The Ultimate-est List of Toys, Kits, and Books to Teach Kids Coding

Reading Time: 5 minutes
Child, hacker. Image credit: Flickr user donnieray, CC BY 2.0
Child, hacker. Image credit: Flickr user donnieray, CC BY 2.0

Computer Science Education Week is in full swing, so it’s time to publish my yearly list of toys, kits, and books that teach kids to code. Perfect for celebrating Hour of Code or under your Yuletide tree.

Toys & Kits

Modular Robotics Cubelets—Reviewed as expensive but extremely durable, I’ve seen these in group settings at various conventions. Bluetooth cubelets let you connect and program your robot from your mobile devices. Lego connectors available. Six cubes for $159.95, 12 for $329.95, or 20 for $499.95. Ages 4+.

Sphero—A robotic ball that you can program if you want, or simply enjoy as a toy. And don’t even get me started on the BB-8 Sphero, so cute! Bluetooth-enabled to connect to mobile apps. Starting at $129.00. Ages 5+.

Wonder Workshop Dash and Dot Robots—Dash and Dot are a robot duo just waiting to be programmed. Multiple apps are available for younger and older kids. Still a favorite with my kids even after a year of owning them. Read the full GeekMom review. $279.99. Ages 5+.

Kano—This all-in-one plug-and-play computer kit raised over $1.5 million during its Kickstarter campaign. The kit comes with a Raspberry Pi 2 (see below in this list), keyboard, speaker, cables, memory card, power supply, storybooks, stickers, and case cards. There is also a Screen Kit to build your own HD display. Starts at $99.99 (currently on sale from $149.99). Ages 6+.

Codeybot—Codeybot is a robot that you can program using Blocky. You can customize his expressions, give voice commands, make it dance or play music via WiFi, and shoot LED lasers. Pew! Pew! Pew! Read the full GeekDad review. $169.99. Ages 6+.

Bitsbox—Coding now comes in a subscription box! Read the full GeekDad review. Starting at $20/month for the digital subscription or $30/month for a box of books and things related to that month’s programming activities. Ages 8+.

VEX Robotics IQ—If you’re looking for an alternative to Lego, VEX’s base kit is comparable. VEX also offers robotics competition for kids from elementary school to college. There’s a nice comparison article if you’re considering the pros and cons of Lego Mindstorms EV3 vs VEX IQ. $239.99. Ages 8+.

Piper—Piper is a new computer kit that lets kids connect all the components together and build a wooden box to put it all in. Piper provides a curriculum to teach the basics of engineering and programming. Read the full GeekDad review. $299.00. Ages 8+.

ArcBotics Sparki—This Arduino robot aims to be the affordable option in robotic kits. It includes a laundry list of sensors and tools, all preassembled. Programmable using C/C++ or an open-source drag-and-drop programming tool. $149.00. Ages 9+.

Jewelbots—These are bracelets that your tweens and teens can program to communicate with their friends. Their Kickstarter was massively successful, raising over $166k and were even endorsed by Bill Nye the Science Guy. Starting at $69 for one. Ages 9+.

Lego Mindstorms EV3—I don’t know if you’ve heard of Lego? They kind of make cool stuff. Read GeekMom’s five reasons you should volunteer for FIRST. $349.95. Ages 10+.

Raspberry Pi—This is a tiny, tiny computer, essentially. Plug in a screen, keyboard, and mouse and get ready to learn anything from Scratch to Python. Combine your new Raspberry Pi with GeekMom Ruth’s own book, Raspberry Pi Hacks: Tips & Tools for Making Things with the Inexpensive Linux Computer (paperback $19.23). $30. Ages 6+ can use it (for Scratch, for example) but teens would be more capable of actually tinkering with it.

Let’s Start Coding—A kit of electrical components combined with instructions to code your builds (in C++). Project suggestions are included and no previous experience with electronics or programming is necessary. At this price tag, it really doesn’t get much better—as long as your child is old enough to handle longer projects and text editors (this isn’t click-and-drag coding). Read the full GeekDad review. Base kit starts at $40. Ages 13+.

For more advanced programmable electronic kits, check out SparkFun Electronics, littleBits, Maker Shed, and Adafruit Industries.

Board Games

Robot Turtle—Help a turtle navigate a map to collect jewels. Advanced players can use special tool cards, like lasers. Read the full GeekMom review. $24.99. Ages 4+.

Code Master—Help your avatar navigate a map to collect jewels, only one sequence of actions will solve the puzzle. Produced by the same company who makes Robot Turtle, Code Master is kind of like Robot Turtle‘s older brother, with features like if/then statements and loops. $19.99 at Target. Ages 8+.

Code Monkey Island—Help your monkey reach the banana grove. Like code master, this board game introduces programming beyond planning moves, such as conditional statements and boolean logic. $19.99. Ages 8+.

Bloxels—This is a combination of physical elements and digital game that lets you create video games. Colored blocks and a 13×13 grid let you create your retro arcade-style characters and backgrounds, then you can create a game with them on your tablet and play it with your friends. $36.99. Ages 8+.

Instructional Books

The Official ScratchJr Book: Help Your Kids Learn to Code by Marina Umaschi Bers and Mitchel Resnick—ScratchJr is a version of Scratch designed for even younger children. Pre-readers will be able to enjoy the image-based game, and this book can help you guide your child along. Read the full GeekDad review. $13.56. Ages 5+.

Coding in Scratch: Games Workbook by Jon Woodcock and Steve Setford—Tutorials for programming games in Scratch. Read the full GeekDad review. Ages 6+.

Kodu for Kids by GeekDad James Floyd Kelly—Start-to-end instructions for four different kinds of games kids can make using Kodu. Read the full GeekMom review. $19.27. Ages 8+.

Scratch Programming Playground by Al Sweigart—Another great option for learning how to program by creating games in Scratch. Read the full GeekDad review.  $14.25. Ages 10+.

Invent Your Own Computer Games with Python by Al Sweigart—Python offers a great Pygame library, which this book shows you how to use. The 4th edition is going to be released at the end of December, but the 3rd release is available now. $29.95, but available for free online at the author’s website. Not written for kids explicitly, but teens should find it interesting.

For more instructional books on programming, No Starch Press and DK both offer a lot of choices. And if you’re reading this before December 13th, 2016, DK is running sweepstakes to give some of their great programming books away.

Fictional Books With a Dash of Programming

Boolean Logic for Babies by Eric Redmond—A baby cloth book introducing boolean logic such as AND and OR. $25, PDF $5.99. Ages 0+.

Hello Ruby—A picture book featuring a girl who breaks one big problem into small ones, and solves them with the help of new forest friends. Includes many activities that connect the story to more puzzles and programming concepts. Read the full GeekMom review. Hardcover, $11.89. Ages 4+.

Secret Coders by Gene Luen Yang—Graphic novel featuring a couple of kids solving the mystery of their creepy school by solving puzzles with programming. Read the full GeekMom review. Paperback, $9.94. Ages 8+. (The sequel, Secret Coders: Paths and Portals, is also available.)

Lauren Ipsum by Carlos Bueno—Another book that understands programming isn’t really about computers. Learn logic and problem solving with this middle grade novel. Read about it on this GeekDad list. Paperback, $13.42. Ages 10+.

Computational Fairy Tales by Jeremy Kubica—A mix of computer science concepts, programming logic, dragons, and wizards. Read the full GeekMom review. Paperback, $9.99. Ages 14+.

Happy coding!

Disclaimer: I did not personally try all the items in this list, but I used my best judgment while doing research to include items that were well reviewed and would be good starting points for beginners. Please share in the comments if you know more resources that should make the list!

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