The 5 best simple robot kits for children
Thinking about buying a basic robotics kit for your kid? If the answer was yes, then pat yourself on the back for being a savvy parent. Robot kits provide the best avenue for kids to learn about about science and electronics.
Today’s best robot learning kits are more than just simple toys– they’re truly revolutionary learning tools.
Of course, there’s a lot of worthless junk floating around out there too.
The question is…
How is an average parent supposed to know which robot kit they should buy?
To help you figure out the answer to the above question, I took an in-depth look at several new robot construction sets for kids.
In general, I was very impressed with the quality of the products that I found. However, I did identify one overpriced rip-off that you should avoid like the plague.
Why should you listen to me?
In 2016, I decided to put my DIY expertise and bargain hunting skills to good use and start this site.
As a former ramen noodle eating college student, I have a lot of experience finding cheap but good DIY electronics gear online.
The reviews you’ll find on Robot Fanatics are blunt and to-the-point. My main goal is to help you look for information and find the best bargains.
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- The 5 best simple robot kits for children
- Why should you listen to me?
- Robot kit for kids review 1: littleBits Gizmos and Gadgets kit
- Robot kit for kids review 2: Sparki the Programmable Robot by ArcBotics
- Robot kit for kids review 3: Ozobot Bit
- Robot kit for kids review 4: Dash and Dot by Wonder Workshop
- Robot kit for kids review 5: Vex IQ by VexRobotics
- So, which kid robot kit is the best?
Robot kit for kids review 1: littleBits Gizmos and Gadgets kit
When it comes to hobby robotics, there’s really no better place to start than with Arduino. Arduino is an Italian company that’s number 1 in the world when it comes to hobby robotics. Because I’m a huge Arduino fan, the first thing I did after I decided to write this article was look for an Arduino based robot kit aimed at young kids.
After a little bit of digging, I discovered littleBits.
My first reaction was: Wow.
This kit is going to flip the DIY hobby world upside down.
littleBits has turned just about every electronic component you can think of into a magnetic “bit.” littleBits bits snap together just like Lego bricks. You don’t need to use any tools and there’s no way to fry your equipment (or your fingers).
This kit makes wires, soldering irons and breadboards look old fashioned.
LittleBits says that their learning system is a tool for developing skills for careers that haven’t been invented yet. Whoever is working in the marketing department at littleBit deserves a raise for coming up with that selling point because it really makes you think.
Consider this: Google has already created self-driving cars. So now it’s only a matter of time before they go mainstream. In 10 years or less, taxi drivers can more or less kiss their careers goodbye. To succeed in tomorrow’s world, you’ve got to have creative skills and technological know-how.
LittleBits provides a great base from which to start learning about technology. But littleBits isn’t just a toy for kids– it’s a robot building system that anyone can use to make useful stuff. That’s why Gizmodo recently published an article that explains how to use littleBits to build your own DIY smarthome.
You sort of have to be a robotics geek to realize just how much potential the littleBits system has. LittleBits could do for robotics what Apple did for computers. It’s easy to forget that before Steve Jobs came along, computers were seen as geeky and hard to use.
Fast forward to the post-Apple age.
In 2016, if you don’t own a super advanced computer (aka a smartphone) you’re seen as kind of goofy and out-of-touch with the times.
Right now, robotics is a geeky niche interest. But I think littleBits is poised to bring robotics into the mainstream.
The people who have bought littleBits recently can’t seem to stop saying great things about it. One top-rated reviewer (a science and math teacher) had this to say:
Here is a list of stuff you can make with littleBits Gizmos & Gadgets:
- A R/C car called BitBot
- A portable fan called Breezy Buddy
- A robotic bubble blower called BubbleBot
- A pinball game called BumperBall
- An Iron Man-like hand repulsor called Megablaster
- A motion activated prank tool called MischiefMaker
- A spinning nightlight called RotoLamp
- A rotating sign called SpinMate
- A hidden compartment device called SpyBot
- A motion activated alarm called WirelessDoorbell
A littleBits expansion pack for young programmers is available
When I first took a look at littleBits I was impressed. But I found myself asking: why doesn’t littleBit make robot brains? The technology is based on Arduino hardware. So where’s the microcontroller?
After I poked around on the littleBits site I discovered the littleBits Arduino Coding Kit. The “Arduino at Heart” littleBits microcontroller is a modified version of the Arduino UNO. It’s fully compatible with the littleBits magnet based component attachment system.
