A Mighty Girl's top picks of programming toys & games for kids of all ages!
Computers and technology are all around us at both work and play — which means that knowing the ins and outs of programming is an ever more essential skill! While in the past kids could only start learning about programming when they were ready for text-based computer languages, today they can get started from with board games, color-coded programming languages, and much more, encouraging kids to see themselves as programmers from an early age.
At the same time, sexism and stereotypes about computer programming can still pose obstacles to girls and women interested in getting into the technology industry. Although women were some of the first programmers in the world, today men outnumber women by a substantial margin, with only 19% of computer science degrees being awarded to female graduates in the United States. So now, more than ever, we need to show girls how programming fits into their lives — and teach them about the many contributions that women have made to the field!
With that goal in mind, in this blog post, we're showcasing a selection of our favorite resources to encourage girls with an interest in technology — and to introduce coding to girls who may have never even considered the possibility. In the first part, we provide an array of toys and kits that teach kids the basics of programming logic and coding, and show them the amazing possibilities that come along with computer know-how. While in the second part, we share a selection of books for all ages featuring female programmers and coding pioneers. Together, we can raise a new generation of savvy Mighty Girl coders!
Toys and Kits that Teach programming
Coding gets a friendly face with Cubetto, the wooden robot who allows kids to learn coding without ever looking at a screen! With this Montessori-approved coding toy, kids use colorful blocks in a tangible programming language; how they order the blocks affects how Cubetto moves. Through a series of maps and stories, kids learn to guide Cubetto through a variety of adventures — and build an understanding of basic coding logic and cause-and-effect along the way. It's a great way to get kids starting on coding through hands-on play.
Programming is going to be a key skill in the future, and this game teaches programming fundamentals to kids aged 4 and up. By using a system similar to the Logo programming language, kids write a program with playing cars so the adult "turtle mover" can direct their turtle through a maze to claim a jewel. As they progress, mazes get trickier, introducing longer code strings and functions — and, of course, if things don't go as planned, kids will have to debug! This clever game was a hit on Kickstarter, and it'll be a hit with your family too.
Turn the whole world into a keyboard! Makey Makey is an invention kit for the 21st century. Use your wildest imagination and turn everyday objects into touch sensitive pads — turning bananas into piano keys, or a drawing on a piece of paper into a joystick! You could even make a keyboard out of alphabet soup. Because the computer treats Makey Makey as a regular input device, you can use it with any program or webpage. It's a simple invention kit for beginners or experts doing art, engineering, and everything in between!
In this kit from Thames & Kosmos, kids as young as four can learn coding principles and skills — no computer required! Kids will build a selection of different model robots, from a fire truck to a mouse to a peanut butter sandwich. Then, they'll lay down physical code cards, drive the robot over them to load the program with the bot's optical scanner, and put the robot on a map grid so it can execute their commands! 30 lessons in six clever stories progress in complexity, covering sequencing, loops, events, conditions, functions, and variables; when they're done, they can create their own robotics adventure!
Get them hopping and dancing — and learning the principles of coding — with this fun new game! Kids decorate their own robot hats, then play the role of robots following coded directions. Choose a challenge card, then lay out your path on the 5' by 5' floor mat with direction tiles. Can you get to the finish square before the time runs out? It's the perfect choice to help kids get some energy out while learning about programming skills. For another Future Coders set, check out the Cube Stackers game. For a similar game to teach coding skills through physical play, check out the Let's Go Code Activity Set for ages 5 to 8.
Introduce coding to kids with this fun card game that lets kids "program" a path for another player! Kids set up their program with cards that direct the mover forward, back, left, or right; the process teaches them about sequencing, directionality, and more. Add in a few "wild cards" and let the fun begin! The instructions describe fifteen different variants you can try, but kids can also use the components to come up with their own ways to play.
You can explore coding in a playful way with this set from Learning Resources! Build a maze, put the cheese block at the end, then use coding cards to teach your mouse the path. 10 double-sided Activity Cards provide suggested mazes to build, while 60 double-sided Coding Cards provide plenty of steps to get you through almost any list of twists and turns. You can even get a second mouse (sold separately) to create a multi-player maze challenge.
Learn to code with a friendly face — and without a screen — with Botley from Learning Resources! Botley is an easy-to-use robot: kid can draw a path for Botley to follow with the black-line follow mode, or code in up to 80 steps, as well as looping commands and if/then logic. As kids work with the 77-piece activity set, they'll learn how coding works and even unlock additional features that they can explore. The set includes coding cards, detachable arms, interactive obstacles, and more to ensure kids get years of fun and learning from this set.
