Best Coding Toys

Updated October 2019
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

10 Models Considered
1 Experts Interviewed
151 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for best coding toys

Last Updated October 2019

Coding toys can help prepare your child for the thinking challenges of ever-changing technology and our increasingly complex world. These toys are designed to spark a child’s natural curiosity and desire to create. They teach technical problem-solving and design skills and enable kids to feel the excitement of controlling electronics that they’ve helped to build.

There are many varieties of these toys. Some are computers that kids can build from scratch and then learn to learn program. Other toys are more like logic puzzles or board games designed to teach thinking strategies rather than technological skills.

There are some factors to consider before you buy a coding toy for your child. These toys can be a lot of fun for kids, but some may be too advanced for young children. We’ve examined the coding toy market and put together this shopping guide to help you in your search. We’ve also selected a few recommended products that provide educational challenges as well as enjoyment.

Coding toys encourage open-ended play, which means there isn’t always a “right” way to play or win or a goal to reach. Instead, the toy encourages creativity and problem solving.

Key considerations

What is coding?

Perhaps you’ve heard about “coding” but were uncertain about what it really means. It has to do with how computers do what they do. The truth is, computers aren’t really as complicated as they seem. They’re simply lots of electronic on/off switches run by a series of human-created commands or “codes” to perform a task. Coding is how a human tells a computer to do something. There are extremely complex codes running the technology we use daily, from smartphones to social media. Coding toys can help kids learn the problem-solving skills it takes to make these and other technologies work.

What does the coding toy teach?

Programming logic requires one to learn the rules associated with a situation before making a decision. When assessing coding toys, it’s helpful to look at how the toy focuses on teaching a child to think under certain conditions. For instance, a toy may help a child learn to put together a computer, but that doesn’t mean the child will then know how to make the computer perform tasks. Make sure that any coding toy you choose isn’t just technologically flashy; you want a toy that helps your child understand how to make decisions based on a prescribed set of logical rules. This will make the toy not only more fun but also more useful in the long run.

How technical do you want the coding toy to be?

While many coding toys are mini-computers, one doesn’t need to be in order to teach coding skills. A simple board game may be as effective at teaching thinking skills as a more expensive high-tech option. Sometimes a simpler toy is better, giving your child more freedom to be creative.

STEM toy for a Minecraft lover

This kit allows your child to build a computer from the ground up. The big advantage of this set is that it combines several interests, from woodworking to electronic circuitry to coding interactive Minecraft challenges. This is a great all-around STEM toy.

Coding toy features

There are many kinds of coding toys for kids. Before you buy, consider which type and features will be most helpful for your child.

Self-contained: These coding toys allow your child to play and work with the system in the box. The toys don’t necessarily enable your child to get creative with everyday household objects like some other toys do. The advantage of a self-contained coding toy is that a child can put it together and see the end result of their efforts. It feels cool to build your own computer.

Thinking logic: A thinking logic coding toy can be as simple as a basic board game. Don’t discount the advantage of what may seem like an old-fashioned toy. A large part of understanding coding is understanding logic.

Inventive: Some coding toys allow your child to be inventive beyond the scope of the toy. These toys require innovative thinking and help your child to create a toy or tool. These toys boost critical thinking and encourage children to become inventors.

Robotic: Some robotic coding toys help the child build a robot. Most are robotic toys that the child commands via an app or control on the robot itself. These toys are good for teaching logic, but they don’t teach circuitry or electronics.

DID YOU KNOW?

If your child seems bored with a coding toy after a short while, they may have just run out of new ideas. A few suggestions from you can help your child reengage.

DID YOU KNOW?

Playing a board game, solving a puzzle, or hooking a couple connectors together may provide a broader understanding of coding more quickly than a flashy self-contained system.

DID YOU KNOW?

Some coding toys are designed to work with an app, requiring you to have a tablet or other mobile device.

Coding toy prices

Inexpensive

For as little as $20 you can find a decent coding board game that teaches programming logic and critical-thinking skills.

Mid-range

In the $50 to $75 range you can find coding toys designed to build on your child’s creativity when interacting with the outside world. These aren’t self-contained systems, but they can help your child learn to solve problems.

Expensive

For $100 to $200 you can find a coding toy with all the tools for your child to build a computer, learn to code, and play games or make designs on the completed computer.

Board game that isn’t boring

This puzzle challenge game takes your kids’ eyes off the screen long enough to develop some critical-thinking skills either alone or while playing with others. This game is all about sequential reasoning, and it features a lot of challenges, including some that may even be hard for you!

Tips

  • Check the age range of the coding toy before you buy. Some of these toys are too complicated for young children. However, there are plenty of coding toys on the market that even very young kids can learn to use.

  • Use the toy with your child. Coding toys are great learning tools when adults and children interact with them together. While some kids may take to the toy naturally, others could get bored without a little guidance.

  • Think about what kind of “player” your child is before purchasing a coding toy. If your child enjoys interacting with other kids, building objects, or active play, you can find a coding toy to meet their needs. Don’t expect a child to enjoy a toy that doesn’t match their primary interests.

Other products we considered

For this shopping guide, we focused on practical toys that help teach coding skills from the ground up, but we didn’t include any robots. However, there are several good robots on the market that can also help teach coding. We like the Wonder Workshop Dash coding robot toy, which is found in many schools. It has limited functionality and requires the use of an app on a tablet or other device, but it’s voice activated and can be programmed to move around objects. The LEGO Mindstorms EV3 Robot Kit is an amazing coding toy with lots of functionality that allows kids to both build and program a variety of robotic forms. It is pricey, however.

Learning to code is like learning another language. If your child can learn the thinking associated with coding, it will be much easier to learn the language.

FAQ

Q. I keep hearing about STEM. What is it?

A. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and relates to an interdisciplinary approach to learning that includes these elements.

Q. Is a coding toy still worth the cost if I don’t understand coding?

A. As parents, one of the biggest challenges of coding toys and games may be understanding how to teach your child to use them. These toys can be as fun for adults as they are for kids, but if you aren’t already technologically savvy or a computer programmer, you could end up learning  coding skills alongside your child. That’s okay. This is what your kids are learning in school. It will help them in their future endeavors.

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