Finding the best toys for kids is trickier than it looks. The children’s toy market is awash with overpriced junk destined to end up unloved and forgotten at the bottom of a toy box within days of being unwrapped. How do you find kid’s tech that’s inspiring and educational, but fun enough to keep them coming back to it? We have just the right picks, and have even found some Black Friday toy deals worth mentioning.
We’re not going to look at obvious categories such as tablets or smartphones — we have separate roundups for those. This is about interesting and unusual gadgets that will hopefully delight your wee ones. These are the best tech toys for kids. We have included the suggested age from the manufacturer here, but we’ve found that as long as they’re supervised, younger kids will also really enjoy most of these gadgets and toys.
8 years and up
Themakes it easy to introduce STEM to elementary school kids. The robot kit is comprised of modules that fit together with an enclosed screwdriver. No soldering required! It also has several pre-set modes that allow a child to explore essential robot functions such as obstacle avoidance and line following with minimal coding. For more experienced children, the mBot can be controlled via a Scratch-based programming system and has expansion packs that add new functions to the robot. It even is compatible with LEGO, providing endless hours of creativity.
Littlebits Avengers Hero Inventor Kit ($150 MSRP)
Introduce your kids to STEM the easy way with the Avengers Hero Inventor Kit from Little Bits. Kids can get in full Tony Stark mode by building their own wearable gauntlet, complete with sensors, sound effects, and flashing lights. It’s modular in design and customizable so kids can tinker with the various components to see how they work.
Kids can also add superhero powers to their gauntlet via a block-based coding system. A companion app with superhero-themed lessons guides the kids through both the building and coding process. The tutorials start off easy and then gradually increase in difficulty. Kids will learn how to build circuits, interact with sensors, and program lights and sounds.
The customization is the winning feature in the kit. Kids can toy with the blocks to add new superhero powers or even record their own battle cry using the included speaker module. Our favorite component, however, is the LED matrix, which can be programmed to display a custom image.
Anki Cozmo Robot ($180 MSRP)
This ridiculously adorable, tiny robot, is packed with personality. Reminiscent of Wall-E, Cozmo hooks up to your Android or iOS device via Wi-Fi. It can be programmed in an accessible step-by-step way, but there are also some simple games your kids can dive straight into. Cozmo can recognize your face, get to know you, and develop its own personality. If you want to inspire your kids to switch off the PlayStation, or you’re avoiding getting a family pet, Cozmo could be ideal. Read our Cozmo hands-on review to learn more.
Sphero Bolt Robot ($150 MSRP)
Meccano Meccanoid G15 KS Personal Robot ($120 MSRP)
What kid wouldn’t love to build their own 4-foot-tall robot that’s capable of mimicking them and responding to instructions? There are around 1,200 parts to this, including a brain, LED eyes, and eight motors. You can use an Android or iOS app with it, but it’s easier to teach the Meccanoid through direct manipulation. There are lots of voice commands you can use, and it can be reconfigured into something less humanoid — but be warned, it takes a long time to build
Circuit Maze Board Game ($30 MSRP)
This puzzle game teaches your kids all about how circuits and electricity work. It’s a well-made game with 60 different challenges to beat. They’ll need to move the pieces around and fit them in the right sequence to solve each puzzle. The challenges come in three different difficulty levels. It’s great for developing problem-solving skills, and, more importantly, it’s fun for adults to play along with their kids. If you’re trying to cut down on screen time, this is a nice alternative.
6-8 years and up
Virtual reality is everywhere now and it’s exciting, but there’s still some doubt about whether VR is safe for kids or not. There are a few VR headsets that use your smartphone as the screen, but this is the first one we’ve seen that’s specifically aimed at kids. It works with various smartphones, just like Google Cardboard, and there are a number of compatible VR apps and games currently available for Android and iOS. In a nod to the view-masters of yesteryear, Mattel has also included reels that trigger different augmented-reality experiences. You can buy various $15 reel packs, which cover topics such as space and wildlife.
Jiusion handheld digital microscope ($20 MSRP)
It’s amazing what you can see with a microscope. Your kids will love collecting samples to examine with Jiusion’s compact model, as even everyday objects can reveal surprises. The handheld microscope plugs into your desktop, laptop, tablet, or smartphone — the software currently supports Windows, MacOS, and Android — and allows for up to 1,000X magnification. There are also eight LEDs to illuminate your subject, as well as a plastic stand you can slot the device into. You can even use it to capture photographs or video.
KD Interactive Aura Drone with Glove Controller ($100 MSRP)
Drones are flying high right now, but the best drones are expensive, and they can be tough to pilot. The clever idea behind the Aura Drone is that you can fly it with a special glove controller. This small, lightweight drone is designed for indoor use and has built-in safety features that make it ideal for kids to try, including automatic takeoff, hover, and landing, as well as height and distance limits. Controlling the drone with hand gestures feels natural and it’s easy for kids to grasp. You can even do a flip trick — just make sure your ornaments are safely stowed away first!
