The Best Toys To Teach Kids How To Code

I am amazed, once again, at all the great coding toys that have come out in 2019.  There are so many to choose from and it is hard to pick so let me help you out.  We have a few news ones that are definitely worth a look and some that make another strong appearance.

I have a list here but I also have 5 areas to consider when selecting a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) gift with a focus on coding.  You can use this list any time of the year.

Coding Toys and Gadgets

This is the best time of the year!! I am just wrapping up my fall term exams and getting grades in after teaching my technology courses.  This ultimately means Christmas and the holidays are here!  A number of friends asked me what I would recommend as a toy for their child that would teach them the basics of coding or thinking logically.  

So I thought I would share this with you.  I have had my eye on a few really cool toys and gadgets that would make awesome gifts during this Christmas and Holiday season.  Here are my thoughts on some great gifts.

If you are new to codingI provide an easy to understand explaination here.

I Never Want To Grow Up!!

This is the best time of the year!! I am just wrapping up my fall term exams and getting grades in after teaching my technology courses.  This ultimately means Christmas and the holidays are here!  A number of friends asked me what I would recommend as a toy for their child that would teach them the basics of coding or thinking logically.  

So I thought I would share this with you.  I have had my eye on a few really cool toys and gadgets that would make awesome gifts during this Christmas and Holiday season.  Here are my thoughts on some great gifts.

My kids are now 26, 18, and 17 but I still love toys and gadgets.  So do they. 

Do you remember your favorite toy? 

Why was it your favorite?  Keep that in mind when you pick out a gift for a young learner.  If you are looking for that cool tech gift that can inspire a young coder, keep these 5 areas in mind.

5 Key Areas To Keep In Mind When Selecting A Coding Toy

  1. Price – Yes, I know we love our kids and would give them the moon.  But you really don’t have to buy a $1000 computer and software to get coding.  Look for something that fits your budget.  A child can enjoy a $40 gadget as much as a $400.  You know the old story…”I bought all these gifts, and my son played with the boxes”.  Actually that was me.  I used my imagination with everything.  Which leads me to this one….
  2. Imagination – Does the toy/gadegt allow a kid to explore?  For example, everything seems to come with an app today to control your toy/gadget.  But the app only allows it to go forward or backwards and light up.  That gets boring after about 20 minutes or when the batteries die.  Look for items that have app that allow a full range of control.
  3. The App & Beyond – As I stated everything is coming with customized apps  but does it allow your child to code in a Scratch like environment.  Those are the ones that will truly get them to think and learn.  See my posts here about Scratch as it is a block coding tool like many of these toys use.  Also note if the toy has a developer community. It is here you learn you can also use the traditional programming languages to control the toy.  Now that is VERY cool!!
  4. Contemporary – If your child likes Elmo or Star Wars or another trending topic, look for toys or gadgets that bring these items to life.  It has a play-ability factor that they relate.  They see it on the big screen or small screen and want to interact and control it. Take advantage of that intrinsic motivational aspect.
  5. Fun – Look, toys and gadgets should be fun.  Don’t stress out if the kid opens it up and pushes it aside.  I don’t know how many times a toy or game got put in our toy closet only to resurface months later and the kids played with it for days.   Be patient.  Let them explore it on their own.

My List of Great STEM Toys

(Listed youngest to oldest)

I have broken this out by age from 36months to 14 yrs old and UP.  The ages are simply guides.  You know your child best!

The toys and gadgets I have listed here have links (via my Amazon affiliate account). Please feel free to use it or search it on your own.

Ages: 36mos to 5yrs

Ages:  36mos to 6yrs Old

What: Kids connect segments of the Code-a-Pillar and control how it moves left, right, and forward in a variety of combinations while it lights up and makes sounds.

Why I Like It: NO SCREEN!! Also it is Fisher Price and this has been very popular for a few years now. Priced under $30, it encourages young kids to experiment, build, and have fun.  There is no limit to the number of combinations a young person can make as you send it towards specific targets in a room.

Ages:  36mos to 5yrs Old

What: OSMO is a set of learning games and this one is a great starting place.  It requires an iPad or Amazon Fire Tablet (no Wifi) as kids become engaged with problem solving activities in a very interactive way.

Why I Like It: Osmo has become a very popular system of learning games that do grow as a kid gets older.  So this is not a one time buy and forget about a year later.  I like it because it is a BROADER learning toy that goes beyond just learning how to code.

