Introduction

With the festive period bearing down upon us, we’ve been getting a lot of emails and requests from parents of students at our clubs asking on behalf of Santa for a little advice. The main question everyone wants the answer to right now is “What should I buy my child, who loves your LEGO Robotics sessions and wants to bring their LEGO models to life at home?”

At Beyond Blocks, we run Robotics clubs using LEGO and other types of bricks for children from the age of 7 upwards, starting from beginners to advanced competition level and the type of gift that your child will want to find under the tree will depend on a few factors like age, experience and what they already own.

There is also one other factor that will affect what appears under the tree this year and that is LEGO themselves. In recent years, LEGO has changed it’s robotic line-up considerably, axing some lines and introducing others with varying degrees of success. As a result, now is quite a confusing time to be buying LEGO robots and parts, but there are some great deals to be had too if you know what you’re looking for.

Here are our recommendations for the greatest gifts to get the brick robotics fan in your life.

It may come as a bit of a surprise but the first thing that I would recommend for any fan of the brick is actually a product not made by LEGO at all.

Circuit Cubes are small electronic brick-compatible cubes, which fit perfectly on to the bricks that you own but they are like nothing that you can currently get from LEGO.

Consisting of a Bluetooth battery hub and motors, most of the Circuit Cubes family have a 4×4 stud footprint and are just 3 studs tall. They are exceptionally well designed and when used with other Circuit Cubes they can be linked together with wires to form circuits. A subtle detail that I really love about them is the  magnetic connection when brought close together with other Circuit Cubes. They just snap together in the most satisfying way, closing the circuit connection at the same time.

Bliss.

The first thing you’ll notice is that they are a LOT smaller than even the smallest LEGO hub, and Circuit Cube motors come in even smaller sizes, which allows for some great creativity that simply isn’t possible using what’s currently available from LEGO.

As an Adult Fan of LEGO (AFOL), I’ve been following the development of this product line for a few years now and see them popping up everywhere, at shows and in creations from some of the greatest designers in the world. This suspended train from JK Brickworks was made possible only by the compactness of Circuit Cubes.

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For most stockings this Christmas, Circuit Cubes would be the perfect addition.

If you own loads of LEGO and just want to get it motorized, Circuit Cubes make it possible and at a very reasonable price.

If you already have motors, advanced robotics kits or anything else, Circuit Cubes allow you to create entirely new creations on a much smaller scale than anything you already own, opening up new possibilities with your kit.

Although they have a Bluetooth connection, please note that Circuit Cubes are not fully fledged robotics kits, however the product continues to evolve rapidly. You can do some basic programs on it, and they recently introduced the ability to connect to Playstation and XBox controllers to be able to remote control your creations, which should be a lot of fun.

Small, well designed and available at very reasonable prices, Circuit Cubes need to be top of everyone’s Christmas lists.

You can place your Circuit Cubes orders in the UK through the Beyond Blocks online shop and our shipping partners will get them delivered straight to you with no postage to add.

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My next recommendation for what new LEGO kit you should get your child for Christmas is….nothing.

LEGO is the most versatile toy on the planet. It’s designed to be taken apart and put back together in different configurations and one of the aims of Beyond Blocks is to get people to a level of skill where, rather than wanting a new set, you should be able to see the possibilities already in the LEGO you have.

If your LEGO loving child already has some Technic sets at home, instead of buying a totally new set for Christmas, why not try something different and get instructions for building something amazing from the set(s) they already have?

PV-productions share our values of making your LEGO go further and they create instructions for building the most amazing Great Ball Contraptions (GBCs) based on single LEGO Technic sets. A GBC is a complex machine built from LEGO to move balls from one place to another and some of the designs that they’ve made are breathtaking.

PV Productions have made some epic GBCs, making use of the huge LEGO Technic sets, but also have some really great ones for smaller sets too, like this Geneva Drive made from the LEGO 42120 Hovercraft, which you can pick up for under £40.

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So why not dust off that LEGO Technic Bucket Wheel Excavator that your child has made and hasn’t touched ever since it was finished, take it apart and build something epic over the Christmas break that makes them look at their kit with wonder again.

LEGO wasn’t built to stay on a shelf and be looked at!

3 – LEGO Boost

Now begins the difficult part. The official LEGO sets.

I’m often asked what sets we use in our classes and where we get them from. In our Introduction to LEGO Robotics and Pre-intermediate classes, we make use of the excellent LEGO Education WeDo 2.0, which has now sadly been discontinued.

However, for home use I would never recommend that any parent buy their children LEGO Education sets unless they are prepared to teach them and there’s a reason for this.

LEGO Education sets are excellent…for classrooms.

In a classroom, teachers need their students to be able to build models quickly then take them apart ready for the next lesson. The models have to be quite basic to allow the teacher to extend the students if required and teach principles rather than entertain.

What this means is that, all the parts in a LEGO Education set have been designed with this in mind, so there are no frills or overtly decorative parts and the sets can sometimes feel quite dull when children own them. The sets simply aren’t designed to be really exciting self-led sets.

When you buy a home LEGO set on the other hand, you expect that the builds last longer and they are more robust to play with. They are not designed to be taken apart quickly but are designed to be played with.

