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- A high-quality STEM toy engages your child’s imagination in open-ended play, teaches them useful STEM concepts, and is fun enough to keep your youngster coming back.
- I like Learning Resources’ Botley the Coding Robot because it’s easy enough for my 5-year-old to use without my help, builds a basic understanding of coding, and is screen-free.
- Though it’s among the most affordable STEM robots on the market, Botley has impressive functionality and is durable enough to stand up to abuse.
As a parent, my constant struggle is trying to find activities for my sons that keep them engaged and provide some educational value. The activity gets bonus points if it doesn’t involve vegging out in front of a screen. Fortunately, it appears toymakers have heard the call of my people and are introducing more sophisticated STEM toys that teach kids science, tech, engineering, and mathematics concepts while they have fun. Learning Resources’ Botley the Coding Robot is a good example of this.
Botley is a cute robot that teaches the basics of coding to children as young as 5 years old. Yet, it also grows with your child offering advanced if/then coding logic as they sharpen their skills. If/then logic is the foundation of the coding that computer programmers and other professionals use. Botley introduces children to this logic using a remote control to make the robot move through the obstacle course, follow lines, and more.
I had the opportunity to test Botley with my 5-year-old son, Bucky. Here are our experiences with it.
There are a few Botley sets available. We tested the Botley Coding Set, which comes with the robot, the remote programmer, 42 coding cards, detachable arms, six double-sided tiles for setting up courses, and 27 obstacle-building pieces, including sticks, cubes, cones, and balls that you can decorate with the included stickers.
Learning Resources also sent us the 40-piece Activity Set add-on that has a swinging hammer, a rotating gate, a ramp, two balls, a cup, a large domino, a medium domino, 30 small dominos, and nine challenges.
The setup was effortless. Botley comes with easy-to-follow directions. Before we could start playing, I had to hunt down 5 AAA batteries and a Phillips screwdriver to provide the robot and the remote programmer with power. I had the robot ready to go within 10 minutes of opening the box.
Botley has basic coding functions, such as going forward, backward, left, and right. Plus, it has object avoidance functions. You can program Botley to perform a certain function if it detects an object — the if/then logic that’s key to computer programing.
The directions clearly explain the different features of Botley, so don’t worry if you don’t have coding experience. I read the instructions to Bucky since he is just starting to learn how to read. For a few minutes, we enjoyed a combination of him mashing on the keys of the programmer haphazardly and me guiding him in more controlled, directed coding. We continued in this way for about half an hour initially with him picking up some of the skills. I then turned him loose to play however he saw fit with his loose grasp on what each button did.
Bucky doesn’t have the focus yet to create elaborate coding sequences. But almost immediately, he could get Botley to spin around in circles and go forward and backward. He also liked the line-following feature and set up obstacles along the course he created. Bucky was the most focused when he created obstacle courses.
What makes it stand out
One of the best features of Botley the Coding Robot is it’s completely screen-free. Your child programs the robot using the basic remote programmer which has easy-to-understand icons on the button. The use of icons instead of words is perfect for pre-literate youngsters.
When I evaluate STEM toys, I pay close attention to how often Bucky comes back to play with it over time. Botley was in the middle of the pack when it came to “replay value.” In the two months we tested it, he came back to it maybe a half dozen times. He is especially drawn to the robot when his screen time for the day runs out.
I like toys that Bucky can play with on his own without my help. And Botley is one of those toys. He’ll come to me with questions, but for the most part, he remains entertained without me, usually in 30-minute sessions. He likes setting up Rube Goldberg-like courses with the dominos, hammer, balls, slide, and rotating gate.
Bucky tends to be hard on his toys. Despite my best efforts, he plays with Botley on the table, and inevitably, he causes the robot to fall off and crash on our hardwood floor. So far, I haven’t noticed any damage. Botley feels durable.
James Brains/Business Insider
I had a hard time getting Botley to follow the black lines I drew. I used a nice thick, chisel-tip Sharpie on white poster board, but it still wouldn’t recognize the lines. I was bummed because I thought it would be fun for the robot to follow the “Bucky” I’d spelled out in cursive. At least it worked flawlessly on the included boards printed with black lines.
One of my biggest pet peeves as a consumer is when items that require batteries don’t come with any. Botley didn’t come with batteries. However, at this price point, it’s understandable. Plus, it allowed me to use rechargeable batteries, which are better for the earth than the single-use batteries that usually come with toys.
These drawbacks are relatively minor and are easy to overlook with the cost-effective price tag. Overall, I am a big fan of Botley, and I look forward to Bucky maturing and getting more out of it.
Should you buy it?
If you have a youngster whom you’d like to nurture a love of the STEM disciplines, Botley the Coding Robot is an excellent place to start. It teaches the basics of coding, problem-solving, critical thinking, and analytical thinking. Plus, it draws kids away from the allure of screens, a constant battle for today’s parents. And at this price point, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better STEM robot.
What model should you get?
If you’re on a tight budget, then the barebones Botley Coding Set might be your best bet at $41.50. However, I strongly recommend spending the extra $13.49 to get the Botley Activity Set or the extra $13.80 for the Accessory Set. Bucky had a lot of fun using the props from both of the sets to create courses. You might be able to skip the accessories if your child is particularly resourceful, but Bucky only seemed interested in building obstacle courses with pieces from the sets.
What are your alternatives?
I’ve lost count of how many STEM toys I’ve tested with Bucky. But I do know Botley the Coding Robot is the most accessible for pre-K and kindergarten-aged kids, and it’s the best I’ve seen at this price range. However, if Botley doesn’t sound appealing, consider these options:
- Wonder Workshop Cue Coding Robot ($199): Bucky keeps coming back to Cue, though it’s more geared toward kids 10 and up, and therefore, he’s only experiencing a fraction of what it has to offer. Cue will chat with your child, send them on missions to test math and logic skills, teach them coding, and more. The biggest negatives are the price and you have to use a mobile device with it. Read my full review here.
- littleBits Star Wars Droid Inventor Kit ($55): We enjoy littleBits because they feature electronic building blocks that work with other kits, such as the Avengers Hero Inventor Kit, which we also had fun testing. The Droid Kit involves physically building the droid, including adding decals, then controlling it using the iPhone or Android app. My 15-year-old even had a ball playing with it. You can read my full review here.
- Beasts of Balance Game ($50): So, this isn’t a robot, and I’m not even sure I’d classify it as STEM, but it is affordable and fun for the whole family. The goal of the game is to stack as many pieces onto the “Plinth” as you can without it falling over. The pieces represent animals and the resources they need, and you can crossbreed animals to create new, hilariously named creatures. Our whole family loves this one, and it’s even fun to play on your own. Read my full review.
I still strongly recommend going with Botley the Coding Robot, especially if you are shopping for a young one with little or no coding experience. It’s sure to engage and educate them.
Pros: Offers screen-free open-ended play, affordable, easy enough for a 5-year-old to understand, several fun accessories available, provides more benefits as your child matures
Cons: Doesn’t come with batteries, had trouble following the black lines I drew