Friday, 26 January 2018

KIBO - The Robotics Learning Tool for 4-7 year olds - Review

KIBO Robot is a learning tool created by KinderLab Robotics, following years of research by Marina Bers and her team. The programmable robot is designed for 4-7-year-olds and promotes learning to code and computational thinking through play and experimentation.

We’ve had the privilege of a hands-on review of KIBO Robot and write about our experience in this post.

Disclaimer: KinderLab Robotics provided us with the KIBO 21 Robot Kit for this review only. As always our opinions are our own.

First Impressions

When I first opened the KIBO box, I didn’t think the robot looked very attractive. It’s a mustardy yellow colour made from plastic and wood and compared to other robots we’ve review on Tech Age Kids, it looked “old-fashioned”. BUT with the KIBO robot, we looked passed this initial impression and found a really robust learning tool for young kids.

Unlike other robots (except for Cubetto) KIBO doesn’t require a tablet or computer to operate it. This is appealing for parents and teacher worried about children getting to much screen time. It also reduces the barrier to use it, as you don't require another expensive device to run the robot.

I was not entirely convinced by the way you had to program the robot (more on this later) but we were willing to dig deeper and explore more.

The attachments are fantastic. They are visual and practical and provide a lot of opportunity for creative play.

As I’ve read Coding as a Playground by Marina Bers before reviewing KIBO, I understood that KIBO was developed as a learning tool and not a “pretty” robot. Taking that into account, it’s very versatile and has lots of scope for learning.

So let’s look at what’s in the kit and how it works. I reviewed KIBO with my 7-year old son.

What’s in the Kit?

The KIBO 21 Robot Kit comes with a plastic box for easy storage. The contents include a number of sensors (light, distance and sound), a light output, sound recorder, motors, various accessories for attachments and wooden coding blocks.

Everything fits neatly in the box which makes playing and tidying up much easier and young kids can do it!

There are also other kits available at different price points. The smallest kit is the KIBO 10 Robot Kit, which doesn't include any of the sensors and inputs. Modules, accessories and programming blocks are all sold separately on the KIBO website.

The Robot

KIBO comes partly assembled and has a wooden top and clear plastic bottom. The wood makes the robot feel more tactile for young children. You can see all the circuitry through the clear underneath plastic, providing lots of opportunity for discussions and learning.

You need to add two motors and the wheels, as well as 4 AA batteries.

There’s one triangular button on the top, an indicator light and a scanning device at the front of the robot.

All the Attachments

The attachments are very visual and my son immediately noticed that the sound sensor was shaped like an ear and the distance sensor like a telescope. It's really clever!

There’s also LEGO compatible attachments (which are our favourite colour - purple) and a central motor on top of the robot which allows you to spin some of the attachments. My son particularly liked the flagpole with the whiteboard flag which can also spin, if it’s attached to the motor.

Also included are rectangular and round wooden stages to build craft on and then attach to the robot.

One of my son’s favourite attachments was the sound record/playback module. It allows you to record a short message (a few seconds) by holding down the button on the recorder. There are three slots for recordings. Later you can playback your recording using code.
This is very similar to the Electro Mat Voice Recorder which we’ve used in lots of projects when my son was younger.

There are slots for 4 different attachments on the robot, and a central slot for a motor or stage support to attach the flagpole or stage attachments.

Coding & Craft

We believe it's very important for children to continue to make things with craft materials and construction toys. These activities help to develop creative thinking, which is an essential skill for modern children. In fact we feel so strongly about it, we wrote a project book for the micro:bit to help develop coding and craft skills for slightly older children.

However in this age category (4-7-year-olds) children still enjoying making and crafting. With very little input, I have found, children will naturally create.

KIBO is an open platform that encourages creativity with craft and coding. It's like a blank canvas that allows you to express yourself.

My son spent a long time just trying out all the attachments, exploring what each electronic input did. He also built a LEGO creature to upgrade KIBO. He drew and re-drew several designs on the whiteboard. It was fantastic to watch him be creative with KIBO.

Programming KIBO

To program KIBO you “build” your code by linking wooden blocks with pegs on one side. The pegs help to understand the direction of the code. Each block has a barcode (like the ones on products you buy at a store) and you use KIBO (the scanner) to scan the code in order, one block after the other.

Press the green button to start running the program.

Sounds simple, but in practice, we found this part of KIBO frustrating. We weren’t able to consistently scan the code and the robot often beeped in error.

(Interestingly my son is left-handed and found it less natural to build the blocks from left to right slotting in the pegs.)

My son was also frustrated by the pegs on the blocks when it came to scanning the code. He wanted to pick a block up to scan it into the robot one at a time. The pegs help to keep the code in place, but it could also hinder quick changes to the code.

When we finally got the code scanned in and the robot was happy, the code worked well. The program runs once and you can press the start button to rerun the program.

When we had lots of attachments, including using the central stage, the start button was tucked underneath and we found it less accessible.

We wish KIBO could have a different way of “recording” the code. I’m sure over time, kids would get used to how the scanning works, but I would imagine this would be an initial frustration in a class setting, where you don’t have one-to-one support.

However, the programming capability is fantastic. My son had to think which blocks to include in his program based on the attachments he selected. There’s also lots of scope for more “advanced” programming with loops and logic blocks.

TIP: You MUST have the Begin block at the start of your program and the End block to finish it!

Many robots for this age category focus on driving a robot in different directions. KIBO provides a much wider scope and we were really impressed.


If you can overlook the 1970s look and feel of KIBO, and persevere with scanning your code, KIBO is a brilliant learning tool to teach children coding concepts and robotics through exploration and play.

It feels robust enough to withstand “rougher” use by the younger age category and offers a wide scope to get creative with craft materials and construction toys.

If you plan to use KIBO we highly recommend reading “Coding as a Playground” by Marina Bers, which contains a chapter dedicated to KIBO. The chapter explains how the robot works and also the thinking behind its design. If you don’t use KIBO, we still recommend reading the book (read our review)!

KIBO is available to purchase from the KinderLab Robotics Store.

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