For somewhat younger kids, and for kids who do not happen to have a tablet they are allowed to use because they drool on it and stuff, there is an alternative that is on one hand a little harder to code but on the other hand more intuitive and very creative. I speak of the Botley Coding Robot, which comes in two styles: 1) Learning Resources Botley the Coding Robot Activity Set, 77 Pieces and Learning Resources Botley the Coding Robot, 45 Pieces. (I tested the latter, but they are the same in the parts that matter).
This robot requires no assembly, which is good if you don’t want to build a robot but just want to play with it. You load up a whole bunch of AA batteries (not included) and either manipulate it with the remote control, or you code it.
Coding is done via the remote. Remember the old TI calculators, where you used a lot of up and down arrows and “sto” and “rcl” commands and such? This is a little like that. The robot can handle several different commands. The robot comes with a large set of square cards that have the commands on them (several copies of each) so you can lay the cards out and when “coding” (entering commands using the remote) use the cards as a remembering device.
The robot will follow lines, and it does a very good job (best of any robot I’ve seen so far). It can also detect objects and with proper programming, avoid them.
The larger and more expensive of the kits mainly includes a lot of fun plastic parts you can use to make an obstacle course, as well as a very fancy set of interlocking cardboard cutouts with the black line drawn on it for the robot to follow using its optical sensor. We just drew a black line on paper, and for obstacles, we used the usual objects — soup cans, stuff from the recycling bin, the cat, and so on.
By the way, both kits seem to be on sale right now, so check them out.
Bottom lines: Botley is relatively inexpensive for a robot. Kids can definitely learn coding with this. Huxley, 8 years old and highly advanced in coding and robots, still had plenty of fun with this toy. We’re going to try it out on his littler cousin at the next opportunity. Also, Botley seems pretty sturdy.