It’s been two years since we published our last list of recommended holiday purchases for kids, so we’re dusting off that post and updating it for 2015. 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 Project Runway-inspired challenge asks students to refashion an item of upcycled clothing and toss in a $1 strand of battery-operated LED lights (currently out-of-stock online but seen recently in-store). 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. 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, $3.42.
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.
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!
IKEA DIGNITET curtain wire with hooks – Hang up your sketches and creations! IKEA, $12.99.
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, Scratch, fashion hacking, 3D Printing, and more. (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 / $20.95 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, $2017.
Digital Photo Frame – Document what your family is making and show it off with a digital photo frame. Best Buy, regularly $32.99.
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, $24.99
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, $23.99.
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.
Tech Box Tricks – Seeed Studio in Shenzhen is continually setting the bar high for new and novel projects. This gives kids a valuable conceptual introduction to microcontrollers without code. Plug components together for quick and satisfying opportunities for kids to prototype over and over. Choose an input (like a push button or a light sensor) and an output (like a fan, buzzer, or light). Connect them to the microcontroller, and voila — instant invention! The microcontroller’s case can snap together with LEGO, making it easy for kids to create inventions that integrate the microcontroller (we also delve into our junk box to help with prototypes). Amazon, $25.
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. While this tool can wear thin over time, it is an exciting introduction to kids being able to contribute their thinking to how systmes work. Amazon, $49.95
Other under-$50 items: extension cords, a coupon that can be exchanged for admission to an upcoming Maker Faire, multimeter, LEGO kits
Ozobot 2.0 – A simple 1″ robot that has sensors built into its underbody to sense color, line, and symbol to direct its next move. For classes and maker groups, we lean more toward Dash and Dot, but we just keep hearing how much teachers like this. Amazon, $59.99.
Dash and Dot – Our favorite robots because of their amazingly smooth wheels, abundant sensors, and personality. These robots coo, talk, spin, and adapt to their world. Control via a remote app or, when you’re ready to scale kids up into programming, via the Google Blockly language, which uses puzzle piece-shaped commands to make it easy for kids to shift into their first coding projects. You may need to upgrade your Android or iOS device to get compatible Bluetooth, making this potentially more expensive than it appears up front! Amazon, $249.99.
Little Bits/Korg Synthesizer Kit – This lets your kids assemble their own electronic instruments to record their own music, import into Garage Band, and more. A hit in our maker programming for two years running! Check out the video! LittleBits.cc, $159.
Brother Sewing Machine – Not just for girls! Whether your maker kid uses it to create Minecraft finger puppets, bean bags, pillow cases, or to hack their fashion, you’ll be surprised how mesmerized your kids will be when given access to a sewing machine. Amazion, $149.99.
Silhouette Portrait digital cutting tool – On the surface, this looks like a tool to cut scrapbooking paper, so I bet you’re thinking this doesn’t sound very makery. But we have used this to create anything from custom stickers to stencils for custom t-shirts (a cheaper version of screenprinting) to cutting stencils to etch original designs onto glass. Consider this a low-cost vinyl cutter with many options. Silhouetteamerica.com, $179.99.
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