Osmo Genius Kit for iPad ($100 MSRP)
This is an excellent iPad accessory pack that offers several fun and educational activities. Your kids are challenged to make different shapes, spell words, trace pictures, and play physics-based games. It’s expensive, but it’s also very well-designed, and kids love learning with it. You can buy additional packs, such as Osmo’s Coding Jam which employs music to teach kids how to code. Read our full Osmo Genius Kit for iPad review for more details. Osmo has also made most of the same experiences available through your iPhone, with the new Osmo iPhone Base at $25.
Kano Computer Kit ($150 MSRP)
This is a complete build-your-own computer kit bundled with all sorts of interesting software to inspire your kids to start programming and make music or games. There are simple illustrated guides for them to follow, and it’s impressively accessible. It’s based around a Raspberry Pi 3, but you also get an orange keyboard, a mouse, some other bits and pieces, and a set of stencils and stickers to customize the look. The real fun begins when it’s built and they dig into the challenges to tell it what to do.
Kidz Gear Volume Limit Headphones ($20 MSRP)
Kids and adults don’t always see eye to eye, as any parent who has endured the musical tastes of a youngster for a long car trip can attest. The easy answer is headphones. The Kidz Gear wired headphones produce decent quality sound and they’re sturdy, adjustable, and available in seven different colors. They also have a limited maximum volume. These headphones could be just as much of a gift for the parents as they are for the child.
3-5 years and up
Wonder Workshop Dash Robot Wonder Pack ($280 MSRP)
This wee robot has real personality and hooks up to an Android or iOS device for all sorts of play and learning. It’s best for the five-year-old age group and older. At the shallow end, it’s a remote control robot that lights up and makes sounds, but if you dig deeper, you can actually program routines into it with the accessible Blockly drag-and-drop coding app. It’s also compatible with Lego, and Wonder Workshop offers a static companion robot and a bunch of other extras if you want to expand on it. Read our full Wonder Workshop Dash & Dot review to find out more.
VTech Touch and Learn Activity Desk ($50 MSRP)
Parents want to introduce technology to their young children, but they don’t want them to miss out on the hands-on activities that are critical to motor skills development. The VTech desk meets both these needs by using a LED display, an interactive touchpad and sound to teach math basics, music, drawing and more. The digital desk includes five activity pages to get a child started and expansion packs that delve into different subjects.
CogniToys Dino ($100 MSRP)
Your kids will fall in love with this talking dinosaur. It can tell stories, play games, crack jokes, and sing songs. It can also answer any appropriate questions your child has because it is connected to the internet. Press the button on Dino’s tummy and ask him how to spell a word or who the president is, and you’ll get the right answer back in a voice that’s very reminiscent of Yoda. There’s also a child-friendly engine on top that adjusts to your kid and filters out anything inappropriate, even telling them off for using curse words. It doesn’t always work perfectly, but CogniToys is continuing to work on improving it and adding new tricks to Dino’s repertoire. Read our full CogniToys Dino review to find out more. The company has also released a follow-up called STEMosaur which kids have to put together themselves.
Play-Doh Touch Shape to Life Studio ($10 MSRP)
Kids love Play-Doh and this kit allows them to scan their physical creations into the digital world on an iPad or another iOS device. The kit includes a familiar array of Play-Doh cans, tools, cutters, and stampers, along with a special plastic tray. If you place creations on the tray and scan it with an iPad, they come to life as characters or objects in a colorful, side-scrolling world. The creations can even jump around and explore their digital environments, and you can scan non-Play-Doh objects to serve as backgrounds.
Primo Cubetto Playset ($225 MSRP)
This friendly, wooden robot has been specifically designed for kids between the ages of 3 and 6. The robot teaches the basics of computer programming without speaking or a display; instead, it relies on a wooden board that your kids can fit with colored blocks. These, in turn, make programs that command the super-cute Cubetto robot. There’s also a map and storybook to help bring it to life and spark ideas. This Montessori-approved toy is very accessible and well-designed, which is rare when you’re dealing with educational toys geared toward younger audiences.
3 years and under
Marbotic Smart Numbers ($30 MSRP) and Smart Letters ($50 MSRP)
The digital age has sparked many exciting new developments in education, but evidence suggests that kids learn best when there’s a physical element involved. Marbotic has developed the Smart Numbers and Smart Letters packs as an introduction to help children learn the basics when it comes to math, reading, and writing. The beautiful, wooden letters and numbers can be used in conjunction with an iPad or Android tablet to help kids learn in a fun way. Placing the right letters or numbers on the screen sparks animations and creates a link between the physical and digital realms that are more compelling than either would be on its own. Best of all, the software has been developed in partnership with both education experts and real teachers.
You’re never too young to start learning music skills and the Think & Learn Rocktopusr proves it. This music-playing, robotic octopus features 15 different musical instruments spanning a range of styles, allowing your kid to create tunes with little more than a press of a button. More than just a toy, the Rocktopus can help your child learn patterns, addition, and subtraction. There’s even an accompanying mobile app, if you and your child want to create a custom music video for all the world to see.
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