Best programming toy for 8 year old?
October 7, 2019 2:19 PM   Subscribe

My daughter is turning 8 soon. I'd love to get her a programming toy as she's expressed a lot of interest in coding.

There are a few options, Lego boost, various spheros, ozobot evo.

Do you have experiences with these and what would you recommend? I don't want to drop a lot of money on something she'll forget about in a week or two.
posted by smoke to Technology (15 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
I love spheros especially with the sphero edu website and app. If you have any existing LEGO in your house then I would go with LEGO boost as she will be able to be far more creative.
posted by dstopps at 2:31 PM on October 7, 2019

Snap Circuits Classic is around $40, highly recommended by my software engineer husband, and 8 year old daughter. She's had a blast going through the projects and trying to make her own stuff. We gave it to her about 3 years ago, and she still plays with it. The jr version is cheaper, at around $20, and there are additional sets you can buy as she grows into them.
posted by toastyk at 2:46 PM on October 7, 2019

Turing Tumble looks good. Marble powered logic gates.
posted by Sophont at 2:57 PM on October 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

My 8 year old enjoys LEGO Boost and importantly for him (and us) was able to do almost everything himself. I felt like Mindstorms was a more sophisticated system but was also more likely to require parental assistance.

He didn’t really take to Snap Circuits, I’m not sure why.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 6:51 PM on October 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


Created/sold by the BBC, so has critical mass already, will be around for years, is programmable in several languages, including a very nice block language that converts to javascript (and back to blocks), has lots of material written for it, has lots of features.

Costs $15 (but get the $2.50 battery pack and get 2 or 3 of them so she and her friends/family can write programs that communicate over the Bluetooth. Maybe also get a robot sled or 2; I've seen some nice ones for $25. So, as little as $18, or $35 for two, or could spend $100 and get quite a few accessories.

Also get a some alligator clips to get sound to earbuds.

To get an idea of what coding will look like, a good first program might be to turn it into a magic 8-ball.
posted by at at 8:17 PM on October 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

My 8yo just did three days at CodeCamp on the holidays. It was mainly block programming with a quick look at JavaScript at the end. He got a fully functioning game out of it he has been showing everyone and is currently sitting on the couch reading a Python book.

I’ve got much the same question: what next? But my 8yo recommends CodeCamp.
posted by antipodes at 2:24 AM on October 8, 2019

My 7 year old has several such things because computers are his main jam, and I like all of them for different reasons. He has the Dash and Dot robots from Wonder Workshop which use a couple different programming methods (a sort of flowchart like method and then a standard block-based method), which is nice for a kid who has no prior experience with Scratch.

We have an Adafruit Circuit Playground Express, which is kinda like the Microbit mentioned above. It can be programmed with MakeCode and also JavaScript or python. Lights, sounds, capacitive touch. It's fun for being creative/artsy (especially if you have some copper tape).

We have a bunch of Little Bits which are more electronics than coding (though there is now a couple codable Bits, which we don't have but they exist) but still address the fundamentals of current and input/output and are also very fun. Can get expensive, though.

And finally the Makey Makey can be used with Scratch to create games that use physical objects as the controllers. It's very very fun especially for an artsy, creative kid. Or adult. I also play with all of these things myself on the regular. My son has had most of these things for a couple years and they all still get regular use.
posted by soren_lorensen at 4:18 AM on October 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

Does she have access to a computer? There was a craze for turtle graphics and the Logo programming language in the schools some years ago. I'm not sure if it's still a thing.

Google tells me that you can do turtle graphics with Python. I don't know anything about that.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:12 AM on October 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

Has she used any robotics/coding kits before? Also, if your plan for her to use this on her own with some minimal help, or a full on joint project?

If she's relatively new to it all, and you want her to gain some confidence on her own, then I would also recommend a Lego kit - specifically Lego WeDo. Lego is so familiar to kids and it can be a lot less intimidating and I find kids are happy to jump straight in on their own. You can help out at for the first few programming parts but it's all symbolic and drag-and-drop so easy to pick up (while teaching real coding concepts).