So, there you have it. When your kid is ready to acquire some real programming skills, all you have to do is get the coding kit add-on.
My only problem with the littleBits system is that it is a bit expensive. Once you buy into the littleBits system, you have to keep buying their shiny new parts.
Looking for more in-depth information on littleBits? Check out the full review here.
- Totally revolutionary electronics learning system for kids
- Teaches kids about electricity and electronic hardware
- Helps your kid learn skills that they’ll need to have in a rapidly changing world
- No wires necessary
- What you can create is only limited to your kid’s imagination
- Comes with plans for 10 creative project ideas
- Arduino Coding Kit add-on allows them to learn how to program when they begin to outgrow the basic kit
- Once you buy into the kit, you have to keep buying littleBits parts if you want to make new kinds of things
- The littleBits system is pricey
- The basic kit doesn’t come with a microcontroller
Robot kit for kids review 2: Sparki the Programmable Robot by ArcBotics
The revolutionary littleBits system is a hard act to follow for sure. But the next kit on this list– Sparki the Programmable Robot— is almost equally as awesome, but in a totally different way.
Sparki comes with an impressive array of pre-installed Arduino hardware.
A small motor powers his wheels. His ultrasonic “eyes” shoot out sound waves and listen for echoes– just like a bat. He’s got infrared sensors on his belly that scan for dangerous table edges.
He’s even got light sensors that allow him to “run” towards or away from light. And when he bumps into a wall, he makes a weird little noise. Awesome!
Here’s a list of Sparki’s sensor hardware:
- Accelerometer – enables Sparki to monitor how fast he’s moving
- IR sensor – helps Sparki follow lines and look for table edges
- Light sensor – allows Sparki to move towards or away from light
- Magnetometer – with this Sparki can tell if he’s headed north, west, east or south
- Ultrasonic sensor – shoots out sound waves and listens for echoes
- Buzzer – makes annoying yet useful noises
- Gripper – for moving objects around
- Infrared LED – shoots out control information in the form of light
- LCD – displays letters and numbers
- Radio – enables remote control
Parents will appreciate that your kid can play with Sparki right out of the box. No setup is required to get started. All you have to do is flip him on, and you can instantly start moving him around with the remote control.
But the very best thing about Sparki in my opinion is the fact that when your kid gets bored with using the default programs, he can modify them.
The code that Sparki uses is Arduino IDE– a variant of a serious, hardcore programming language called C. C is quite difficult, but the annotations in the code make it easy to figure out what’s going on.
Critics of Sparki say that it’s too expensive. It is true that you can put together a Sparki robot yourself for under $50. But to do that, you’d have to become an intermediate level Arduino expert. For parents who don’t know much about robots themselves but want their kids to learn, Sparki is the perfect gift.
He’s a Quiet One
The only negative thing I can say about Spark is that I wish he could talk. Microphone and speaker modules are pretty cheap. So I’m not sure why ArcBotics left those off. Maybe ArcBotics is saving voice and hearing for the next version.
Schools around the world are currently using Sparki to help kids learn STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) skills. If you want to see what a Sparki lesson looks like, I recommend that you take a look at this very excellent lesson from nanica.io.
- Great tool for helping kids learn valuable programming skills
- Sparki works right out of the box
- Sparki can do all kinds of amazing things (solve mazes, explore rooms, run away from light, etc.)
- Tons of free Sparki programs are available online
- He looks cute
- No assembly required
- Spark has a ton of impressive built-in hardware
- Sparki doesn’t have a microphone or a speaker
- Kids can learn a lot about coding with Sparki, but they’ll learn nothing about electricity and electronic hardware
Sparki is a robust Arduino robot that you don’t have to assemble. If you don’t care about hardware and just want your kid to learn code, buy this one.
Robot kit for kids review 3: Ozobot Bit
The third robot kit for kids– the inexpensive and simple but fun Ozobot— is a totally different type of robot learning kit. This one is aimed at very young kids that have just learned how to draw.
In order to play with the Ozobot, you have to draw some type of path for it to follow. There are two ways to interact with the bot.
- You can draw a path using markers and paper, or…
- You can draw a path with your finger using an iPad
Kids between the ages of 4 and 9 will probably get a kick out of this very simple robot kit. Ozobot Bit is designed to help kids develop their fine motor skills and logical reasoning abilities.
A tale of two Ozobot kits
The Ozobot comes in two different flavors: the single pack Ozobot kit and the double pack Ozobot kit. The double pack is the ideal choice if you have more than one child. With two bots, you can have races and solve puzzles together.
