When researching this guide, we interviewed three experts: Jenny Young, who owns the Brooklyn Robot Foundry makerspace; Marina Umaschi Bers, a professor of human development and computer science at Tufts University and chief scientist at KinderLab Robotics; and Andrew Terranova, a hobby roboticist who writes about robotics kits for Make magazine. During a second round of testing, we also tasked three children ages 9 to 11 with programming four robots and picking their favorite.
For our initial round of testing in 2017, we tried seven robotics kits. In 2019, we tested four new kits against our top pick, the Lego Boost set. Our second round of testing included three kids ages 9 to 11. They spent 20 minutes programming, playing with, and breaking four robots that had been assembled in advance. The kids received no assistance from their parents, though they occasionally asked me for help. In 2020, we tested the new Lego Mindstorms Robot Inventor set. In 2021, we tested seven additional robotics kits and gathered notes from two children, ages 6 and 9, on our favorite.
After researching over 100 different products, we bought and tested the 9 best robot kits for kids currently on the market today. We carefully evaluated and compared these educational toys head-to-head, looking at their mechanical, electrical, and coding components. We also assess versatility, durability, the curriculum each one covers, and, of course, how fun and engaging they are. Our expert recommendations are based on nearly a decade of STEM education experience. This review can help you find the perfect robotics or computer programming kit to meet your needs and budget.
If you want to get your kids started with robotics, the Lego Boost Creative Toolbox is an exceptional kit. This kit spans a range of project levels, starting slow and simple and gradually building up in complexity. The Boost Creative Toolbox has a block-based graphical coding interface that is intuitive and easy to use, and the kit comes with clear and detailed assembly instructions for each of the five main models. Previous electronics knowledge is not necessary to use this kit. All of these features mean that this kit is very approachable, even for complete beginners, allowing your child to grow in confidence as a young roboticist advancing through more levels. This kit does an excellent job of balancing and blending structured play with space for creative expression. There are plenty of opportunities to expand with additional Lego products once you've exhausted the 60+ activities included in this set. Some of the included activities include building a robot sheriff with a shoulder-mounted rocket launcher and creating an automated factory that makes miniature Lego creations. Troubleshooting is easy with this kit. Overall, we recommend the Lego Boost Creative Toolbox above any other option on the market today for kids getting started with robotics.
If Lego-based robotics aren't your thing, look at the Makeblock mBot as an introductory robotics kit. This kit gives you direct exposure to commonplace components in industrial robots and is still user-friendly in a way that is approachable for a total novice. The step-by-step 3D instructions are easy to follow, with the app providing gamified lessons once you have the mBot built. It also comes pre-programmed with three different operating modes, allowing you to hit the ground running when you finish building it.
If you're looking for an inexpensive and approachable way to introduce the concept of hands-on robotics to your kids, the 4M Tin Can Robot is a great place to start. A repurposed soda can is used for the robot's body, which can be a good foundation to introduce concepts related to recycling in addition to some basic mechanical and electrical lessons. It's fairly easy to put together, only takes an hour or two to assemble, and offers kids a chance to express their creativity by decorating the can.
Unfortunately, once the building stops, so does the use of this robot. There is not much you can do with it once fully put together. The only way to control its motion is by moving it forward in a straight line. Aside from that, the only other interactive aspect is changing the pose of the eyes and arms. All other activities will have to come from your child's playful imagination. This robot kit lets you foster an interest in robotics and test the water with a low-cost option before investing in a more expensive product. However, we have a feeling its appeal will fade out sooner rather than later.
Beginners may find this kit to be quite complex and intimidating. There are tons of small parts that require a great deal of skill to assemble. The documentation isn't the clearest, so troubleshooting can be challenging compared to other models. It also requires considerable space and time to assemble projects with this, so it's probably not a kit that you want to take out for only an hour or two on a rainy afternoon. However, it's an absolutely fantastic option for kids who already have a more advanced level of understanding of electromechanical systems or if you are willing to invest hours in assisting and guiding them. True beginners are better off starting with a simpler kit. This kit can familiarize you with some of the same components used in college-level robotics classes as you progress from working with kits to simply building your own robots, and can give you a good starting point for years to come.
The UBTech Jimu Buzzbot & Muttbot kit is another robotics kit that uses proprietary plastic bricks as its main construction method. Although the pin and hole components might resemble some of the other kits, the tab and slots that attach to the servos on the Jimu set them apart from the rest. It's a fairly easy kit to put together as long as you're careful to match up the servo orientation and their ID code to what's shown in the 3D models in the app. Once you have either the Buzzbot or the Muttbot assembled, you can use the graphical programming interface in the Jimu app to create your own routines. There is a library of community-created designs available through the app, so you also don't have to worry about being limited to these two creations. You're also able to create your own design from scratch.
David Wise heads up our expert team when it comes to reviewing and testing educational robotics kits. Graduating with a B.S. in Mechanical and Ocean Engineering in 2014 from MIT, David has well over a decade of robotics and hands-on STEM education experience. He worked closely with the MIT Edgerton Center while enrolled as a mentor for their engineering design workshop. There he developed a curriculum through their engineering outreach program and brought it to local schools in the Boston area. More recently, he became one of the co-founders and directors of the Tahoe STEM Camp, teaching hundreds of students topics ranging from remotely operated underwater vehicles to light following spider robots. He is also a coach for the local FIRST Robotics Lego League and the FIRST Tech Challenge team.
The Makeblock Ultimate, the Makeblock mBot, and the Elegoo Smart Robot Car are all a little more work to put together, especially the Ultimate. All of these products use standard nuts and bolts in their construction, and it's inherently more difficult to correctly thread them together and then tighten using a wrench and screwdriver compared to simple snap-together pieces. This added difficulty can be quite frustrating for kids. We found it very easy to mistakenly swap parts of the frame, and the minuscule screws used to affix shaft collars and gears into position are astonishingly small and easy to lose. We would expect all three of these kits to require some significant parental/guardian assistance for the vast majority of kids.
The Elegoo Smart Robot Car covers the same content topics as the four previously mentioned kits but doesn't offer a guided progression or engineering challenges, so you'll have to come up with these on your own. The UBTech Jimu Buzzbot hits many of those same content areas, but a major flaw we found compared to some of the other robots was its lack of sensors, precluding any discussions about the types of sensors while not enabling kids to create basic programs that could make their robot respond to outside stimuli. However, it does offer guided tutorials and lessons to work through and the opportunity for both graphical and text-based programming.
We felt the products with the most potential for further expansion were the Makeblock Ultimate and the mBot. Both let you start by controlling each robot, then move on to graphical programming, and finally finish with text-based Arduino coding. There are tons of additional components available from Makeblock to add more sensors, motors, or even additional configurations of each of these robots. These products are also compatible with other Arduino systems, so you're not limited to products made by Makeblock. These are some of the very same components used by engineers when prototyping their designs, so these kits could easily serve as a starting point for many years of robotics education.
The Elegoo Smart Robot Car is a very similar robot kit for kids, as it's a solid foundation for getting started with Arduino coding. It's compatible with a wide array of third-party components that are fairly inexpensive.
However, we suspect you might tire of the Elegoo app and end up doing any code development directly in the Arduino Integrated Development Environment (IDE). The Arduino IDE can have a steeper learning curve than graphical programming but can foster skills that would serve a young robotics engineer throughout their entire career.
The final thing we compared and scored between robotics kits is their durability. Many of these kits can be quite expensive, so you'll want to have some confidence that your investment will last. We based points on the different materials used by