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

Education GeekMom

Computer Science Education Week is coming to an end, but don’t let that stop your education! Earlier this week, I shared The Ultimate List of Tutorials, Apps, and Games to Teach Kids Coding. Today, I thought I’d append with a list of physical goods to teach your kids programming and electronics. Perfect for celebrating Hour of Code (better late than never), or under your Yuletide tree.

Toys & Kits

Modular Robotics Cubelets—Reviewed as expensive but extremely tough, I’ve seen these in group settings at various conventions. Bluetooth cubelets lets 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. 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 the younger and the older kids. 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, story books, 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+.

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+.

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.

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+.

Instructional Books

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+.

Super Scratch Programming Adventure by The LEAD Project—Aimed for the younger audience, learn to use Scratch for making games. Read the full GeekMom review. $20.44. Ages 8+.

Learn to Program with Scratch by Majed Marji—Though the age group is similar, reviews I found seem to agree that this Scratch book digs a little deeper than Super Scratch Programming Adventure and is the better choice for older kids. $21.99. Ages 9+.

Python for Kids: A Practical Introduction to Programming by Jason R. Briggs—Learn Python on any operating system (including Raspberry Pi) by creating games. Read the full GeekMom review. $21.48. Ages 9+.

3D Game Programming for Kids: Create Interactive Worlds with JavaScript by Chris Strom—Learn JavaScript through creating web-ready games. $24.34. 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. Sweigart has written a number of popular and well-reviewed books about programming. $22.78, 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 offers a lot of choices. If you’re feeling a little lost, DK makes a great Help Your Kids With Computer Coding.

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+.

HTML for Babies by John C Vanden-Heuvel Sr—As the description says, “it’s never too early to be standards compliant!” Board book $8.99. Ages 0+.

A Robot Story by Lisa Seacat DeLuca—Follow the story of JSON and WiFi and learn to count to ten in binary. Read the full GeekMom review and interview with the author. Board book $12.99. Ages 2+.

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 $10.38. 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 $8.77. Ages 8+.

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 $13.56. 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 tried all the items in the list—because that would be expensive!—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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