Parenting

Kids can have fun and learn to code with this cool robot

Root makes learning to code easy.

Root coding robot Credit: Reviewed / Lisa Lawrence

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These days, coding toys seem to be all the rage. While I completely understand the desire to get children coding starting at a young age, the reality is that most of the coding toys I've seen and tested are way too complicated for the average kid. Plus, let's be honest: the last thing any busy parent needs is to help their kid play with a toy!

Therefore, I was pretty skeptical about testing out iRobot's Root coding robot—would it just be another coding toy that my kids couldn't figure out, and that ended up gathering dust in a closet?

What is Root?

Root toy
Credit: Reviewed / Lisa Lawrence

It looks like a robot vacuum, but it's actually a coding toy.

Manufactured by the same company that makes some of our favorite robot vacuums, Root looks like a vacuum, but performs like a robot. It can be programmed to do a long list of activities, including drawing, climbing walls, and playing musical notes.

Setting up your Root

Coding Root
Credit: Reviewed / Lisa Lawrence

Root is easy to use—and lots of fun.

The first thing we had to do when our Root arrived (other than charge it), was download the Root coding App. I added it to both of my children's iPads, because I wanted them each to test out Root. My kids are only a year apart in age, but the difference between being a fluid reader and a beginning reader can impact their interest in—and ability to play with—various toys.

One of the things I liked about the Root coding app is how colorful and appealing it is for kids. It's chock full of coding lessons, activities, and challenges, but the images are colorful and age-appropriate, two things that definitely made my kids want to try it out. For beginners, there's a "welcome to the family" section that contains two introductory videos—one about the Root, and one about the app—as well as set-up instructions and a short lesson on how to make Root light up.

I'm a total coding newbie, so I really liked that the app has a robust section of lessons that teach the fundamentals of how to code. The easy-to-follow instructions walk users through a series of simple steps that program Root to do things like light up and move forward. I assumed that my kids would need to spend a number of days working their way through all of the lessons, but it turns out that they're far more versed in coding than their Gen-X parents, and they didn't need more than one or two lessons before they were proficient at programming Root.

How does Root work?

Dry erase Root
Credit: Reviewed / Lisa Lawrence

Add the dry erase marker to the center of the Root to start drawing.

I am not a science minded person—I flunked "rocks for jocks" in high school—so I don't have a clue about the engineering aspects of Root, but basically kids can use the app to program the robot to perform different functions. It comes with a foldable whiteboard grid, reusable cling stickers, and a dry erase marker that perfectly fits inside the center of Root to create drawings.

If you have a whiteboard at home, Root can actually climb up and draw designs on the wall-mounted board. Since none of my décor includes whiteboards, we simply spread the grid out on our back driveway and set up a coding station outside. I'm glad I did, too, because a number of the codes that my kids created sent Root heading off of the grid—and drawing straight on the cement.

One of the aspects that makes Root very approachable for even the youngest coder is that you don't need to be an advanced reader to create sequences of code. Each block of code has an image that corresponds to what you want Root to do. For instance, dropping a lightbulb block in to your code will cause Root to light up, while a musical note will result in it playing part of a tune. The coding is so easy to learn that my 6-year-old daughter picked it up right away, and she was choreographing a whole musical routine for Root within 20 minutes.

While my kids were more interested in creating their own unique codes in the "My Projects" section, there are plenty of guided challenges and ready-to-go codes that may be of interest to kids who crave more structured activities. In addition, the app also features games that kids can play with their Root, and animated stories with corresponding coding assignments. I was surprised that my kids weren't more interested in playing games—most of the time I can't get them off their online games—but they were totally engaged in creating their own codes and didn't want to do anything else.

Another fun thing about Root is that the app has a whole section of craft activities focused on dressing up your coding robot. It sounds weird, I know, but it is a brilliant way to make the toy personal and to get a buy-in from creative kids who might otherwise not be that interested in learning to code. Turn your Root into a turkey, a pirate, a fluffy dog, and more—we chose the unicorn—and the easy-to-follow video will walk your child through how to do it with just a few art supplies. We really got a laugh out of watching our Uni the Unicorn cruise around the whiteboard singing lines of code music.

Should you buy Root?

Root is one of the best coding toys that I've seen and tested. If you're looking for a coding toy that's easy for kids to use and that they'll want to play with again and again, Root will not disappoint. Now if iRobot could just come up with a way to also make it vacuum, it would be every parent's favorite toy.

Get Root on Amazon for $199.99

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