It’s never too early to start building your child’s critical thinking skills and preparing them for the various scenarios they’ll encounter in life. With these fun coding toys, you can introduce preschoolers and tweens alike to logic and coding through games and toys that are so clever, they won’t even realize they’re learning at the same time.
The best STEM toys—that is, toys designed to teach the skills needed for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—are a great way to give your kids a simple heads-up in school (and in life). Logic is an important building block for virtually everything, from communication to problem solving. And when you choose a STEM toy that focuses on computer programming or robotics in addition to logic, you’re helping your kids learn how to navigate life and preparing them to be successful in a STEM career.
What to Look for in Coding Toys
- Logic Focused: Compared to regular toys, coding toys are designed with a focus on logic, which is the heart of coding. This is all about getting kids to think about how something needs to work or what needs to happen to get something to work. It should also encourage trial and error, as well as the freedom to think creatively towards a solution.
- Open-Ended Fun: Because it’s a toy, it’s gotta be fun to play with. So the more closely the game resembles, well, a game rather than a lesson, the better. This is especially the case for younger kids, who will benefit from engaging gameplay, bold colors, and flashing lights.
- Real-World Applications: The best coding toys don’t just do a good job teaching coding and logic, they do so in a way that helps kids remember the basics as they grow. Learning the fundamentals while still young makes it easier for kids to apply logic to every other aspect of their life, from critical thinking scenarios to communication.
- Age-Appropriate Design: Most toys are aimed at a specific age range, or at least suggest a minimum user age. This helps you know whether a toy is too simple, too advanced, or just right for your child.
For Early Enthusiasts: Fisher-Price Think & Learn Code-a-Pillar
Fisher-Price’s Think & Learn Code-a-Pillar isn’t just cute, it’s clever. In fact, we’d go so far as to say that it’s the best coding toy for toddlers, thanks to its colorful segments and flashing lights. The adorable toy comes with one motorized head and eight detachable segments that connect via USB-A port, like a flash drive. The direction the Code-a-Pillar moves depends on the order you connect the segments in, as each one goes a different way (forward, left, or right).
Each segment will light up in the order it’s connected while moving in that direction. This helps your toddler make the connection between the directions and the segment order. The toy even includes targets, and you can challenge your child to set up the Code-a-Pillar in a way that will help it reach the target. Bonus points if you put a pillow or stuffed animal in the way as obstacles they’ll have to figure out how to work around.
Program a Robot with LEDs and Sensors: Sphero BOLT
Okay, we’ll admit it: We think robots are awesome, so naturally, we love the Sphero BOLT. Aside from its major BB-8 vibes, the app-enabled robot ball is amazing because you can automate where it moves as well as its 8×8 LED matrix and advanced sensors. The Sphero BOLT can also “talk” with other BOLT robots using 360-degree infrared communication, making it easy to dive into storytelling when you’ve got multiple bots together. You can even set up challenges!
Program a Robot with LEDs and Sensors
Learn Pure Coding Logic: ThinkFun Gravity Maze Marble Run
The ThinkFun Gravity Maze Marble Run Logic Game is a falling marble logic game that is perfect for single players over the age of 8. You’ll work your way through more than 60 puzzle cards (ranging from beginner to expert) and use the tower pieces specified for each puzzle to build a path that helps the marble get from its designated starting point to its target in one move.
The set includes the game grid base, nine colorful tower pieces, one target piece, 60 challenge cards, and three marbles (one to use, two for backup). Challenge cards show the basic pieces you’ll need and give a hint at how to set things up successfully, but it’s up to you (with a little trial and error) to figure things out. And just in case you get stuck, a solution is on the back of each card. Though the game specifies only one player, two or three can work together on more difficult challenges. And once you master those? You can try to build your own courses for fun.
Build Early STEM Skills: Botley the Coding Robot
Botley the Coding Robot offers multiple ways to play for kids age 5 and up. Set Botley to Line Mode then have it follow a path using the puzzle-like tiles, or flip the tiles over and try to figure out the 10 various coding and programming challenges included in the booklet (which range from easy to difficult). Or, set Botley to Code Mode and use the included remote control programmer to tell it how to move. And best of all? All of this can be done without using a single screen.
In Code Mode, you can program multiple directional commands into the simple remote control, then transmit them to Botley. The robot comes with 40 directional coding cards, which helps your kids remember each step in longer sequences. The loop button tells Botley to repeat the current sequence, the delete button clears the current sequence, and the object detection button helps Botley perform an alternate sequence if he runs into an object. You can even attach two arms and program Botley to retrieve the included balls and deliver them to the targets.
Coding, Building, and Minecraft: Boolean Box
If you’ve got older kids who are already familiar with logic and are more interested in building circuits and models, the Boolean Box is a great choice. Boolean Box is based on Raspberry Pi and includes Python programming as well as Scratch, Java, and Python projects. There’s plenty to learn and experiment with, and it provides an easy way for kids to experiment with coding languages, electronics engineering, and Scratch projects.
The Boolean Box kit includes a keyboard, mouse, Raspberry Pi Model 3, and an 8GB SD card with Raspbian OS, Scratch, Python, and Minecraft. It also includes wires, circuits, resistors, buttons, LEDs, and a breadboard. It can connect to a TV via HDMI, and it supports Wi-Fi but doesn’t require it. And if you’re interested in teaching your kids more about how hardware works and interacts with code, and helping them build (the shell of) a computer to further cement the concept, check out the Piper Computer Set.
Coding, Building, and Minecraft
Build, Code, Play, and Control: LEGO MINDSTORMS Robot Inventor Building Set
If your kid loves LEGO sets, the LEGO MINDSTORMS Robot Inventor Building Set is a likely home run. With it, they can build, code, and play the five unique remote-control robots. They can even use the creations to play ball, drive around, shoot missiles, and more. The set includes 949 pieces, including an intelligent Hub, four Medium Motors, a Color Sensor, and a Distance Sensor. It also comes with an easy-to-install rechargeable battery.
Once you’ve completed building the designs, you’ll need to download the Robot Inventor App on your iOS or Android device. It’s there that your child can code and control their robot inventions and work their way through one of the 50+ included activities. The app works with a drag-and-drop coding environment based on Scratch, which makes it easy for kids to program movements and actions the robots can do. Overall, the set is great for kids age 10 and up.
Build, Code, Play, and Control