The 7 Best Programmable Robot Kits for Kids of 2020

Enjoy a casual night of robot building with the whole family

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The Rundown
"Allows you to build 17 LEGO-designed robotic creatures, as well as all the additional creations you can come up with."
Runner-Up, Best Overall:
Makeblock mBot Ranger at Amazon
"Makes use of precision metal components and a pre-assembled Arduino controller board to build three different robots."
"This budget-priced kit from Garunk comes with instructions for 12 different solar-powered robots that include crawling, rolling, and floating designs."
"An advanced robotics platform that allows for 50 modifications to the robot, including building new sensors."
"A good choice for those just starting out, with a desire to learn about all aspects of robotics."
"Has all of the built-in sensors and basic programmable controls found in a basic Roomba vac."
"Inspired by DJI’s RoboMaster competition, the RoboMaster S1 operates as both a toy and a complex programmable robot."

STEM toys are only growing in popularity, and it’s easy to see why. Robot building kits and basic programmable toys can foster creativity and problem-solving in kids and give them an early introduction to the basics of coding. Programmable toys are often designed to introduce fundamental concepts like scripts, functions, and commands, giving kids a feel for how computer programs run and potentially opening up a whole new medium for creativity and discovery. Several of the kits on this list come with online tutorials that offer more in-depth learning on these topics.

We’ve put together a list of programmable robot kits that are suited for kids of all different skill levels and interests. Some are just fun building toys that include code-like controls, while others are educational tools for kids who are actively trying to learn robotics or programming. We’ve also included a few advanced and highly-customizable kits for more experienced programmers. 

Also be sure to check out our list of the best robotics for kids

Best Overall: LEGO Mindstorms EV3

What We Like
  • Instructions for 5 different robots

  • Kid-friendly intro to programming

What We Don't Like
  • May be too prescriptive for older kids

  • Expensive

LEGO Mindstorms EV3 combines the fun of LEGO-building with an educational introduction to basic programming concepts. The 601-piece set includes an EV3 brick with an ARM9 processor, microSD card reader, and a USB port for internet connectivity. It also has ports for the three included servo motors that bring each creation to life. Completed robots can be programmed to walk around, shoot targets, and more using the EV3 Robot Commander app, which features a kid-friendly drag-and-drop language to give kids a sense of how programming works. It’s a fun combination of building and coding basics that’s sure to pique kids’ curiosity. If your child already has experience with robot kits, they may find the instructions a little prescriptive and limited to LEGO’s robot designs. But for kids who are just starting out, this is a great option. 

Recommended age: 10+

Runner-Up, Best Overall: Makeblock mBot Ranger

What We Like
  • Instructions for 3 different robots

  • Suitable for different programming abilities

What We Don't Like
  • Robots have a limited range of functions

  • May be too simple for kids with robot-building experience

The mBot Ranger programmable robot kit from Makeblock is another great intro to programming concepts. It supports both beginner and advanced coding software, so it’s flexible enough to meet kids at their level of programming ability. The kit can be assembled into three different vehicular robots: Land Raider, Dashing Raptor, or Nervous Bird. The parts are made from durable aluminum alloy and are cross-compatible with LEGO bricks so your child can experiment with designs beyond the kit instructions. The kit also contains a mainboard with integrated gyroscopic and positional sensors, two motors, and an obstacle and line-follower sensor. Kids can control their finished robot using the mBlock Blockly app, which lets them experiment with simple drag-and-drop commands and progress through “levels” that build up their programming knowledge. If they already have some coding experience, the app also supports more advanced Arduino C text-based programming to challenge and improve their skills.

Recommended age: 10+

Best Budget: Garunk STEM Solar Robot

What We Like
  • Solar-powered

  • No programming required

What We Don't Like
  • All-plastic build with sticker accents 

  • Instructions may be hard for younger kids to follow

This budget-priced kit from Garunk comes with instructions for 12 different solar-powered robots that include crawling, rolling, and floating designs. “Level 1” designs are best suited for beginners, while “Level 2” designs are more challenging. Each design uses a solar cell to power the internal drive motor so kids can set their creation in the sunlight and watch it move on its own without any batteries or controllers. It doesn’t require any programming or complex circuitry, and instead focuses on the mechanics of building the robot.

The kit includes 190 pieces that need to be cut apart and assembled using instructions that can be a bit confusing at times. We recommend this for older elementary-age kids but they may still need some help from an adult. 

