The best STEM robotic kits for children
Robotic kits can be a fun way to teach things like coding and circuitry, but with so many different kits out there, how do you choose? Using my own experience and some in-depth reviews from Tom’s Guide, our sister site, we’ve created a list of favorites, from best to… good, not the worst but also not good. There are kits for all ages, levels, and price ranges.
Lego Boost gets our top position based on a reasonable price, versatility, and great app. 847 pieces of kit can be made up of five different creatures with good instructions or into anything you can imagine and build. While this toolset is intended for children aged 7-12, our reviewer found that his five-year-old had no problem navigating the app and coding his creations.
In fact, the app is designed in such a way that children can not get ahead during construction, which can help them not to be disappointed. And since there is no reading related to any part of the process of building or writing code, children who are not good at reading will not be limited by the app. Available for iOS and Android (best use on tablets).
WonderWorks Workshop Dash & Dot
Dash & Dot is a brother robot that can be used together or separately. Dash is portable, while the dot is in one place (although it has an acceleration, so it will know if you’re moving it or not). While none of the buildings involve basic robots – both are fully assembled – both Dash & Dot can attach Lego bricks to them so you can build buildings around them.
Dash & Dot can help young children (recommended ages 5 to 11) learn all about coding using a block-based system, and Dash even works with an app called Path that lets you draw a line on the app and Dash follows the path, allowing you to “program” Dash before you actually learn how to program! Dash retails for $118, while Dot costs $80. Works with iOS and Android and four of the five apps available also work on Fire Tablets.
Jimu Robots is a solid choice for older kids who like to build and program. With all seven kits, priced from $99 to $399, there’s something that fits most budgets. While each set has instructions for building specific creatures, young designers can use puzzle pieces to build whatever they want, finding new ways to connect pieces so that their work can come alive by the engine. After assembly, children can test their programming skills. Our only major complaint with these kits is that newly learned programming children won’t get much guidance from the app and will have to learn things on their own – although this may not necessarily be a bad thing for some children. Works with iOS and Android.
littleBits Star Wars Droid Inventor Kit
LittleBits and Star Wars are a perfect combination! The Star Wars Droid Inventor Kit, which sells for $99, gives you everything you need to build the iconic R2D2 droid, which consists of 20 pieces and six “bits,” pieces that make R2 move (they’re attached to each other by word, just like in the other littleBits kits). Aimed at children 8 and older, this free app includes videos to help create R2D2, along with additional instructions on how to add items from around your home to create a whole new droid and challenges you can complete to teach your droid how to make new things using block-based encryption. Works with iOS and Android.
Tenka Labs Circuit Cubes
One of the more reasonable items on this list, Circuit Cubes kits come with batteries, engines, and lights, along with pieces to build different objects, depending on the kit you choose. For example, with the Smart Art set, you can build a drawing machine, a jewelry box, or a light-up sign. All kits teach how circuits work together to make the engine or lights run on electricity, although sometimes learning happens by trial and error – our reviewer thinks the instructions can do a better job of citing things like polarity. Once you’re well versed in how to make your engines and lights work, you can add your own Lego bricks and other toys and indoor objects, while making your own creations a reality! Note that there is no programming or encryption involved. While existing kits don’t connect to phones or other devices to work, some new kits coming later this summer will have Bluetooth connections.
Lego Mindstorms EV3
If your teens or teens have ever joined a primary school computer-making team, your child will be familiar with the Lego Mindstorms system. Mindstorms EV3 is the next step for children who are already proficient in Lego Boost and want more challenges. The kit — also a price increase, at $350 — allows you to build 17 different robots, and of course, you can also use hundreds of lego bricks included (along with your own), three servo engines, and multiple sensors to build from your own imagination. The toolset works with iOS and Android, as well as Macs and PCs. It even comes with its own remote control.
Although Sony Koov is not cheap at all (the only kit currently on sale is the $519 Educational Tool kit), it has the potential to do a great job of teaching children how to code. In fact, its lessons begin with the basics: What is coding? Minecraft and Roblox fans will probably love the certainty of the clear blocks and may even be inspired to bring their 8-bit online creations to life. With a variety of engines, lights, and sensors — all connected to a custom Arduino board — Sony Kool is a versatile set of construction tools with many possibilities. Cons? Programs for the 23 items you can build are prewritten, and while you can change them, there’s no way to save those changes for later. (However, you can save the custom code you created from scratch.) Works with PCs, Macs, and iOS (without Android).
If Anki Cozmo isn’t too expensive compared to other beginner coding toys— $180 — it will be higher on this list. It’s lovely (it sneezes!), It’s interactive and it can perform tricks with blocks. It makes programming simple by only allowing block codes to be placed from left to right (instead of vertically), which makes it easier for young children to understand. Targeting children aged 6 and under, Cozmo can play games with you, learn to recognize you, and allow you to see the world through its own eyes (camera). Works with iOS, Android, and Amazon devices.
Kamigami humans come in eight different forms, each resembling a pre-historical bug or organism. They have to be assembled, but not in that way, such as a Lego-based robot that is assembled – the “shell” is a bit more origami- but with plastic pieces, and they are certainly not made to take apart and rebuild. Playing with Kamigami is fun, but coding is very basic – it doesn’t quite match the level of skill required to assemble robots. Although each Kamigami robot itself is not so expensive (usually from 40 to 50 dollars), the real magic happens when you join a battle together, so keep that in mind when thinking about the price. Works with iOS, Android, and Amazon devices.