The proliferation of screen-free programmable robotics allows teachers to implement age-appropriate integrated activities that can promote child learning and development. However, very scarce is known about the challenges of using programmable robots as a tool to empower children in minority communities. This mixed-methods case study examined a Free Quality Kindergarten situated in a low-income public housing estate in Hong Kong to explore the affordances and challenges of robot programming (RP) in early childhood education (ECE). Both quantitative and qualitative data were generated through videotaped observations, child assessments and teacher interviews to journey with the teaching team as they managed to implement the newly introduced RP curriculum. Child assessment evidence revealed that there was a statistically significant improvement in CT scores over 6 weeks of RP activities, while the pretest–posttest change of child self-regulation scores was nonsignificant. Video analysis results further revealed that children's interaction level with the robot kit significantly predicted the change of self-regulation over time. Qualitative results are presented to explicate the micro, meso and macro conditions that constrain the implementation of RP curriculum, including the following: (a) teachers' limited TPACK in RP education, (b) a disconnect between the RP curriculum and the school-based curriculum, (c) limited resources and (d) the Confucian tradition and cultural barriers. These illustrate the intricacies involved in the implementation of RP education to empower marginalized children in under-resourced ECE settings. This study will help bring systemic change to the ECE field by uncovering ecological difficulties in integrating new technologies to promote inclusiveness and sustainability for the future. Copyright © 2022 British Educational Research Association.