The best robot kits for kids
You say you’re a parent or teacher investigating robot kits for children? And you don’t want a simple solution with a single purpose: you want the child to experience science, technology, engineering, and math? We get it. You want a kit that teaches all four categories, from piecing together the foundation to wiring the appendages to programming the “brain” using software. That’s where our list of robot kits for kids comes in.
Most of the robot kits listed below are tied to terms such as STEM, Arduino, and Blockly. Here are a few explanations of those and other terms before we get started:
Arduino: An open-source hardware and software platform. It consists of boards that read inputs and convert data into outputs. This data is managed through the Arduino programming language and Arduino-based software. Arduino was built for beginners but is sophisticated enough for advanced users, making it a widely used platform in the educational system. Even Intel is on the Arduino bandwagon.
Scratch: A programming language designed for kids ages 8 to 16. It’s separate from Arduino but still widely used in schools for creating games, programming robots, designing animations, and more. Instead of writing code from scratch, kids piece together blocks of commands ranging from motions to events to sensing. Scratch can be downloaded and installed directly to a PC, or used online via Flash.
Blockly: Another programming language for kids, Blockly relies on blocks of code that can be strung together to create a program. It now resides under Google’s umbrella and is typically web-based, although dedicated apps have appeared for Android and iOS. Of the two, Blockly is a simpler programming language; Scratch provides additional features.
STEM: This is short for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. It’s a “movement” set forth by the U.S. Department of Education to help teachers and parents prepare students for the jobs of tomorrow. It’s designed for student interaction with real-world programs, providing experimental learning activities that push students to investigate, understand, and create solutions. Check out our list of the best STEM-based toys here.
Now on to the robots!
Lego Boost ($160)
For the better part of a century, Lego has offered a simple vision: If you give a child a toy, they’ll have fun; if you give them the means to build their own toy, they’ll have fun and grow a little in the process. Lego Boost is one of the company’s many forays into entry-level robotics, designed to be easy for anyone at pretty much any age to work with. The Boost kit serves up 847 pieces, which can be used to build five different designs, including a guitar and a traditional, humanoid robot.
Building is only half the challenge, however. Next up is programming, which Boost makes surprisingly straightforward. Using an app — one that is currently available for both Android and iOS — kids are guided through a series of levels, each of which requires them to place and move blocks in order to create instructions for their robot. By structuring the programming like a game, Boost makes it fun for kids to complete. Best of all, the system requires no reading, meaning even younger audiences can puzzle it out.
Nintendo Labo ($70+)
Mike Epstein/Digital Trends
Nintendo’s cardboard playset may not be the fanciest or most intricate kit around, but Labo does offer a series of easy — if time-devouring — exercises in construction and programming that kids will love, even if the games Nintendo includes aren’t amazing. Labo currently offers two sets. The variety kit features five projects, allowing your kids to make use of RC cars, a fishing rod, a house, a motorbike, and a piano. The robot kit gives users the means to build a mechanical backpack that tracks the movement of various limbs, which you can then use to maneuver a robot in an accompanying minigame.
Building a Toy-Con is easy, too; users merely need to follow instructions on their Nintendo Switch, which will highlight the most important parts. Once you’ve finished building a Toy-Con, you can play the associated minigame on your Switch. The real magic happens, however, when you experiment with new ways to use them. Labo isn’t particularly deep, but it’s a great way to get kids into the basic concepts of engineering.
Elegoo UNO Project Smart Robot Car Kit ($70)
As the name implies, the final product is a “smart” robot car based on the Arduino platform. The kit includes 24 different modules, such as an infrared receiver for using a remote control, Bluetooth for connecting via a smartphone or tablet, line tracking, and obstacle avoidance. With kids in mind, it boasts a minimal design for a faster build and less errors.
According to Elegoo, the kit includes instructions and software, showing kids how to load the programs and command the robot to perform a handful of standard modes. But the kit is expandable, enabling you to add sensors not included for a customized robot. These third-party sensors must include a 3-pin XH2.54 interface to be compatible with this kit.
Meccano-Erector MeccaSpider Robot Kit ($65)
This kit is designed for kids ages 10 and older, packing 291 parts that can be pieced together in one to three hours to create a cool robotic spider. The kit also includes two “smart” motor modules, one “brain” module, and an infrared sensor module that detects movement. There’s even a built-in reservoir for holding water so it can shoot “venom” to fend off its enemies.
On the programming side, there are built-in physical buttons for activating pre-set modes, including five basic modes, two guard modes, and one game mode. Kids can customize these through the on-board buttons, or by using apps provided on Android and iOS devices. This kit falls under the STEM umbrella with an intermediate complexity level.
