Real (Child-Sized) Tools Prices vary
For kids just getting used to tying their own shoes and coloring inside the lines, a set of real tools, made smaller for tiny hands, can be a great way to introduce them to the world of wood construction. If you’re willing to supervise, real tools are superior to plastic safety tools. True, there is real danger. But there’s also real power. “Part of learning how to use tools is to respect that they can hurt you,” someone smart told me recently.
Chemistry Set $60
A chemistry set provides hours of fun with experiments ranging from dissolving metals to splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen, kitchen chemistry, and more!
MAKE alum Stefan Antonowicz, who has two little ones, suggested this book: “Something about the different bird pics, plus learning the sometimes crazy names, plus seeing the ACTUAL bird in the ACTUAL yard melts tiny brains with its amazingness,” he says. Obviously you’d want to get one for the area you live in.
littleBits is an excellent way to introduce young people to electronics prototyping sans soldering and without the danger of accidentally frying components. Each bit has a unique function (light, sound, sensors, buttons, pulse, motor) and you simply snap them together magnetically to create larger circuits. No soldering, no wiring, no programming — just snap and play.
Recreate the experiments that lead to the development of the first real light bulb. Kids can build their own working light bulb using the included safety vacuum chamber and a number of different filament materials including carbon and tungsten.
Python is a powerful, expressive programming language that’s easy to learn and fun to use. But books about learning to program in Python can be kind of dull, gray, and boring, and that’s no fun for anyone. If there’s a kid on your list that’s interested in getting started in programming, Python for Kids might be just the ticket.
Roominate is a building set geared toward girls. In addition to walls and modular furniture, the set includes circuit components with a motor, so you can hook up a tiny working fan, “circular saw,” or even a light for your miniature house.
Hummingbird has been called “pre-Arduino” for kids. The kit includes sensors, LEDs, and motors, with which you can build robot creatures that growl when you get close, wag tails and ears,and light up eyes. Designer Tom Lauwers says it was created for “students and kids who have never touched electronics or programming before.”
Scratch is the wildly popular educational programming language used by millions of first-time learners in classrooms, libraries, and homes worldwide. Kids quickly learn computer-programming concepts by combining colorful blocks of code. This cartoon-illustrated book teaches programming fundamentals with patient, step-by-step explanations and exciting programming challenges.
Create incredible paper roller coasters using strips of heavy paper. By folding, cutting, and taping the paper strips together you will be able to make sturdy roller coasters that reach the ceiling! PaperRollerCoasters.com has downloadable templates to print and cut out, but if you don’t want to spend time cutting them out, they have a pre-cut kit available.
Puzzle Clock $14
Kids can put together their own clock with this fun and educational kit. They will learn how gears function together to measure the progression of time.
This kit allows young scientists to explore wind energy by testing a variety of blade designs, generate electricity, and lift weights.
GoldieBlox $30 ** Not available until spring 2013
Combining spatial and verbal learning, GoldieBlox is a book and construction toy based around Goldie, the girl inventor, and her group of friends, who go on adventures and solve problems by building simple machines.
Although this won’t ship until spring 2013, I thought it was worth including in this collection of science, technology, engineering, and math toys. Please share your favorite STEM toys in the comments!