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Best Toy Robots That Teach Kids Coding and STEM Skills

Robots and toys that will help your child to learn to code, recognize social cues, or just practice building Legos.

You could spend a fortune on toys and wind up with a heap of plastic that soon ends up in the slag heap where forgotten dolls and broken-down toy cars go to die. Or, you can buy dynamic toys that can keep kids occupied for hours while subtly helping them develop useful skills like logical thinking and problem-solving. We’re talking about robots for kids, robot toys for kids, and coding robots that have benefits far beyond typical playthings.

If you’re looking for a high-tech toy for your high-tech kid, look no further. We’ve rounded up a bunch of awesome ones beloved by online customers and Fatherly staff alike. All you have to do is pick one (or more!) that’s age-appropriate for your kid, with a level of difficulty that suits them. After all, you don’t want to discourage your kid by giving him or her a robot that requires a degree from Stanford to enjoy.

Artie is a programmable robot that draws whatever you code on any sheet of paper you want.

Pros: Artie the coding robot connects to your wifi network, and you log into the Artie interface to drag and drop blocks of code into the command area. You then tell Artie to turn right or left, move forward or backward, and pick up or put down his pen to draw what you want. You can use preprogrammed shapes and games, or write your own custom code for Artie.

Cons: It’s battery-operated, which is annoying.

This incredible toy lets you become a dinosaur trainer. Yes, that's right, you train your own interactive dinosaur and toggle between training mode, guard mode, RC mode, and total control mode. Good for ages 8 and up.

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Pros: So is Blue being a good lady? Then reward her with treats. Or pet her. And as you train her, you unlock higher levels and her behavior improves. You use the joystick to move her around, and you’ll be stunned by her lifelike movements. And yes, she responds to your commands.

Cons: The major turn-off is the price. It’s a lot for a robot that’s more of a virtual pet than an educational toy.

Dash & Dot are a pair of adorable, programmable, dare we say Minion-esque robots that can build, make music, or cruise around. They're Lego-compatible, so kids can adorn them with pretty much any decoration they can imagine. Coding the bots to do their bidding helps kids understand that computers are actually machines that people build to do what they want, not just sentient hunks of metal that wreak havoc out of the box. Not yet, anyway. Good for ages 6 and up.

Pros: We like that this kit is a complete set, with two robots and accessories like brick connectors, a xylophone, a launcher and missiles, a bulldozer bar, a tow hook, and two USB charging cables. Four different apps help kids get all they can out of their new robot friends. The Path app teaches the fundamentals of robotics and coding, the Go app helps them learn about the Dash’s capabilities, the Blockly app teaches advanced coding concepts, and the Xylo app helps them use the aforementioned instrument to play music.

Cons: This toy robot doesn’t come cheap even though it’s fairly basic (not constructible and without a real focus on learning computer science). If your kids are particularly creative or already familiar with some of the basics of coding we’d recommend a more advanced robot toy.

The Cozmo from Anki is a tiny robot for kids reminiscent of Wall-E, who makes good on the film's promise that robots can feel imbued with genuine human emotions. It moves around using tank-like tracks, has a screen that flickers with emotion while concealing a face-recognizing camera, and a bulldozer-like mechanism that lets it pick things up. Good for ages 8 and up.

Pros: Not only can Cozmo recognize you from your kid, get sassy when you’re not paying attention, or be cute when you are, it can play games with the included Power Blocks. Explore mode lets kids watch a live feed of the video on their smartphone while piloting Cozmo around. Also, you can deploy him to spy on other people, something kids love even more than high-fiving their robot, something Cozmo can also do.

Cons: You’ll definitely grow weary of Cozmo’s overly cute voice as it chirps and beeps its way across the living room. There also doesn’t seem to be much of an intense, line-by-line coding platform that looks like what real computer scientists deal with.

Marty is a build-it-yourself toy robot that kids get to construct and code using Python and Javascript (you know, real coding languages). The kit includes 36 parts (a control board with various motors and sensors) and requires no tools or soldering to complete. Once built, there’s a literal spring in Marty’s step, as he used two coils to support his weight, and three motors to move forward, backward, and side-to-side. That means your kid can walk with him, practice soccer dribbling, and even have a dance off. Good for ages 8 and up.

