Top Stem Toys Teaching Kids to Code
STEM seems to be the key word in the toy industry nowadays. If you have recently bought a toy that teaches your child Science, Technology, Engineering, and/or Mathematics, then chances are the words STEM appear somewhere on the box. Or it could say STREM? or STREAM? or even STEAM? (R=Robotics, A=Art, AM=Applied Mathematics)
We live in a world where everything must be given a label and toys, it seems, are no different. Regardless of which abbreviation you have bought for your child, there are some amazing educational toys on the market, particularly in the last 12 months where there has been an emphasis on toys that teach kids to code using Scratch or Python. So, its no wonder that some of these toys are amongst the top toys for kids in 2016.
Fisher Price Code-a-pillar, RRP £49.99
The first, and most obvious, coding toy on the market is
the Fisher Price Code-a-pillar which is priced around £49.99 and comes with 1 ‘sound’ segment, 3 ‘straights’, 2 ‘right turns’ and 2 ‘left turns’. There are lots of deals on this toy in the lead up to Christmas with the lowest so far being £37.04 from Amazon.
The Code-a-pillar is aimed at younger children (3-6 yrs). It teaches them to program the caterpillar to move left, right, and forwards, depending on the order you place each body part of the caterpillar. By creating a path for their caterpillar to move from point A to B, children are taught planning, sequencing, problem solving, critical thinking, and experimentation. As they get better at this, they can put obstacles in the path for the caterpillar to navigate around.
Reviews on Amazon are very good for this toy; parents have been impressed so far saying that children have loved it, is easy to set up, it has longevity, and that it works well on carpet. You can also buy extra pieces. A great purchase for young preschoolers this Christmas.
The Code & Go Robot Mouse by Learning Resources, RRP £49.99
The Code & Go Robot Mouse is suited to primary aged children; many schools have similar products so it’s likely that your child is already familiar with this type of toy. It has also won awards in the learning and education categories.
Children program the mouse to move through a maze of green track and obstacles to reach the cheese. They firstly use the cards (included in the pack) to work out the sequence of steps the mouse will use to get from points A to B and then, using the cards, program the mouse by pressing the buttons on it’s back. Children will quickly grasp this idea and can then start making more elaborate routes for the mouse to follow.
This is a very similar concept to the Fisher Price Code-a-pillar in that both toys encourage children to think and plan a series of steps that the toy must follow in order to move around the room and reach it’s goal. The set is priced around £49.99 and includes 30 double-sided coding cards, 10 double-sided activity cards, cheese wedge, and an activity guide.
WowWee Coji Smart Robot Programming Toy, RRP £59.99
Meet Coji, a robot that is programmed via an app on a tablet or smart phone. The app uses arrows for forward/backwards,left/right and emoji’s for feelings, happy/sad/love etc. There’s also several games to play that supports this learning. Sequences can also be saved to Coji’s memory so you can recall them at a later time.
Looks a good toy when I watched the reviews online and I liked the use of the app to help children learn coding through game play, although reviews on Amazon for this robot are mixed. This is priced at £59.99 but it is reduced at the moment to £39.99 at Amazon so there are deals to be found on this toy.
Meccano Micronoid Set, RRP £39.99
Meccano have designed these fab Micronoid robots (Socket, Switch, and Basher) which your child can build and then program to move, dance, and talk, by pushing the buttons on the top. I like that you have to build this robot from scratch using the meccano pieces before you can even think about programming it, although some reviews have said the meccano can be fiddly so it will possibly need supervision. Good value at £39.99.
The Ozobot (1.0 and 2.0), RRP £50-100
The Ozobot 1.0 is a clever little robot – its the smallest on the market – which follows lines of colour (varying colours black, red, green, blue etc) in order to move; each colour sends a different instruction to the Ozobot, e.g. go fast, go slow, go left, go right. You can use the app online to draw your own path, or you can draw this in the real world with pen and paper. This is good for problem solving as children have to work out how the Ozobot will move from one point to another, using various speeds, plus the app itself has several problems to solve making game play more challenging.
The Ozobot 2 is a hugely improved version that uses OzoBlockly on your tablet or PC to code Ozobot’s movement. There are 5 levels of programming, from novice through to master, that use drag and drop commands which click together to create a program. The program is then loaded onto the Ozobot; each command in the program is actually a colour that flashes on the tablet instructing the Ozobot to move left, right etc.
The Ozobot can store up to 500 commands so is clearly a much more advanced robot than, for example, the Code-a-pillar, and naturally it’s aimed at older children as it’s not going to be as robust in little hands. You can also add a skin to make your robot more exciting too; Captain America and Iron Man skins come out later this month (Nov 2016). It looks amazing and I want one!!!
BBC micro:bit go, RRP £17.95
Lastly, the ‘BBC micro:bit go’ is a really affordable, pocket-sized computer that children can use to write code to create anything, like games and animations. There is a downloadable app enabling you to code on the PC, tablet, or even smart phone. A lovely piece of kit which includes:1x BBC micro:bit, USB cable, battery holder/batteries, and a start-up guide. The BBC micro:bit has fantastic reviews with parents impressed at how easy it is to set up and get coding. This is aimed at older children from 7-8yrs old and upwards. Some Yr 7 children may have been given one of these as part of a new initiative to get kids coding – a great gift if your child received one.
There are so many good coding toys around at the moment, too many to include in one post so keep your eyes peeled for ‘Coding Toys, Part 2’ in the future. Others on the market worth looking at are the littleBits Arduino Coding Kit, Sphero, SAM Labs Inventor Kit, Dash and Dot, and coding board games like Robot Turtles and Codemaster.