WeDo you can also link up to Scratch.

Mindstorms I would recommend for 10+. The problem I find if you start kids too early on this set is that they either get frustrated and turned off, or build all the set models then think they've 'finished' it and won't explore more on their own, even when they're older.

I also like Makey Makey (with Scratch) and Arduino for a second or third kit (or first with help); and yes Snap Circuits and Little Bits are great for the more electronics-based side of things.

(Background: I've been teaching STEM enrichment for ages 6-16 for nine years and used a wide variety of kits!)
posted by atlantica at 7:50 AM on October 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

Have them play Robot Odyssey.

It's a classic Apple II/DOS game that teaches the basics of digital circuitry. More importantly, it teaches breaking larger problems down into manageable chunks and solving them bit by bit. This game was a HUGE part of why I developed an interest in technology as a kid. I went on to be a network administrator and software developer so... take that for what it's worth I guess :)

Luckily, you don't need a vintage computer to play it, a very kind and skillful person has made it available to play in the browser and made many tweaks and modifications to it to make it more playable:
posted by signsofrain at 8:03 AM on October 8, 2019 [3 favorites]

We have an Adafruit Circuit Playground Express, which is kinda like the Microbit mentioned above. It can be programmed with MakeCode and also JavaScript or python. Lights, sounds, capacitive touch. It's fun for being creative/artsy (especially if you have some copper tape).

As someone who's been fiddling with Arduino stuff on and off for about 10 years now, I just bought one of these (like, a few days ago) for a project and was pretty blown away. Decent microcontroller, ten (!) RGB LEDs, two buttons, speaker, mic, temp sensor, light sensor, all built in. Plus large pin terminals that you can easily connect with an alligator clip. Plus a built-in Li-ion battery charger.

I can't comment on the ease of the MakeCode stuff (I've been using the Arduino IDE) but it's quite a piece of kit. No Bluetooth but I guess they're working on it.
posted by neckro23 at 10:39 AM on October 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

I'm a developer, but I don't know much about programming toys per se.

However, I can tell you that Legos (just the regular, plastic-brick variety – not the fancy kinds they have today) were a crucial influence on my young engineering brain.

The Korg littleBits kit is also not a coding toy, but it definitely encourages/requires many of the same brain functions – thinking about different kinds of inputs and outputs, predicting how signals will change and move through a complex system, designing circuits/algorithms to achieve a desired effect, etc. (Bonus: she'll be well prepared to drop some sick dubstep beats once she reaches adolescence, or whatever the equivalent of dubstep is in 2027.) Noisy and rather pricey, though.

Honestly, my coding toy at age 8 was...writing code. (This was in the mid-80s, so it was BASIC on a Commodore 64. Today, the nearest equivalent is probably JavaScript – which requires only a text editor [to write the code] and a web browser [to run it]. If you have a computer, then you already have everything you need. Find her an age-appropriate class or a willing tutor to get her started.)
posted by escape from the potato planet at 4:28 AM on October 9, 2019

Tangential to your question, but I bet your daughter would love this book:

Code Like a Girl: Rad Tech Projects and Practical Tips
by Miriam Peskowitz

There are chapters on Scratch and Python (using online IDEs, so no software install necessary), simple Raspberry Pi projects, and other tech-y craft projects, like making your own smartphone gloves.

I've been reading it and enjoying it myself, despite being a Very Old Girl.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 4:53 AM on October 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

My students love using Scratch! Here is the homepage. It is completely free and very easy to start (they have a Junior version if the full version feels too complex), yet allows kids to advance to more sophisticated projects. It is not a toy, per se, but it can be used to program some toys including finch robots and some of the lego robot kits.

Plus it can be used to make animations of donuts falling down a hill: (warning loud noises).
posted by mai at 11:24 AM on October 9, 2019

Response by poster: Thank you everyone, all your answers were helpful. Due to availability, she ended up with a sphero mini, which she is quite taken with.
posted by smoke at 3:31 AM on October 20, 2019

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