It's no secret that STEM learning has become a big deal in modern education. That's why learning to code with a robot makes so much sense. It helps kids learn the basics of how computers work by providing a fun way to interface with what they see as a toy but what you, as a parent, see as a learning tool. Some robots use phones to code, while others stick to good old remotes for a screen-free experience. There are coding robots for all ages and interests, and we'll help you decide which one is best for your little ones here, no matter their experience level.
Best Overall: iRobot Root
Open up the world of robots
iRobot recently acquired the company that originally made the Root robot and has turned it into a learning machine. Root is a cute little hexagonal robot that is sold in two different models: Root rt0 retails for $129, while Root rt1 retails for $199. Both of these robots serve the same base functions and work with the iRobot Root app for smartphones, tablets, and Chromebooks. This app connects to Root via Bluetooth and sends commands to the robot as your child directs.
Root rt1 differentiates itself from the less expensive Root rt0 by adding a strong magnet to the underside, which lets Root rt1 attach to whiteboards and other metal objects (like a fridge). When a marker is placed in the middle of either robot, Root can draw while it moves, giving children a unique and interesting way to create art, solve puzzles, and even power through curriculum offered on the iRobot Learning Library (opens in new tab). Both Root models can even use the iRobot Root Brick Top (opens in new tab) so kids can add LEGO to the experience, making it even more fun.
iRobot offers both free and paid curriculum through its library, so you can get started without having to pay extra for the premium service. In addition to that, you can have your children give Root a try right now with the free iRobot Root Coding app on Android (opens in new tab) or iOS (opens in new tab), which features a virtual Root robot on screen for them to play with. They can even build their own code and save it for later, so when you pick up the real-life Root robot, they can run all of the programs they've made from day one.
iRobot's curriculum is built for ages 6 and up and coding is offered in three skill levels: beginner, intermediate, and advanced. From the beginner level, everything is presented graphically, so only minimal reading and compehension skills are required. As kids graduate to intermediate and advanced, more text and functionality are introduced, with advanced being a full-text coding interface. It's the best way to get your kids familiar with how coding works and a great way to play at the same time.
Best On A Budget: Edison Robot 2.0
Edison Robot 2.0
Small robot, big brain
The Edison Robot 2.0 was designed with everyone in mind, and that starts by making a robot that's affordable for every budget. The Edison EdWare app uses a visual coding block system that's easy to understand, and the Edison Robot is easy to work with. 4-AA batteries power Edison and they're easy to replace, along with the programming cable that's stored in a compartment so you don't have to worry about finding a home for the cable.
While it's considerably cheaper, the Edison Robot 2.0 isn't quite as simple or straightforward as iRobot Root. But a more complicated system also means more options. Its coding platform offers several different coding languages to teach, like Python, which opens up the gates for older kids to work with. You can even use LEGO Technic pieces on Edison, while iRobot Root is mainly restricted to standard LEGO pieces.
Many Edison projects even encourage the use of multiple robots to build bigger and more complicated machines, meaning you can forever expand your collection as your child's skillset grows. The software works with practically every major operating system on the market too, which means a wide-range of compatibility. Just remember that it requires use of a cable for programming, which can be limiting depending on what ports your devices might have.
Best for Star Wars Fans: LEGO Star Wars Boost Droid Commander
LEGO Star Wars Boost Droid Commander
These are the Droids you're looking for
Noticing a trend here at all? Yes, kids of all kinds love LEGO, so what better way than to get it straight from the source? While other robots support LEGO in one way or another, LEGO Star Wars Boost Droid Commander is genuine LEGO through and through. It's also an amazing opportunity to combine the love for LEGO and Star Wars in one package. This particular kit includes 1,177 pieces that can be used to build three separate Droids: a Gonk droid, a Mouse droid, and the ever-lovable R2-D2.
The LEGO Boost Star Wars app uses a visual block coding language to make learning easy and is similar to other visual block coding languages you'll find on this list. Since it's genuine LEGO, you can rest assured knowing all your existing LEGO pieces fit perfect with these. There are even 40+ interactive missions to complete within the app, adding a bit of structure to an otherwise open-ended coding adventure. Just be aware that you're going to pay for the combination of LEGO and Star Wars brands in this package, which is quite a bit more expensive than most other options.
Best for Younger Kids: Fisher-Price Code 'n Learn Kinderbot
Fisher-Price Code 'n Learn Kinderbot
Grow a self-starter
It's never to early to start learning, and Fisher Price knows that. The Fisher Price Code 'n Learn Kinderbot was designed to help kids as young as 3-years-old learn the fundamentals of math, shapes, colors and, of course, coding. Instead of being tethered to a smartphone or tablet, the Code 'n Learn Kinderbot features large easy-to-understand buttons right on its head.
It comes with a booklet to help parents teach their kids how to begin using the Kinderbot and, from there, kids can teach their robot to perform simple commands. The package includes four machine accessories to work and play with, and the "secret code" booklet includes lots of fun activities to follow along with. Whether your child latches on and becomes a coding genius before Kindergarten starts, or they just enjoy playing with the robot, the Kinderbot is a great way to get started on STEM learning early.
Best for Older Kids: Wonder Workshop Cue
Wonder Workshop Cue
Wonder Workshop Cue is a very different type of coding robot than others on this list. Cue foregoes the modular design that many other coding robots use and, instead, relies on an intelligent AI-driven personality that kids can converse with. Cue's vocabulary spans over 170,000 words, including 30,000 unique text responses. It even comes with 40 challenges to complete and four different personality types to use (Charge, Pep, Zest, and Smirk). That means kids have a fun little robot to make friends with and overcome challenges together, adding a more personal flair to coding.
Best Without a Phone: Botley the Coding Robot
Botley the Coding Robot
A fun way to learn without a screen
Too much screen time is a real thing these days, so it's nice that there are options for screenless coding robots. Botley is one such example, providing an active, screen-free way to code. Using the provided remote, kids ages 5 and up can easily program Botley using the included cue cards, or build their own activities using simple commands. The remote features graphically labeled physical buttons, so reading isn't even a pre-requisite for coding!
Botley uses five AAA batteries total, 3 for Botley itself and 2 for the remote. In addition to being able to be easily programmed, Botley is smart enough to avoid obstacles, which can lend a bit of an extra fun challenge to each programming course. Kids will be delighted that there are even hidden features to unlock, so the more Botley is used, the more it reveals. The 77-piece kit includes Botley, the programming remote, 40 coding cards, 6 double-sided tiles, 27 obstacle building pieces, and a starter guide for parents to help with coding challenges. All for under $50.
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Learning to code is easier and more affordable than paying for some special class at school (or elsewhere), especially in 2020 when schedules and events are so difficult to plan for. But the ease of learning something new at home is just the beginning, as all of these educational toys are just that; toys. Your child will be learning how to code in no time flat and able to apply that knowledge elsewhere, as well.
There are plenty of amazing options, but the iRobot Root (opens in new tab) is the most versatile robot on this list. It not only covers a wide range of ages (6 and up) but it features fun accessories, like the LEGO topper, which make Root fun in more ways than you might originally think. iRobot also has an amazing learning library that helps parents and kids alike learn in a wide variety of ways.
Credits — The team that worked on this guide
Nicholas Sutrich has been professionally writing about tech since 2011 and has run through the gamut of tech and gaming. If he's not slicing blocks in Beat Saber he's probably tinkering with some smart home gadget or going on a hike in the mountains of Western North Carolina.