Tenergy Odev Tomo ($85)
Here’s another kit that falls under the STEM umbrella: a 2-in-1 transformable, programmable robot from battery maker Tenergy. Designed for kids ages eight and older, it includes an ultrasonic sensor, a tracking sensor, the main control box, and more that are color-coded and labeled clearly. The kit creates a two or three-wheeled robot that can roam freely or track specific lines you create, or you can control it through Tenergy’s free ODEV Explorer mobile app.
To manually program the robot, you’ll need the free Odev Blockly app for Android or iOS. Anything you create for the robot can be uploaded and shared with other owners in the cloud. Moreover, Tomo’s “brain” has enough ports for extending its capabilities through third-party modules.
Robolink Rokit Smart ($120)
Here’s a STEM-focused kit for Arduino learners to build a programmable robot in 11 different forms: as a crab, a clapping monkey, a pirate ship, a gorilla, and more. It’s backed by an online tutorial with instructions on how to build the robot using each design, the programming basics using Arduino software, and even how to use the kit to build a robot for “sumo” one vs one competition.
According to Robolink, each design has a specific purpose: One can shoot rubber bands, one can detect edges, one follows lines, and so on. Batteries aren’t included in the kit, but you’ll find all the circuit boards, motors, and frames you need to build a cool, working robot. Robolink actually uses this kit at its Robotics Learning Center for kids in San Diego.
UBTECH Jimu Robot DIY Buzzbot & Muttbot Robotics Kit ($130)
By default, you can use this kit to create BuzzBot, or his faithful companion, MuttBot (but not both). But there are enough pieces in the kit to build whatever you want, as it includes 271 parts, one “brain,” six servos, and a battery. You can purchase two additional servos if needed as a two-piece kit for $40, or a non-robotic animal companion for $50.
Once kids build the robot, they can record different poses and play them all in a string via the PRP system using the Jimu app for Android and iOS. But that’s boring, right? Using the app, kids can string blocks of commands together using Blockly-based coding as well. The app even provides step-by-step instruction on how to piece both robots together.
HEXBUG VEX IQ Robotics Construction Kit ($265)
From the makers of the popular mechanical bug family is a STEM-approved robot you can build. This high-dollar kit contains more than 750 pieces you can snap together, along with motors with built-in rotational sensors, the main “brain” with 12 self-configuring input/output ports, and more. The company provides instructions for eight basic designs here, including Clawbot IQ, V-Rex, Slick, and Stretch. There are instructions for designing larger robots too using additional parts.
Included with this kit is the online version of the Modkit for VEX programming software (typically $50), a tool designed for kids that relies on drag-and-drop programming. Also thrown into the mix is the ROBOTC VEX IQ curriculum packed with step-by-step instructions, videos, and animations. Once you learn the basics, you can move on to build and program anything you want with this kit. You’ll need six AA batteries to power your robot (sold separately), but the included game-style remote control comes with a rechargeable battery.
Makeblock DIY Ultimate Robot Kit ($350)
This is Makeblock’s flagship robot kit, packing anodized 6061 aluminum mechanical parts with threaded-slot designs. The kit includes instructions for ten different designs, such as the robotic arm tank, the robotic bartender, and the self-balancing robot. These designs are backed by the Arduino-based MegaPi mainboard that’s capable of handling 10 servos or eight DC motors simultaneously. The kit is also compatible with the Raspberry Pi board.
On the programming front, kids use the company’s Scratch 2.0-based mBlock software for PCs and mobile devices. This tool provides a drag-and-drop environment where kids string together blocks of code. Advanced users can use Python via the Raspberry Pi board, Node JS, or Arduino IDE. The parts list includes a Bluetooth module, so you can program and control your creation from any Bluetooth-based PC or mobile device.
Lego Mindstorms EV3 31313 ($342)
This kit consists of LEGO-based bricks, a programmable EV3 “brick” that serves as the brain, four sensors, a handful of motors, and loads more pieces. The EV3 brick includes a built-in display showing the wireless connection, battery level, what the robot is currently doing, and more. Overall, you can build 17 different robotic designs, such as a slithering snake (R3ptar), a walking dinosaur (Dinor3x), a shooting scorpion (Spik3r), and a humanoid robot (Ev3rstorm).
By default, each design comes with its own unique features and programmed behaviors. They can also be steered using the included remote control. But users can program their creation using the LEGO Mindstorms Ev3 software for PC, and download their commands to the robot using a USB cable, Bluetooth, or Wi-Fi. The software provides five programming “missions” to get kids started using icon-based programming blocks that are strung together. LEGO provides a programming app for mobile devices too.
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