Holiday wish lists are already coming together for kids, and although Santa or Hanukkah Harry may not be able to find an “Invisibility Cloak” or a “flying bike” in their workshops, they could provide the tools for kids to actually try and build them. We recently wrote about STEM-focused classes, but if those don’t fit into your busy schedules, these smart toys will instruct and inspire kids to bring what’s in their imagination to life. Here’s a list of our favorite tech toy choices for 2015 for every age range.
(recommended for ages 3-6)
Get your little ones creating early with technology, with this toy that lets them make high-quality electronic music. Moving any of the instruments to the middle will create one sound, and moving more than one will create a symphony. There’s millions of combinations to be made from the seven instruments, including guitar, bass, drums, strings, keyboard, and vocals. Also there are song sheets with lyrics, so families can potentially sing along. Most importantly, there’s a headphone jack, so tiny DJs can practice in silence.
Perfect for: The kid who asks for Music Together classes. Or this kid.
(recommended for ages 6-12)
Roominate is a DIY, wired dollhouse building kit, where kids can design their dream house using all the pieces to keep adding on to the mansion of their imagination. They can make bunk beds, waterslides, staircases, and change around the rooms at every playtime if they want. Plus, they can use pieces to make moving objects like a merry go round that actually works with circuits! The Basic Roominate Kit only costs $19.95, and will create the first room in the house, a playground, or merry go round. But the possibilities are endless with the additional kits, teaching STEM skills as well as spatial skills development.
Perfect for: The kid who asks for a Barbie Dreamhouse.
(recommended for ages 8-15; but kids as young as 5 will enjoy with adult supervision.)
This Snap Circuits Kit (starting at $20.99) is hands down the most astonishing toy. It works similarly to Legos, where you follow directions and snap pieces together to build something. But instead of creating a house or an animal, you build projects with moving parts and that run on actual electricity. The award-winning toy provides instructions for making FM radios, digital voice recorders, burglar alarms, doorbells, microphones, and even a lie detector. All the parts are mounted on plastic modules and easily snap together. It’s the perfect hands on way for kids (and adults!) to learn about electricity.
Perfect for: The kid who asks for a karaoke machine.
(recommended for ages 8+)
If your kids have major imaginations, and you find yourself rescuing your household items out of their hideouts, then the MaKey MaKey invention kit is a perfect gift option. The MaKey MaKey Classic box ($49.95) allows kids to turn everyday objects into touchpads that you tap to make music, play games, send emails–basically play or do anything you can find online. Make a banana piano, make a custom keyboard out of alphabet soup, or play a game of Pac-Man on a drawing. This kit allows kids to learn about electricity and find out what happens in the wide world of circuits. It hooks up to your computer via a USB cable so it’s easy to play with right out of the box.
Perfect for: The kid who asks for a cat keyboard.
(recommended for ages 8+)
Over two thousand schools have littleBits kits in their makerspaces, and their Gizmos and Gadgets Kit ($199.95) is a high-quality investment of electronic building blocks that can be endlessly configured and added onto to make whatever your child or you dream up. Kids can follow easy instructions for making hundreds of projects including a robot, a bubble blower, a doorbell, a lamp, and a bumperball game. Putting together all of the projects will be sure to spark the imagination of kids to create other projects or enhance everyday objects. And if the company’s promise is true–that creating helps “develop skills for careers that haven’t been invented yet”–you could be introducing them to a lifelong pursuit. Cheaper holiday-themed kits are also available, and would be perfect under the tree.
Perfect for: The kids who asks for a remote control car.
(recommended for ages 9-16)
By the same people who brought you kiwi crate, this monthly subscription box (which costs only $16.95 a month) delivers hands-on experiments every month. Each box comes with a STEM-focused project, a blueprint with detailed instructions on how to assemble, and a zine that will inspire kids with loads more experiments and activities. Sample projects include building a trebuchet catapult which launch ping pong balls 10 feet in the air; a mechanical hand to freak out friends; or a classic animation zoetrope.
Perfect for: The kid who asks for a new toy every month.
(recommended for ages 10-15 years old)
Taking Legos to another level, this programmable robot ($350) is the perfect gift for any Legomaniac. Instructions are in the box for building one bot, but there are bonus building instructions for other things made by fans. The robot can be programmed using a simple visual programming interface on a laptop or an app to walk and talk, and a remote or app directs its movements. This is the ultimate in new tech paired with the simplicity of old-fashioned Legos, and it’s durable enough to withstand years of (ab)use.
Perfect for: The kid who asks for a pet.
(recommended for ages 10+)
This animation kit ($63.20) contains everything your child needs to make his or her own high def stop-motion films. The included book gives suggestions for filming Legos, clay creations, action figures or Barbies. Included with this is an actual HD video camera, as well as computer software that includes special effects for every explosion, rocket launch and light saber fight. There’s step-by-step instructions for screenwriting, and examples of scoring music for your short film. Move over Spielberg!
Perfect for: The kid who asks for another DVD to add to the collection.
(recommended for ages 11+; but many younger kids will enjoy it with their grown up.)
The Raspberry Pi is a tiny little computer that is the size of a credit card. The actual computer costs around $35, but the Ultimate Starter Kit is 84.99 on Amazon. You plug it into a TV or an existing computer so that you can use the mouse and screen. But this little device allows kids to actually learn to program in a basic language like Scratch or in Python. It’s capable of doing all normal computer things like browsing the Internet, but kids can also use it in other ways, like making a music machine, creating a tweeting birdhouse, building a weather station, or making an infrared light. Get started with this great instructional book called “Adventures in Raspberry Pi” by Carrie Ann Philbin. Parents don’t need to be computer literate to assist, as the author gives all the background info necessary. If your younger kid (ages 6-11) wants their share of the Pi, sign them up for a class at Raspberry Heights for hands-on learning.
Perfect for: The kid who asks for an iPad.
(recommended for ages 13+, or 8 with adult supervision)
Hummingbird ($159) aims to introduce kids to robotics and engineering with construction materials that they are already familiar with, like cardboard and foam. Making a real robot is made easy with these kits, which involve hot glueing, attaching LEDs and motors, and then programming the bot using a computer, Arduino (both a programming language and an electronics building kit for older kids and adults) or Raspberry Pi. Although the tutorials explain the process for an eager novice, these kits are a little more advanced and perfect for the experienced maker who wants to make a personalised robot and not follow instructions out of a box.
Perfect for: The kid who asks for R2D2.