The 9 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 just goes into the slag heap where unloved dolls and forgotten trucks go to die. Or, you can buy stuff that subtly educates while also keeping your kid occupied for hours. We’re talking about robots for kids, robot toys for kids, and coding robots that can teach them everything from ping-pong to social skills.

If you’re looking for a high-tech toy for your kids, look no further. Some of the following robot toys are staff favorites, while others are customer-approved. All of them have different levels of difficulty so make sure you pick age-appropriate ones. After all, you don’t want to discourage your kid by giving him or her a robot that requires a degree from Stanford to program.

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 (motors, sensors, and control board) and requires no tools or soldering to complete. Once he's 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.

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 portrays emotions and conceals a face-recognizing camera, and a bulldozer-like mechanism that lets it pick things up. Good for ages 8 and up.

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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. And the toy robot even high-fives you. Also, you can use him to spy on other people, something kids really love (speaking from experience here).

Cons: You’ll definitely get tired of the 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.

At four 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 robot. 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.

Dash & Dot are a pair of adorable, programmable, dare we say Minion-esque robots that can build, make music, or cruise around looking festive in reindeer antlers and Santa hats, because they're Lego-compatible. 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 another robot.

This tiny robot, the size of a ping pong ball, 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.

One of the most robust building-coding systems around gets the Star Wars treatment. Kids can build their own R2D2 and write code for it. Fair warning: it won't actually let them hack into the Death Star. Good for ages 8 and up.

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 they’re looking for.

Cons: It’s less flexible than other kits, in that you can only really build R2.

Lego plus robots equals fun. It's not much more complicated than that. 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.

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.

Pros: So is Blue being a good lady? Then reward her with treats. Or pet her. And as you train her, you unlock different 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 like a pet than an educational toy.

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