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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.
What is a coding toy?
A coding toy 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, even the operating system your smartphone runs on and everyday programs like Microsoft Word, are all written in ‘code’.
For most of these toys, it’s not necessarily about learning one of these languages and 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 results in actions happening.
For older children, it’ll be a bit more advanced – like building robots and programming them to do things.
Either way, it’s coding with fun…
Here’s our pick of the best coding toys, for children aged 3 to pre-teen…
GOLD winner, Best Tech/Coding Toy, 2018 MadeForMums Toy Awards
What it is: A kit that teaches the first steps of coding and circuit building with the help of the very cute Volty the robot. You connect up the large tabletop tiles to make 1 of 20 circuits (or design your own), and then programme Volty’s directional buttons to make it navigate around it. Requires 3 AAA batteries (not included).
Why we love it: It doesn’t look as flash (or cost as much) as some of the other coding toys on the market but this toy really delivers. It’s easy to set up, fun to play and teaches patience, problem solving and the power of persistence.
What our child testers made of it:
- ‘This is way better than I expected it to be. Thomas finds it exciting and fascinating, although he needs a little help. He loves Volty the robot’s dance when he completes the track. Coding is what my husband does as part of his job and this really brought dad and son together. I couldn’t have wished for a better toy!’ Lindsey, mum to Thomas, 5
- ‘Luke was so excited when we unpacked this. He understood it right away and we were playing within 15 minutes. Luke is thrilled when Volty does what he’s programmed him to do. Really fantastic value for money. I’m very impressed.’ Tania, mum to Luke, 6
Available at: Smyths Toys
Age: 5 to 9
What it is: A brightly-coloured mini robot, with detachable arms, that you can program to move up to 80 steps: left, right, backwards, forwards, even avoiding objects, making sounds or going in a loop. Comes with 40 coding cards, 6 boards, stickers and accessories/activities to incorporate into the sequence. Requires 3x AAA batteries (not included).
Why we love it: Our testers loved Botley’s friendly face – and how he can move objects with his arms. And there’s plenty of sequencing steps in the set to keep a child busy for a good long time.
What our child testers made of it:
- ‘You can play with Botley as much as you want and there’s lots to do like the flags and the follow-the-line, and it can do an egg and spoon race. I like how he can smash through the walls of blocks. It was easy to learn how to use it.’ Jacob, 6
- ‘A fantastic toy and the accessories provide endless fun. Dottie took to it straightaway – and Dad was transfixed! It’s not cheap but I think it’s a toy that will be played with for many years as the child grows.’ Sarah, mum to Dottie, 6
Available from: Learning Resources
BRONZE winner, Best Tech/Coding Toy, 2018 MadeForMums Toy Awards
What it is: A robot that responds to voice commands and can be programmed (ether manually or via a free app) to draw, move round a board – and chase people. Requires 4AA batteries (check if 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.
What our child testers made of it:
- ‘It’s good that it can talk and it has different settings. And it can draw! And I can make it chase my little brother around. The mat makes the robot talk, and you change its setting and put it on Smart Game, and you can’t go over the lasers. I like helping the robots out and getting them batteries and stuff. I’m going to make some obstacles for it to go round. I do love it!’ Erin, 6
Available at: Amazon and Crafty Arts
What it is: A build-it-yourself laptop, coupled with a crash course on coding. You end up with a fully working computer that includes a Raspberry Pi-3, 10.1” HD screen, speaker, wireless keyboard, sound sensor and battery. Comes with an easy-to-follow storybook.
Why we love it: It looks very cool, builds very smoothly and the instructions are brilliantly clear and child-friendly – and not at all only-geeks-need-apply-offputting.
Available at: Amazon and Kano
What it is: A 12cm x 19cm x 25cm robot with forklift-y arms and amazingly expressive eyes. Once connected to the free Cozmo app (iPhone and Android compatible), he’ll recognise your face, say your name, and ask to play games. Over time, he gradually unlocks more abilities and allows some simple coding. Comes with charger and 3 interactive power cubes that he – and you – can incorporate into his games. Batteries included.
Why we love it: Cozmo has SO much personality. He’s pleased to see you when he ‘wakes’, snores as he powers down and celebrates when he wins a game – or throws a tantrum if you beat him too often! He won Gold in our 2017 Toy Awards, with our child testers particularly loving how he recognises faces – even the family pet.
Available from: Smyths and Amazon
Age: 3 +
What it is: This toy helps kids learn to code by planning and sequencing. Once Code-a-pillar’s parts have been put together – in what ever order (direction) your little one decides, it’ll then do a little dance, twist, turn, move forward, backwards or play music as programmed. Requires 4AA batteries (not included).
Why we love it: Watching ‘pillar move in line with your sequence is very satisfying, but we also just like how cutely Code-a-pillar lights up and plays nice jingly music.
Available from: Amazon
What it is: An 847-piece (wow!) set out of which you can build and code 5 good-sized (14cm to 27cm) multi-functional models, including Vernie the Robot (pictured, above), Frankie the Cat and Guitar 4000 (with pitch bend and sound effects). Then you download the LEGO Boost app to bring your creations to life. Comes with LEGO Move Hub, Interactive Motor, a Colour and Distance Sensor – and instructions.
Why we love it: Yes, it’s pricey but you do get a lot of model-building fun for your money. We love the way you can make Frankie the Cat purr and Vernie the Robot talk – but watch out for that spring-loaded shooter of his!
Available from: Amazon and LEGO
What it is: A 332-piece construction kit that builds into a 38cm x 30cm x 10cm robot with a cheeky face and built-in obstacle-avoiding infra-red sensors. You can then control – and personalise – him with buttons on his MeccaBrain (oh yes) or with your phone/tablet using a (free) app (iPhone and Android compatible). Takes 1 to 3 hours to build. Comes with instructions, rechargeable battery and USB cable.
Why we love it: The build is challenging but the instructions are great. And, once you get M.A.X up and running, he’s the quirkiest little guy – he even tilts his head if he doesn’t understand you. He won Gold in the Best Robot Toy category of our 2017 Toy Awards, and his message-recording function was a particular hit with our testers.
Available from: Amazon
What it is: A wooden cube robot that teaches coding: you place the blocks in the cube to create a sequence, then place Cubetto on the map and away he goes, following your ‘instructions’. Comes with board, 16 blocks, a map and a story book.
Why we love it: With its wooden surfaces, it is very beautiful to look at – and is definitely built to last. Nicely packaged and designed for a preschool-aged child.
Available from: Primo Toys
What it is: A bright blue 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. Requires 3 AAA batteries (not included).
Why we love it: We like the busy little mouse design: a cute, tactile way to introduce your child to the concepts of sequencing and forward planning. Well priced for this market.
Available from: Bright Minds
Age: 8 +
What it is: Dash is a robot who can play 100s of coding games and activities via 2 free Wonder and Blockly apps for iOS or Android. In addition to programming sequences, you can also turn Dash to into a little robot BFF. No batteries required.
Why we love it: Dash is a great way to make app play a bit more real. It sounds like a pretty complicated toy, but there are lots of tutorials in-app to help your child get going. We’re sure it’ll be pretty intuitive for tablet-happy kids!
Available from: Amazon and Apple
What it is: A remote-control robot toy you build yourself, and can customise and upgrade with 3D-printed parts, using the Scratch app. Marty’s also compatible with single board computers like the Raspberry Pi.
Why we love it: If your child’s already on a roll with coding, there’s an opportunity to go beyond the Scratch app and start using ‘proper’ coding languages like Python.
Available from: Robotical