Pros: Once Marty is built, kids can start to learn to code using Scratch, a block-based coding program that makes it easier to get started. They can move on to text-based coding when they’re ready and download apps and games other kids have made and shared. Marty is super flexible, and kids can add more sensors, a camera, and other components.

Cons: One you build it, there’s not much kids can do without a smart device or computer. If they don’t have their own, they’ll definitely keep pestering you for yours. And we know that’s not frustrating. At all.

At 4 feet tall and with over 1,200 parts, this MecchaNod is one of the largest toy robots we've ever seen. It has big, bright eyes and articulated limbs that move thanks to 10 separate motors. Out of the box, the MeccaNoid can say over 1,000 words and phrases, facts, jokes, and perform dance moves. All in all, it's a more than capable giant. Good for ages 10 and up.

Pros: The sheer size of the MeccaNoid is one of its best features. It’s big enough for kids to feel like they have a play companion instead of just a toy. There are also lots of bells and whistles. Voice recognition capability recognizes and performs defined actions according to one of the more than 100 commands, and those you program yourself. In ragdoll mode, kids can swipe the screen of their smart device to make the robot move. And the fact that you can build and rebuild the robot means kids never get tired of this thing.

Cons: There isn’t an explicit coding education function, so this isn’t the robot to get for your aspiring Googler. There’s also no Bluetooth or wifi, so kids are left to plug their phones directly into the MeccaNoid to control it.

On the other end of the size spectrum, this ping-pong-ball-size robot uses facial recognition technology to drive the ball. For real. Good for ages 8 and up.

Pros: You had us at facial recognition. Plus, the Sphero Mini has a gyroscope, accelerometer, and LED lights that glow in a slew of colors. You can swap out colorful, interchangeable shells. It’s very cool.

Cons: The Sphero is sadly incompatible with a host of devices and operating systems, so make sure you read the fine print before you buy.

Another great robot toy from Anki, the Vector Robot's killer feature is its built-in Amazon Alexa. The voice assistant means the Vector can answer questions, tell you the weather, and do pretty much anything an Amazon Echo can do. And because he's connected to the internet, the Vector is constantly updated with new features.

Pros: The Vector is not all talk. He can independently cruise around the house, recognizing and avoiding obstacles, and even play and dance along to music, like all good robots should.

Cons: Parents who are wary of technology might want to avoid a camera-equipped, mobile Alexa device that’s designed to interact with their kids. It’s also not a particularly educational toy.

Star Wars

Pros: This is a fantastic toy for the Star Wars fan in your life. Kids get to build the robot themselves, connect to it with a phone, and program it to do whatever they want. It is the droid you and they are looking for.

Cons: It’s less flexible than other kits, in that you can only really build R2, who may not be as attractive to younger kids, what we’re calling the BB-8 generation.

Lego plus robots equals fun. It's not much more complicated than that, but the kinds of builds and programming your kid can do with this kit definitely are. Good for ages 10 and up.

Pros: The same Lego bricks your kids know and love form the basis for the robotic platform. This kit comes with instructions for 17 different robots, but we’re betting that your kids are good for ideas for at least 17 more. The robotic part of the kit lets kids program them, using special sensors and a central programmable unit. A remote control is included with each set, but the real action happens on the smartphone, tablet, and computer apps.

Cons: You’ll pay a good chunk of cash for this 601-piece kit, so we’d recommend saving it for only the most Lego-obsessed kids.

Ubtech's line of buildable, codable robots is one of the best in the industry. This kit comes with 303 pieces, enough to build either a mobile claw or a bulldozer. Good for ages 8 and up.

Pros: Using Blockly code, kids can control and write programs for their robot based upon input from an infrared sensor. There are four motors to help it get around, and a multicolored LED. Ubtech makes a bunch of other kits, so if your kid likes this one, there are plenty of future gift possibilities.

Cons: A smartphone or tablet is required, and there is unfortunately no option to switch from block-based coding to more practical text-based coding using real languages.

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