One thing that I like about the Ozobot is that it gives kids from different age groups a way to play together. An 8-year-old kid could play Ozobots with his 6-year-old sister, for example.
Younger kids will be amused by the Ozobot’s flashing lights and its ability to “dance” and can move around by itself. But slightly older kids will want to experiment with the Ozobot and see what it does when given different types of color-coded commands.
Unfortunately, you can’t program the Ozobot with a real life programming language. Also, you can’t or attach additional sensors to it. These missing features would make the Ozobot more interesting to teenagers.
- Helps kids develop their fine motor skills
- Encourages kids to learn how to draw
- Simple enough for 4 to 8-year-old kids
- Colorful lights
- Color-coded roads cause the Ozobot to pick up speed, stop or change direction
- Both single pack and double pack Ozobot kits are available
- No ability to add additional components
- No ability to program the Ozobot using a computer language
Orzo is too simple for older kids, but perfect for very young kids who have just learned how to draw.
Robot kit for kids review 4: Dash and Dot by Wonder Workshop
The Dash and Dot robots make it possible for your child to literally grow up with a robot friend.
These two unique robots from Wonder Workshop will continue to hold your kid’s interest for years. A 7-year-old can use these robots’ basic features. But older kids will appreciate Wonder Workshop’s super intuitive coding system.
Dash vs. Dot
Dash is a motorized little guy that can zip around a room. Dot, meanwhile, is stationary and smaller.Dash is about three times more expensive than his little brother.
However, Dash and Dot are both alike when it comes to brainpower. They both speak the same programming language and they both communicate via the same Wonder Workshop app. And they are both compatible with Lego. Attachable pieces allow your kid to build a body for Dot out of Lego bricks.
Talking, interactive robots
Unlike the Sparki bot, Dash and Dot can talk and listen. The pre-recorded responses are actually quite charming.
If you play with one of these bots for 5 minutes, you’ll instantly discover how full of personality they both are. For example, if you leave Dot laying on the floor for a while first he’ll beg to be picked up– and then he’ll start crying. Dash is a little more extroverted– he has a slew of pre-programmed wiggly dance moves.
If your kids don’t like the robots’ pre-recorded voice responses they can make up their own. Teenagers will enjoy recording their own
totally obscene smart aleck responses to different situations.
Young kids will enjoy using the robust sound board featured in both robot models. Dash and Dot can imitate all kinds of animal noises.
Both bots come with all kinds of built in hardware that allows them to react to various kinds of stimuli.
Dot and Dash both have…
- Programmable flashing lights
The superficial stuff you can do with Dash and Dot– adjust the flashing lights, etc– are great for small kids. But what I found most interesting about these bots is the fact that they feature a robust pair of programming apps for kids: Blockly and Wonder.
Inside wonder workshop’s unique coding system
Blockly is color-coded programming language that translates pieces of code into tetris-like blocks. Kids can stack and rearrange the blocks of code until they get the results they want.
Substituting endless lines of code with colorful puzzle pieces makes coding easier… without dumbing it down. You still have to be able to think logically to get the robot to do what you want it to do.
These kids do a great job of explaining how Blockly works:
The other coding app that kids can use to interact with Dash and Dot is Wonder. Wonder is a kind of programming game that challenges kids’ brains and builds their problem solving skills.
In order to move through the game, kids have to solve various logical problems. Once they solve the problem, they can unlock new robot behaviors and game modes.
Blockly is probably a bit too hard for younger kids. But once they master Wonder, they’ll have the skills they’ll need to level up.
The only thing I don’t like about the Wonder Workshop kit is that it offers nothing in the way of enabling kids to learn about electronic hardware. If you want your kid to learn about voltage, electricity and how motors work you’re better off with littleBits.
- Interactive robots that talk to you and react to what you do to them
- Surprisingly deep programming software for older kids
- Cute flashing lights and pre-programmed movements for younger kids
- Lego compatible
- Lots of different expansion packs are available
- If Dash is too expensive, you can get Dot instead
- The Wonder Workshop programming language resembles an authentic programming language, but it’s not quite the real thing
- Doesn’t teach kids about electronics and electricity
The Dash and Dot robot kit allows your kid to literally grow up with robot friends.
Robot kit for kids review 5: Vex IQ by VexRobotics
The last item on my list was searched for thousands of times a month on Google last year, so when I updated this guide for 2017 I had to check it out.
The name of the it is Vex IQ. It’s an entry level robot kit for kids from VexRobotics.
