We really like how this cute robot uses drawing, shape-making – and even writing your child’s name – to teach the basic ideas of coding and introduce several different coding languages. The instructions for set-up are clear and uncomplicated but it all works much better when linked to a laptop or desktop computer, rather than a tablet or smartphone. The pre-programmed codes are great, although you may find you need to hold the paper down to stop it moving as Artie draws.

Available from: John Lewis, Learning Resources and Amazon

6. Mind Designer, £49.99

Age: 5+

What it is: A 31cm-high robot that responds to voice commands and can be programmed (ether manually or via a free app) to draw, do maths, move round a board – and the room. Comes with activity board, 3 felt-tip pens with washable ink and instructions. Requires 4 x AA batteries (not included).

Why we love it: With his chunky wheels and clear, domed head, this is such a friendly looking coding toy, and the drawing function is great fun – you can see really clearly on our device what MIND is going to draw before you send the command. We like that it can move and draw  – and that it responds to your voice. You do really need to use it on a flat surface, though – it does tend to get stuck mid-move otherwise.

Available at: Amazon, Hamleys and Crafty Arts

7. Galt Toys Cosmic Coding, £12.99

Age: 6+

What it is: A space-themed board game that introduces some coding concepts. The aim is to fly your rocket through space, collecting stars and avoiding black holes and aliens. Includes 4 plastic rocket counters, 36 movement cards, 20 star cards, 8 mission cards and guide. For 2 to 4 players.

Why we love it: It’s a simple game to grasp and it’s good to play, requiring both memory and strategy skills. The course of the play is determined by the movement cards (which your child may need help to read) which are written in a ‘if this, then that’ style – teaching you about following steps and logical thinking. Not as techy as the other toys in this list but good fun!

Available from: Amazon, John Lewis and Waterstones

8. Turing Tumble, £67.92

Age: 8+

What it is: A project-based game where you solve logic puzzles by building a set of ramps, gears, gear bits and switches into mechanical computers, powered by marbles, that can do sums and generate patterns. Comes with board, stand, 40 marbles, 30 counterweights and 62 building pieces and a book of 60 challenges.

Why we love it: It’s kind of an inventive, mathsy twist on a marble run/pinball game and it’s both challenging and super-cool. And it definitely gets children thinking about how computers actually work). The pieces are quite small, so the builds require some fiddly-fingered patience, but the story-based challenges are well graded for difficulty, with plenty of helpful hints at beginner level.

Available from: Turing Tumble

9. LEGO 17101 Boost Creative Toolbox Robotics Kit, £149.99

Age: 7+

What it is: An 847-piece LEGO set from which you can build 5 different multifunctional models, including a talking robot, cat, guitar and vehicle. Then you download the free LEGO Boost app which will allow you to programme and control your builds. Comes with LEGO Move Hub, Interactive Motor, a Colour and Distance Sensor, and instructions. Requires 4 AA batteries (not included).

Why we love it: There’s lots to do with this kit – there needs to be at that price! – and the way the models move is really thrilling. A far as the coding goes, the programme blocks are separated by colours based on type of command and so are very intuitive to work with. We like the walking, talking 27cm-tall robot who can pick up, grip and carry things, and we’re impressed that the 42cm-long guitar has pitch bend and sound effects.

Available from: John Lewis, Amazon and LEGO

10. Code and Go Robot Mouse, £25.99

Age: 5+

What it is: A bright blue 10cn-long mouse that comes with 30 tiles you can use to program a sequence. Once programming is complete, the mouse takes off and does as instructed. Comes with an activity guide. Requires 3 AAA batteries (not included).

Why we love it: It’s bright and basic and a cute, tactile way to introduce a school-age child to the first concepts of sequencing and forward planning. And, compared to a lot of coding toys out there, it’s a great price.

Available from: Bright Minds and Amazon

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