And that’s where the LEGO Boost excels. In many ways, it’s the home version of the WeDo 2.0, with a more powerful hub with more motors and a colour sensor instead of a distance sensor and it’s the perfect complimentary kit for any student who is currently on any of our Introductory sessions at the moment.

We love the set so much, that we ran a whole term one of our Intermediate courses using the Boost last year.

Now here’s where it gets complicated.

The LEGO Boost was discontinued by LEGO in December 2022. This means you can no longer buy it new and the support from LEGO for the software will at some point run out.

Your only options for buying a LEGO Boost now are to pick them up second hand, but there’s a silver lining here. The LEGO Boost is a great kit, with a lot of pieces and right now is a wonderful time to pick it up really cheap. Many people picked this up without any real knowledge of how to program it, and subsequently they’ve ended up listing these really cheaply as they just didn’t understand how to program them and play with them.

If your child is in any Beyond Blocks class, they will already know how to control a LEGO Boost.

So go out and see if you can grab a Boost in good condition (most I’ve bought second hand are virtually immaculate. Used once, and then abandoned as “too complicated”) and then keep a really good eye on the BrickEconomy page for Boost and watch as the price does what LEGO sets do*.

* Please invest responsibly. Investing in LEGO is not responsible investing (but it’s fun) and Beyond Blocks takes no responsibility if you decide to buy multiple versions of kit to cash in and the value plummets. But some of these kits are SO good that you’ll have fun with them, so why not…

As great as they are, LEGO Boost kits come with no organiser but instead come in a box that you open from one end. As a result, the pieces are quite hard to find and the sets end up getting mixed into the rest of your LEGO collection.

In class, to prevent this happening, we use Stanley Sortmaster boxes and I’ve designed my own organiser labels, which you can either download and print or order from us printed. They’re not perfect, but they make the Boost a lot easier to use.

4 – LEGO Mindstorms 51515 Robot Inventor

There are so many things I wish I could say here.

“The latest and greatest Mindstorms kit from LEGO has everything you could have wanted from a home LEGO robotics solution”

or maybe

“A brilliant set for honing your advanced robotics for any aspiring LEGO Robotics legends in the making”

or even

“Just put this on your Christmas list. Don’t ask any questions. Just buy it. You’re welcome”

But what I have to say here is…

Discontinued in December 2022, the Mindstorms 51515 Robot Inventor was the last chapter in the illustrious LEGO Mindstorms range. As the home version of the LEGO Education Spike Prime, the LEGO Mindstorms Robot Inventor was powered by (almost) the same smart brick but had a selection of pieces that reflected it’s role as a home kit, in that it was more play than work.

As a result, the 51515, as it’s affectionately known, has a small legion of fans and some really excellent models in circulation that belie the fact that it was only in existence for 2 years.

This is the kit I would have loved to recommend for my advanced students. If your child is in our Intermediate or Advanced sessions, this would be the one to put in the stocking.

But, unlike the LEGO Boost above, as soon as this came off the shelves officially last year the price has been creeping up and they are now only available if you have deep pockets.

But if you do,  then go for it. The price will be worth it just for the look on their face when they build the Mindcuber RI and it solves a Rubik’s cube for the first time…

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5 – LEGO Education Spike Prime

If your child is definitely going to go on to advanced LEGO robotics, and you simply must have the best kit available, the LEGO Education Spike Prime is the top of the range LEGO Robotics kit currently being made by LEGO Education.

With a 6 port hub, on board 6 axis gyro sensor, colour sensor, distance sensor, force sensor and 3 motors this is the kit for the serious LEGO Robotics enthusiast. Rated for children from 10+, these would be great for anyone in the advanced classes and some students in the Intermediate classes, but they don’t come cheap.

Like all LEGO Education products, Spike Prime is aimed at schools and so the available models are less exciting to play with than the ones that came with the 51515, but it’s a great kit to learn all about robotics and forms the basis of many competition models at LEGO Robotics competitions such as FIRST LEGO League and World Robot Olympiad.

If you want to get hold of a  Spike Prime, get in touch with us for advice and and we recommend our suppliers, Creative Hut when you’re looking to buy

6 – LEGO Education Spike Essential

The successor to the LEGO WeDo 2.0, Spike Essential is aimed at children from the age of 6 and contains a 2 port hub with built in tilt sensor, 33 light matrix, colour sensor and 2 angular motors.

If you really must have a brand new set and your child is an absolute beginner, you may want to consider purchasing one of these. If you do want one, we recommend our suppliers Creative Hut

Conclusion

So to summarise

  1. Just buy some Circuit Cubes No matter what you already have, your brick collection will benefit from having the ability to add tiny motors to get things moving. With basic programming and the ability to control it using your games console controllers, these have something to offer everyone. And you can buy them on this very website. You’re welcome.
  2. The best home sets are discontinued, but
    • if you’re in our beginners classes, get yourself a second hand LEGO Boost. They are currently a bargain, just make sure all the electronics are there when you buy them.
    • if you’re in intermediate or advanced classes, and absolutely loaded or incredibly lucky, hunt down a LEGO Mindstorms 51515 Robot Inventor
  3. If you really must have new for Christmas LEGO Education have 2 kits that might work for you. You can get in touch with us to buy them. The sets are :
    • LEGO Spike Essential for ages 6-9
    • LEGO Spike Prime for ages 10 up

I hope that has helped and look forward to seeing what new goodies our students are playing with in the new year!

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