In my opinion, Vex IQ blows away its primary competitor Lego Mindstorms. Vex IQ and Mindstorms are very similar, but Vex IQ has more pieces and is far more flexible and powerful than Mindstorms. Plus, Vex IQ is cheaper.
No wonder why everyone’s been hunting for information about VexRobotics!
What is VexRobotics?
VexRobotics is a newcomer to the building block scene, but they make awesome stuff.
The VexRobotics system is similar to the construction sets you had when you were a kid. The pieces snap together like Legos or Construx. But unlike traditional robot sets, Vex IQ comes with motors, sensors and a programmable robot brain.
The Vex IQ brain is actually just as powerful as the microcontrollers used by serious robot DIYers. And the easy to use software that comes with it gives elementary and middle school students a fun way to learn a powerful programming language called C++.
Of course, Vex IQ isn’t perfect. My biggest gripe about this kit is the fact that its instruction book only shows you how to make basic stuff. There is no advanced level literature for this kit, even on the internet. Also, the controller works just fine but it looks a bit cheap and flimsy.
Even though it has a few minor problems, it’s still a lot better than most building block style robot kits that you might find in a toy store.
Which Vex IQ kit is the best?
Vex IQ comes in 3 different flavors:
Because there’s not much of a price difference at all between the basic kits and the premium kit, I think the Vex IQ Super Kit is the best deal. The sheer amount of cool stuff you get with Vex IQ Super makes it worth the few extra bucks you have to pay to upgrade.
Vex IQ vs. Lego Mindstorms
Though I used to play with Legos when I was young, I believe that the Lego’s time has come and gone. Over the past several decades, Lego has gotten kind of lazy. Instead of improving their product, they’ve tried to latch on to Disney, Star Wars and other flashy brands.
There are lots of far more innovative and educational kits out there today and Vex IQ is one of the best of the pack.
With Vex IQ Super Kit, you get:
- an XBOX style controller
- a rechargeable robot brain
- 850 pieces
- 4 motors and 6 sensors
But with Lego Mindstorms, all you get is:
- a somewhat dumber brain that eats batteries like nobody’s business
- 550 pieces
- 3 motors and 3 sensors
Teachers are going nuts about VexRobotics
In addition to making snazzy robot kits, VexRobotics also hosts contests that help kids build teamwork and problem solving skills.
The contests give a chance for kids to put their STEM abilities to the test. Winners gain the chance to challenge kid robot makers from other states.
If they win those battles, they go head to head with future engineers from around the world.
Unlike some of the other kits on this list, your kid won’t outgrow the Vex IQ. They can continue using it when they reach high school, and maybe even after they get to college.
In a recent interview with LinusTechTips, High School Tech-Ed teacher Sharissa Desrochers raved about VexRobotics.
To have a robot programming platform that is free and web based is a call from the heavens. I have these very eager students. They had a hard time grasping programming. And I feel like Vex IQ kind of fills in that gap.
- 850 pieces (if you get the Super Kit)
- Comes with clearly written, illustrated instructions that show you how to build 6 different bots
- Storage bin with compartmentalized tray
- 7 real robotic sensors (with Super Kit and Starter Kit with Sensors)
- 4 powerful motors
- Vex competitions allow your kid to make friends and win awards
- Vex IQ is one of the priciest kits on this list
- To upgrade Vex’s free basic level programming software, you have to pay an additional fee
So, which kid robot kit is the best?
If you read my review of Vex IQ, you probably already know that I’m not going to recommend Lego Mindstorms. In my opinion Lego Mindstorms is not very innovative and way overpriced.
The other kits I researched, however, are quite good.
It’s so hard to choose a winner because all 5 are great in their own way.
- The tiny Ozobot is great for very young kids because it helps the develop hand dexterity and fine motor skills.
- Dash and Dot are great for kids who are ready to be introduced to programming but aren’t quite ready for the real thing yet.
- Sparki and littleBricks are both great for teaching kids real world programming skills.
- Vex IQ is a more powerful, cheaper alternative to Lego Mindstorms
But if you put a gun to my head and forced me to decide, I suppose I’d go with littleBits. littleBits is my favorite robot learning kit for kids because it’s equally great for kids of all ages– and even adults.
By playing with littleBits, your kid will learn how electronic components fit together. Then, when your kid is ready to learn programming all you have to do is buy the Arduino Coding Kit add-on.
Though it hasn’t gotten a lot of press, littleBits is hands-down the best robot building system for kids out there.