Ah, ’tis the season for Black Friday, when shoppers invade big box stores looking for gifts. But what should you buy for the maker kids on your list? That’s a question we’ve fielded a few times recently. Here are some of our favorites:
Coupon Books – create a set of coupons that kids can “redeem” for trips to the library’s how-to section, the recycling center for discarded building materials, or their local makerspace. Free.
Dollar Tree’s LED collection – We’re big fans of LED lights at Michigan Makers; in fact, our post-Thanksgiving Project Runway-inspired challenge asks students to refashion an item of upcycled clothing and toss in a $1 strand of battery-operated LED lights. For us, this is a cost-effective way of starting kids down the path of e-textiles. A simple strand of lights means no soldering, and we’ve learned they look great around a hoodie, along cuffs, in a hat, or on a skirt. At the same time, this low-cost approach also introduces some less-than-ideal constraints, like having one’s design constricted to ten bulbs and a bulky battery pack gives students the chance to think through alternatives and to be motivated to explore e-textile tools like EL wire, LilyPad Arduino, etc. So take a look at the light strands at Dollar Tree, as well as batteries, LED flashlights, night lights, and other toys you can mod for a quick holiday activity. Order online or visit a store. Dollar Tree, $1 each.
Origami Paper – We often start our maker year with origami. It gets makers sitting around the table instead of staring at screens, and kids are always eager to hear about it. Dick Blick, $2.69.
Helping Hands with Magnifier – When kids are soldering or doing other intricate work, it can be hard (or even unsafe) for them to hold an object with one hand and a tool in the other. Helping Hands’ alligator clips hold the project for the kid, freeing up both hands to work safely. Adafruit, $6.
My Create stop-motion animation app – Explore time-lapse photography and stop-motion animation with the support of this iOS app. Includes “onion-skinning,” which lets you see a faint shadow of your previous photo so you can smoothly transition to your next shot. Take a look at some of our starter animations! iTunes, $4.99.
IKEA DEKA curtain wire with hooks – Hang up your sketches and creations! IKEA, $6.99.
Craftsman Tool Bag – Because makers need to be organized when it comes to their tools! Sears, reg. $9.99, sale $4.99.
Chalkboard paint – Convert a wall into a maker’s invention board. Home Depot, $9.67.
Thrift Shop Gift Certificates – Some kids just like making stuff out of junk — or taking it apart. For $10 or so, your maker kid can pick up an old VCR to take apart, a lamp to rewire, a wooden box to ModPodge, or secondhand clothes to refashion. Merely browsing the aisles will fire up their imagination!
Cherry Lake Publishing’s Makers as Innovators series – Short, 32-page, kid-friendly introductions to Arduino, Raspberry Pi, Game Design, Digital Badges, e-Textiles, Makerspaces, Maker Faire, and 3D Printing. (I’m biased, as I wrote for and edited this series, but we wrote it precisely because we had a hard time finding kid-friendly materials ourselves.) Click on a specific title and “read excerpt” to preview them. Cherry Lake Publishing, $9.95 paperback / $19.95 library binding.
Super Scratch Programming Adventure! – Scratch, MIT’s puzzle-piece oriented game and animation software, is a great way to introduce kids to object-oriented programming. Some kids just like to delve in and putter; for those kids, you don’t need a Scratch manual. But some kids prefer to work systematically through exercises. For those kids, Super Scratch is great. With a library of pre-made graphics, kids can focus on what they’re doing, not how they’re making it. This new version focuses on the web-based version of the tool. Amazon, $18.13.
Digital Photo Frame – Document what your family is making and show it off with a digital photo frame. Best Buy, regularly $59.99, sale $19.99.
Builder’s Paper / Butcher Paper – Cover work tables, make big brainstorming posters, do oversized origami, or paint a mural with large rolls of paper. It is often cheaper to buy this at a hardware store ( where it may be known as “builder’s paper”) than at an office supply store (where it is more likely to be called butcher or Kraft paper). Home Depot, $10.97.
Other under-$20 items: a bunch of PVC pipe and a PVC pipe cutter for quick assembly, a box of bottle caps, leftover playing cards, plastic animals, etc., for designing board games or other toys, surge protectors, a white board for sketching inventions, batteries in bulk, photo paper
MintyBoost USB Cell Phone Charger – A beginner’s introduction to the Arduino microcontroller, this device will recharge your cell phone. MakerShed.com, $26.24
ELENCO Snap Circuits Snaptricity – Our makers (grades 4 – 8) like to experiment with electricty, and these are a safe way to get them started. Snap Circuits components snap together with no exposed wires or risk. And for students who like structure, their kits come with books of ideas for configuring them. (Those kids who like free-form play can just ignore the manual, but we see both types of kids in our maker sites.) Prices vary widely depending on the size and complexity of kits, but this one is budget-friendly. Target, $27.99.
Python for Kids: A Playful Approach to Programming – one of our maker mentors raves about this book’s approachable introduction to the Python programming language. Nicola’s Books, $34.95.
Raspberry Pi – At $35, this is a low-cost, fully functioning computer. If you buy one, keep in mind you’ll also need a monitor or TV, keyboard, mouse, cords and cables, and an SD card, which will raise the total price. Newark.com, $35.
Other under-$50 items: extension cords, a coupon that can be exchanged for admission to an upcoming Maker Faire, multimeter, LEGO kits
WeMo Home Automation components – Control your house’s lights and power up your appliances via your iPhone! Belkin, $49.99+.
Little Bits/Korg Synthesizer Kit – This limited edition kit lets your kids assemble their own electronic instruments. Check out the video! LittleBits.cc, $159.
Makey Makey – Ever wanted to turn play dough into a game controller? A banana into a piano? Makey Makey gives kids the interface to turn household objects into controllers. ThinkGeek, $59.99
Other splurge items: tool chest, storage cabinet, makerspace membership, classes, summer maker camp fees, easel, sewing machine, digital camera
What’s on your makers’ list?
(cross-posted to the Active Learning blog)
Image Credit: “4 days to go!” by Flickr user Kenny Louie