With this kit from Kano, you can build your own wand, learn to code, and make magic! kids will build a wand with the included components, then experiment with over 70 creative challenges and games that teach coding principles. On the screen, you'll watch as your wandwork makes feathers fly, goblets multiply, fire flow, pumpkins grow, and more. The free Kano app is compatible with most iOS, Android or Amazon tablets, Mac and Windows PCs, so it's easy to get started making magic in the Wizarding World.
Turn STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) into a puzzle with this fun learning system! Puzzlets combine hands-on play with interactive gaming to help teach kids key concepts from STEAM. Put the puzzlet pieces into the Play Tray to solve the puzzles on the screen. The Starter Pack includes the game Cork the Volcano, which teaches programming fundamentals; future expansions will include special puzzlets to teach chemistry, music, and more.
This clever little robot can do amazing things — with a little help from you! Dash is a fully-assembled robot that perceives the world with sensors, so she can hear sounds, observe objects, and sense if you are moving her. Using the Android and iOS compatible apps, kids can develop technology skills, beginning with simple controls, then learning to draw a path around obstacles, and finally learning the basics of coding logic with an easy-to-learn coding system. You'll be amazed at how quickly kids will learn to program this kid-friendly robot.
With Osmo, learning the basics of programming gets hands on — literally! Kids combine the blocks into patterns and sequences to transport their characters into different worlds and play some awesome music. This open-ended game encourages kids to experiment and explore with the coding blocks, creating their own unique sounds and combining them to create rhythms and melodies. Please note: This expansion requires the Osmo Base for your tablet, which is available in several packs, including the Osmo Genius Kit.
This is one of the world's smallest programmable robots — only 1" in diameter! — but it offers some big fun. Ozobot uses an easy to understand, color-based programming language, so kids can start out by drawing their programs on paper or on a tablet screen, then set their Ozobot down to watch it follow their commands. You can also download the free compatible apps so kids can create custom maps, challenge friends to games, or even make their Ozobot dance to music! Parents and educators alike will appreciate the free lesson plans and workshops available so kids get the most out of this tiny robot. For another option for young robotics enthusiasts, check out the Ozobot Bit two-pack for ages 6 and up.
Aspiring young techies will love this set that allows them to craft a real computer! By following the included blueprint, kids will build a Raspberry Pi computer in a beautiful wooden case, then run a custom Minecraft Pi adventure that will get them building and programming more electronic modules using buzzers, lights, sensors, and more. This unique set, with its combination of physical building, engaging storyline, and Minecraft gameplay, is a great way to use an interest in video games to prompt an interest in coding and computer engineering.
Kids can bring their creations to life with the LEGO Boost Creative Toolbox! This 847-piece set allows kids to build five multifunctional models, and then learn the basics of coding so they can teach their models to dance, interact, or explore. The easy-to-use LEGO Boost app (which is compatible with many newer phones and tablets, as well as most Windows 10 devices) provides a step-by-step guide to building, and then encourages kids to explore their own ideas.
This enchanted unicorn kit has everything you need to create a buildable, codable UnicornBot! The 3D, 360° animated building instructions on the free JIMU app (compatible with devices using iOS 9.0 and up or Android 5.0 and up) will guide you through assembling the 440 parts, including smooth motion servos, a motor, and an RGB light-up horn. Then, you can use the easy-to-learn Blockly coding platform to teach your Unicornbot to move, pick-up objects, recognize colors, and more! It's a fantasy-inspired introduction to the basics of robotics and coding that kids will love.
With this clever Kamigami robotics kit from Mattel, you can fold and build your own Lina the ladybug robot! Fold lightweight, flat sheets of plastic into shape, snap them together with the robot frame, and then program Lina to drive, race, or battle using the easy-to-use interface in the free app. No programming experience is necessary, but the flexible system allows your creativity to take the lead as you build your skills.
Avengers, assemble — including you! With this set from littleBits, kids will join their favorite Avengers, including Iron Man, Black Panther and Shuri, and Ant-Man and the Wasp, to create their own superhero identity. Eighteen in-app activities get kids building gear with the easy to use littleBits components, adding new abilities with easy block coding, and designing the perfect superhero icon with the LED Matrix bit. Authentic Avengers sound effects make this an absorbing and exciting way to learn real STEM skills!