NOTE:  This link will take you to a broader range of OSMO learning toys.

Ages:  3yrs and Up

What: It is a friendly wooden robot that you have to help find his way home using hands on blocks which represent a programming language.

Why I Like It: NO SCREEN!! I first saw this toy a year ago and I liked how it got kids to think logically. On the surface it looks like an average wooden toy but its hands on approach can teach kids programming fundamentals even if they do not know how to read. It is a bit pricey but a very cool toy!

Ages:  4yrs and Up

What: Build a maze for Colby the mouse to move through.  It makes noises and lights as as it weaves its way towards the cheese.

Why I Like It: NO SCREEN!! I love the combination of hands on and applying problem solving skills.  That is the best way to learn.  Fun and the PRICE is quite nice!

Ages:  5yrs and Up

What: This doll scooter teaches coding while zipping around the room going on adventures.

Why I Like It: Geared for young girls this app powered scooter is also compatible with other 11″ inch dolls.  More importantly, it teaches girls how to code with a free play mode and a guided mode.

Visit the link to see other doll variations.

Ages: 6 yrs and Older

Ages:  6Yrs and Up

What: Use colored markers that represent coding commands that your robot will follow.  Then begin coding with OzoBlockly to create code for your program. (What is coding? I explain here

Why I Like It: I attended a learning conference where we explored a number of devices to teach coding and engineering to young people.  I was impressed by this approach where you use a marker to start and then your interest just leads you to watching to write code for this little robot.  This also starts off SCREEN FREE!!

Ages:  6-14 Yrs Old

What: Build a code a REAL computer and learn what a Raspberry Pi is (Go Here If Not Sure

Why I Like It: This is a great way to introduce a young person to the core pieces in every computer.  It also introduces a Raspberry Pi.  These devices foster “tinkering” and that is a hallmark trait of all of us who love to code and build things.

I placed this in this age section because it is for 6-14yr old but note that the Raspberry Pi itself can be used by teens AND older!

Ages:  6Yrs Old and Up

What: Build a working 3D Hand Sensor and learn coding to have “Force” like powers. (What is Coding? – I explain it here),

Why I Like It: I am a HUGE Star Wars fan but I love the toys that teach coding where you not only code but get to build and interact with what you build.  These devices foster “tinkering” and that is a hallmark trait of all of us who love to code and build things.

Ages:  6Yrs Old and Up

What: Build a working 3D Hand Sensor and learn coding to make frozen fractals, build Olaf, and create your own stories. (What is Coding? – I explain it here),

Why I Like It: I like how Disney uses contemporary topics kids relate and gets them interested in a topic they might not normally give a try.  This is a building and coding activity for any fan of the FROZEN series.

Ages: 7 yrs to 12 yrs

Ages:  7yrs – 12 Yrs

What: 847 LEGO pieces that allow you to build at least 5 programmable motorized robots.

Why I Like It: For me, LEGO were an important part of instilling the ability to visualize a 3D space and build it.  This skill became important to me as I grew older.  Also, this kit leads to the Lego Mindstorms which I also touch base on.  All in all this puts a kid on a great path for coding and robotics.

Ages: 8 yrs and Up

Ages:  8yrs and Up

What: Ready to go out of the box, the Dash Robot is voice activated as kids learn programming (aka coding) concepts that will help them succeed in middle school.  DO NOT LET THE LOOKS OF THIS LITTLE GUY FOOL YOU.  It is very cool for an older kid!

Why I Like It: It is compatible with a wide arrange of mobile devices (Apple, Android, and Amazon).  It starts to introduce important logic concepts needed for early coders.  You can also connect LEGOS to it and build a unique robot no one else has!

Ages:  8yrs and Up

What: Build a real computer using a Raspberry Pi (Learn what a Raspberry Pi is) and learn to code with an approved curriculum used by 1000’s of girls in coding camps.

Why I Like It: Like the Kano kit listed above it introduces basic computing hardware leading kids to explore coding.  Most of all it was created by woman wanting to get young girls interested and passionate about learning coding. (Yes it is for boys too).  The curriculum is expansive and grows year to year.  THIS IS A GREAT INVESTMENT.

Ages:  8yrs and Up

What: Learn to code with this super smart interactive little robot.  It has an Artificial Intelligence capability to that even can sense your expressions (happy or sad).

