Buy: From Modrobotics Price: $160 Imagine building a simple robot without any wires or tools. With Cubelets, snap together a bunch of colorful cubes and your robot can come to life, moving around the kitchen table or responding to light or other nearby objects. Different types of cubes elicit different actions and reactions in the simple robot.
Suggested for children age 8+, Cubelets are on the pricey side ($160 for a starter set of six cubes), but they’re a fantastic tool to introduce your children to the very concept of robotics and programming logic.
Download: Cargo-Bot for iPad Price: Free What’s the best way to get kids to eat their veggies? Sneak them into other foods. Same goes for teaching them about programming. No, you don’t need to stick a USB drive into your brownies — instead, get them thinking like programmers without realizing they’re actually learning.
With the fun iPad puzzle game Cargo-Bot, kids will have a blast trying to solve 36 challenging puzzles that center around teaching a robot how to stack crates. The free app doesn’t teach kids how to actually program; instead, it teaches them how to think like a programmer, which is the most important initial step.
Download: Scratch for Mac OS X or Windows Price: Free Created by those super-geniuses over at MIT, Scratch is a visual programming language that lets kids create all sorts of animated sequences and even video games. Mix in stories, text, music, sound effects, animation and user interaction to create some real impressive projects.
Scratch works closely with schools around the country, getting children involved in physical programming to create some exciting applications. Some schools have even started working Scratch into their curricula to help creatively carry over fundamental lessons like problem solving, collaborative learning and thinking into lesson plans for the year. MIT holds an annual four-day Scratch conference where educators, researchers, developers and even third-graders can share their experiences.
Price: $279.99 Legos have been entertaining kids around the world for some 80 years now. And while it’s a blast to build rocket ships, police stations and fortified castles, the actual play is only as good as your imagination.
Mixing Legos with robotics not only ups the cool factor, it ups the learning curve too. Each Lego Mindstorms set comes with an NXT, which is essentially the computer brains of your robot-to-be. The NXT connects to various robot parts and sensors as well as your computer, so you can program it to do all sorts of things, including moving, making sounds and reacting to light, color, touch, sound and more. Lego Mindstorms helps educators teach students how to build robots and use the accompanying software to create sequences of instructions and collect various data.
Download: Alice for Windows or Mac OS X Price: Free Another free software program, Alice helps kids learn about computer programming within a 3D environment. Similar to Scratch, Alice’s visual programming style lets students create basic animated movies and simple video games. Designed to introduce kids to object-oriented programming, the software uses a drag-and-drop method to help kids understand how a simple programming statement causes an object to behave a certain way.