This little robot from Anki has a mind of its own! Cozmo can express hundreds of emotions, and evolves with every minute that you play with him. Set Cozmo to Explorer mode and see where its curiosity takes you, or play games like Quick Tap and Keepaway. Then, download the Cozmo app on compatible iOS and Android devices, and use the code lab to learn the basics of programming. It's one little robot with a big personality... and an awful lot to teach kids!
This clever kit from Tenergy allows kids to build and two different versions of the friendly Tomo robot! After you've built Tomo, you can learn to control it with two different free apps: ODEV Explorer includes easy-to-use basic options to play with Tomo, while ODEV Blockly is based on the Google Blockly programming language so kids learn the principles of graphical programming. Part building project, part programming lesson, Tomo provides plenty of fun for STEM-loving kids!
With this fun kit from littleBits, kids can build their own interactive space rover! littleBits are easy-to-use electronic building blocks that snap together with magnets and allow anyone to build, invent, and prototype. The space rover kit comes with 34 components that kids can use to complete 30 space-themed projects inspired by the challenges facing real NASA astronauts and engineers, including a space rock collector and an alien life detector. It even includes stories of real-life space pioneers to inspire young explorers and engineers. Once they've tried the included projects, kids can experiment endlessly with their own inventions!
This pocket-sized robot is packed with tech that lets you customize how it interacts with you! Evo's proximity sensors, optical sensors, and LED lights let you enjoy teaching it tricks quickly and easily, or you can connect to the Ozobot Evo app to experiment with Evo's code, customizing your bot to do almost anything you can imagine! For another option suitable for younger robotics enthusiasts, check out the Ozobot Bit two-pack for ages 6 and up.
Bring littleBits to the classroom with this kit that will get students into coding! littleBits are modular electronic components that click together with no glue or soldering, allowing for easy prototyping. In this kit from the littleBits Education line, kids work together to build a programmable device; code stories, animations, music, and games using free drag and drop block-based coding software; upload code onto the device; and start playing. It's an engaging and informative introduction to what's inside the box on your computer or game system!
Imagine building your own real computer for under $100! Raspberry Pi's Ultimate Set includes everything you need to build your own processor, including a case, a power supply, and an SD cards with New Out Of Box Software (NOOBS) to get you started. Once you've built your computer, connect it to a screen and an input device and you can dive into programming. An active online community and flexible design make this a great option for would-be computer engineers.
This is a fun and easy to use introduction to programming, electronics, and robotics. This open-source robotics kit will teach you how to build a robot that can avoid an edge, follow a line, navigate a room, and draw shapes... and that's just the beginning! A wide array of components are included, and you can also connect Sparki to and Arduino or Raspberry Pi computer. Accessible to beginners and feature-packed for experts, everyone will love Sparki! To explore more Arduino programming, check out the Arduino Starter Kit.
Explore both electronics and programming with this flexible, fascinating Arduino set! Arduino is an open-source electronics platform that's easy to use so budding engineers and inventors can easily experiment. This kit includes some of the most common and useful components, as well as a 72-page book providing instructions for interactive projects to help tweens and teens learn the basics. Then, they can explore on their own! Additional Arduino components are available separately so kids can design whatever they imagine.
Combine the versatility of LEGO with robotics and programming thanks to this enormous kit! Build one of a variety of different robot models — or come up with your own — and then use the intuitive icon-based programming language to direct your robot. You can use the enclosed remote to control your creation, or download the app to control it from your tablet. There's an active, exciting community of Mindstorms fans just waiting to share ideas with you — and to hear yours!
Books About Girls and Women in Technology
Baby's train isn't working — so she'll have to think like a coder to work out the bugs! Baby Loves Coding presents the concepts of sequencing, problem solving, cause and effect, and thinking step-by-step in a way that's simple enough for little kids to understand, but accurate enough to satisfy an expert! It even introduces concepts like algorithms and programming languages. Kids will love the bright illustrations and curiosity-inspiring language in this book from the Baby Loves Science series.
Pearl has spent all summer trying to build the perfect sandcastle (with the help of her robot friend Pascal) and today is their last chance! So Pearl decides to use coding principles to break the job down into manageable steps. There are a few bumps along the way — including a lesson in why you have to be very specific in your code, and a quick adjustment to the changing tides — but with the help of code, they'll have the best beach day ever! This funny story from computer science nonprofit Girls Who Code introduces ideas like sequences, loops, and logic in a way that's sure to get kids experimenting on their own.