Why I Like It: We have Anki products and I really like how they keep sending updates that keep it fresh.  But more importantly, I love this little guy who behaves a bit like WALL-E (from Disney) as you can learn to code in a ‘sandbox’ beginner mode or as your skills sharpen a ‘constructor’ mode. 

Ages:  8yrs and Up

What: Build, customize, and code your own R2 unit from Star Wars while leveling up their skills. 

Why I Like It:  First, it is R2D2….who wouldn’t want their own R2 unit!  Seriously….little Bits is one of the best hands on electronics learning kits for young people.  There are so many sets and add ons that you can build Internet of Things (IoT) to games.  Like many electronic kits for young people there is no soldering as that can come much later.  MAY THE FORCE BE WITH YOU young padawan.

Ages:  8yrs and Up

What: Drive right out of the box with a full range of color, light, accelerameter, and gyroscope sensors that can all be programmed.

Why I Like It:  I like Sphero.  PERIOD.  Although this one may be pricey, I like the fact that this can also connect with other platforms (aka devices) such as Raspberry Pi, Arduino, and a few others.  It started as a Kickstarter last year and hit the market.  It is a very flexible and powerful platform.  I am wondering if Santa has one for my family?

For the parents who want more than BLOCK Coding… this will allow you to code using Javascript and has access to API libraries.  Woah. 

I just received a new Sphero SPRK+ that will go along with my BB-8 the Star Wars Droid.  It is part of the family of robotic devices from Sphero.com that you can control with a smartphone or tablet app and then also program them. 

For younger kids just starting out the app is a cool way to just start having fun and learning the foundations of controlling a robot.  Then you can step it up by learning to code Macros (think of a to-do list approach), OrbBasic, and the OVAL (a full programming language).

Ages: 10 yrs and Older

Ages:  10yrs and Up

What: A coding board game that comes with 120 challenges of increasing difficulty.

Why I Like It:  A great game that gets kids thinking.  In cybersecurity, you have to learn to think one step (if not more) ahead than your adversary Black Hat Hacker.  This is a great alternative for that kid you want to explore the high job growth field of cybersecurity.

Ages: 12 yrs and Older

Ages:  12yrs and Up

What: Build and code one of the most intelligent and powerful Lego Mindstorm kits.

Why I Like It:  It says 13 to 15 but I do think it is accessible for 12 year olds.  These kits are found in coding and robotic camps, classrooms, and colleges.  It is packed with a powerful mircoprocessor chip (ARM9) and has sensors you can program.  I have seen classes install difference operating systems and program these devices with Java. 

Even though this is a toy….it has tremendous possibilities for kids who are very interested and love to tinker.

Ages:  12yrs and Up

What: Introduces the Arduino hardware and software coding environment.

Why I Like It:  Like the Raspberry Pi, the Arduino is an electronics hardware device that many Makers use to build prototypes.  It is a powerful device that gets young people tinkering which is a hallmark skill/trait of all great coders.  This particular kit is a subset of the much larger family of products called Snap Circuits.  Snapino is a very cool electronics kit for all ages similiar to LittleBits.

This is a great way to teach coding and how you can control electronics.  Snap circuits require no soldering and allow for young people to quickly learn important electrical concepts. Connect it to an Arduino and now you can build various devices.

Ages: 14 yrs and Older

Ages:  14yrs and Up

What: An all in one Raspberry Pi Starter kit.  Not sure what a Raspberry Pi is?  GO HERE

Why I Like It: I use the Raspberry Pi in my classes. We have setup them up to play video games, web servers, and programming platforms for programming the Parrot Mambo (see below). There is an extensive community and tutorials for that young person who likes to ‘tinker’.

I believe anyone who is intersted in coding should have a Raspberry Pi.  This is where it all begins.

Ages:  14yrs and Up

What: An easy and safe to pilot progammable drone.

Why I Like It: I have used this particular drone to teach coding. You can use the app and if you have an Apple device, use the block coding tools. Or if you are into learning how to code, you can write the software using a Raspberry Pi and send the commands to the drone. This drone is A LOT OF FUN!!

Let me know if you have any questions or if you purchased one of these items and share it in our  GetMeCoding Facebook Community!

Share this article with anyone who is looking to get their young person to explore coding.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays everyone!!!

GetMeCoding.com Mr Fred

 

 

 

Mr. Fred

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