Recommended age: 9+

Best Without Soldering: Parallax 28832 Boe-Bot Robot Kit

What We Like
  • Step-by-step instructions with educational component

  • Lots of room for modification

What We Don't Like
  • Not compatible with Mac

  • May be a bit technical for younger children

The Boe-Bot robot kit doesn’t produce a walking or talking robot like some of the toys on this list. But if you have a child who’s interested in robots, this is a fantastic educational tool that can introduce them to electronics and programming concepts without requiring any prior experience. The illustrated step-by-step guide teaches the basics of electronic circuitry as it walks kids through the construction of their Boe-Bot. The best part: there’s not soldering required, so kids can put it together using just the tools in the box. 

The finished product is an autonomous, three-wheeled robot with a programmable BASIC Stamp microcontroller inside. Connect the Boe-Bot to a PC (unfortunately it is not Mac compatible) and use Parallax’s PBASIC text-based language to program its functions. It requires no prior coding experience and provides an incremental introduction to basic programming concepts. As kids become more comfortable with the technology, they can modify the BoeBot with tons of different add-ons like speech boards, a remote control, line-following sensors, and even camera equipment, greatly expanding on the Boe-Bot’s programmable activities. 

Recommended age: 12+

Best Educational: Robolink Rokit Smart (11-in-1) Starter Robot Kit

What We Like
  • Arduino-compatible circuit board

  • No soldering

What We Don't Like
  • All instructions in the form of online tutorials

The Rokit Smart from Robolink is a solid value, providing a lot of flexibility and learning resources for the price. The kit comes with everything you need for the physical assembly of the robot (circuit board, motors, metals frames, etc.) but no physical instructions. Instead you get access to Robolink’s online tutorials, which provide easy-to-follow instructions for building 11 different robot designs, as well as interactive community forums, troubleshooting tips, and extra educational coding resources. The Rokit Smart does not require soldering, nor does it require prior experience with coding. Kids can use the tutorials that match their skill level to learn to program their robot. As an added bonus, the Rokit Smart uses an Arduino-compatible circuit board, meaning that kids are experimenting with an extremely popular open-source programming environment rather than a piece of proprietary software. This kit is suitable for kids as young as eight, though elementary-age children will probably need an adult’s help.

Recommended age: 8+.

Best Advanced: iRobot Create 2 Programmable Robot

What We Like
  • Robot is pre-assembled

  • Focus on programming and modification

What We Don't Like
  • Previous robotics experience required

f the Create 2 looks like a Roomba, that’s because it’s made by the same company —  iRobot is best known for its robot vacuum cleaners. Thee Create 2, on the other hand,  is a robot platform with a pre-assembled drive system, built-in sensors, and basic pre-programmed functions that is designed to be built on, modified, and programmed into a custom robot. iRobot has some robot designs on its website, but the emphasis is on innovation and creativity. The Create 2 can support additional sensors and a Raspberry Pi or Arduino-based microcontroller.

The iRobot Create 2 is definitely a more advanced kit, so it’s best suited to teenaged robotics enthusiasts who’ve already experimented with beginner building kits and have some programming experience under their belt. 

Recommended age: 13+

Best Splurge: DJI RoboMaster S1

What We Like
  • Appropriate for both beginner and advanced users

  • Access to online classes and tutorials

  • Unique gameplay modes

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

  • Emphasis on advanced programming features

The DJI RoboMaster S1 is an extremely full-featured robot kit with a strong emphasis on programmability and advanced artificial intelligence (AI) modules. Inspired by DJI’s RoboMaster competition, the RoboMaster S1 operates as both a toy and a complex programmable robot, making it suitable for kids with all different levels of robotics experience. Younger users can follow the step-by-step instructions to assemble the robot and practice with basic coding using the beginner-friendly Scratch 3.0 visual programming language. The RoboMaster S1 can race, shoot gel beads and infrared beams at other robots, and capture video with its built-in camera. If you’re shopping for an advanced robotics enthusiast, they’ll be able to take advantage of the RoboMaster S1’s high-tech features like gesture and face recognition, autonomous driving, and wide-open options for customizability. It also supports the Python programming language and has plenty of classes and tutorials on the DJI website to help improve their skills. 

With such a premium price tag, we recommend this robot for more experienced users, or for younger kids with a parent who can take advantage of its more advanced features. 

Recommended age: 10+

The LEGO Mindstorms EV3 robot kit combines the fun of LEGO toys with an educational intro to basic programming concepts. It has a surprising amount of functionality and lots of different designs to choose from. If you’re looking for something that focuses more on skill-building, the Makeblock Mbot Ranger walks kids through “levels” of programming activities that helps them expand the functionality of their robot. It also offers more advanced coding options for kids with prior experience.

About our Trusted Experts

A former editor of Lifewire product round-ups, Emmeline has years of experience researching and writing about the best consumer products out there. She specializes in consumer tech.