Grace Hopper was a software tester, a creative inventor, and a top-notch mentor — but she was also a famous rule-breaker, risk-taker, and sometimes a real trouble-maker! In this riveting picture book biography of the woman nicknamed "Amazing Grace," author Laurie Wallmark captures the determination and cleverness of the woman who invented the COBOL computer language, allowing people to "talk" to computers with typed commands. Fun anecdotes — like the time she found a literal bug in the computer — provide a glimpse into the extraordinary life of this accomplished woman, who famously knew that it's always better to ask forgiveness than permission...and that quick thinking and insatiable curiosity were the key to pushing a (sometimes reluctant) world forward!
Thanks to her mathematically talented mother, Anne Isabella Byron, young Ada had the opportunity to develop her remarkable intelligence. Years later, when she met Charles Babbage, the inventor of the first mechanical computer, he named her the Enchantress of Numbers for her astounding mathematical skills. Little did either of them know that, when she designed an algorithm for Babbage’s Analytical Engine, she would be making history — by writing the world’s first computer program! With vivid artwork and intriguing anecdotes about Lovelace's genius, this picture book biography pays homage to a little-known but deeply influential figure in computing history — the world's first computer programmer. Ada's story is also told in two more delightful new picture books, Ada's Ideas and Ada Lovelace, Poet of Science.
Meet the women who programmed the first all-electronic computer and built the technological language kids today can't live without in this fascinating, nonfiction Level 3 Ready-to-Read book! In 1946, six brilliant young women programmed the first all-electronic, programmable computer, the ENIAC, part of a secret World War II project. They learned to program without any programming languages or tools, and by the time they were finished, the ENIAC could run a complicated calculus equation in seconds. But when the ENIAC was presented to the press and public, the women were never introduced or given credit for their work. Learn all about what they did and how their invention still matters today in this story of six amazing young women everyone should meet!
In this first volume from the new Girls Who Code fictional series, which is being described as "The Babysitters Club" for the tech era, Lucy is super excited about the new after-school coding club. She has big plans for an app that will help someone very important to her. But when Lucy gets put in a work group with girls she barely knows, her enthusiasm dims. Then Lucy starts receiving cryptic coding messages — messages which take her whole workgroup to decipher. Along the way, she might discover that friendship, just like coding, takes time, dedication, and a good sense of humor!
The non-profit Girls Who Code has taught over 40,000 girls to code — and now, you can learn too! This inspiring book is full of exciting illustrations and accessible explanations of coding principles. Real-life stories of girls and women in programming will show you the incredible range of careers and possibilities that coding provides, while information about the next steps you can take will get you ready to jump into your coding adventure!
This charmingly illustrated and educational book highlights the contributions of fifty notable women to the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics from the ancient to the modern world. Full of striking, singular art, this fascinating collection profiles well-known figures like primatologist Jane Goodall, as well as lesser-known pioneers such as Katherine Johnson, the African-American physicist and mathematician who calculated the trajectory of the 1969 Apollo 11 mission to the moon. Women in Science celebrates the achievements of the intrepid women who have paved the way for the next generation of female engineers, biologists, mathematicians, doctors, astronauts, physicists, and more!
In the midst of World War II, over ten thousand American women were secretly recruited as codebreakers while men were fighting in Europe and the Pacific. These women decoded critical information that saved countless lives — and even helped bring the war to an end. But because their work was classified, nobody, not even their own families, knew how much they had contributed to their country. Liza Mundy conducted interviews with surviving code girls and pored through recently declassified information in order to create the best-selling adult title Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II. This young readers edition brings this riveting story of courage, service, and scientific accomplishment to middle grade readers.
For every famous name like Marie Curie and Jane Goodall, there are dozens or hundreds of women whose work in science is little known — and even when it is, their contributions are often minimized or forgotten. Rachel Swaby was inspired to write this book after reading an obituary of rocket scientist Yvonne Brill that spent the first paragraph focusing on her beef stroganoff recipe and her family life. Within it, she provide capsule biographies of 52 women scientists whose stories need to be told. Broken down into categories like medicine, physics, biology, math and technology, and invention, this book shows the innumerable ways in which women have advanced our scientific understanding. Fascinating for both teens and adults, it's sure to get your Mighty Girl thinking about what she might grow up to discover!