If you’re putting your child on a fast track to geeky world domination, you’ll need some toys to help them along the way. These creative toys should be just the thing.
Mr McGroovy’s Box Rivets ($20)
It is a well known fact that all kids (and cats) love cardboard boxes – the bigger the better. Boxes have the unique ability to become anything with the right amount of creativity – but a set of box rivets can really help to build the bigger projects.
The original Mr McGroovy’s Box Rivets are incredibly strong – just push through the card, and twist to lock in place. They can be used to construct some really gigantic projects, and there are some plans available for purchase. Check out the inspiration gallery for ideas such as this castle.
US residents can purchase through Amazon, or international users can buy directly from the manufacturer, albeit with a shipping cost of more than the product itself.
The MakeDo range is pricier, but come with safety box saws and box rivets that work much like cable ties, and are ideal for smaller projects.
Both sets can be re-used over and over to build new things – they would make a perfect gift for young engineers the world over, and will help to teach the basic idea of programming – that great things can be built from the simplest of parts.
LEGO Mindstorms EV3 ($350)
LEGO ruled the creative minds of young children for years before computers came along, and the Mindstorms series is their attempt to bring LEGO into the modern era.
Although pricey, there’s infinite potential to create – hundreds of hours to spend building and programming your own smart robots. I reviewed the previous generation kit last year, and was really quite impressed:
At $280, LEGO Mindstorms NXT 2.0 is expensive, but like all LEGO products, it’s a gift that will last for generations. I would say get this for your children, but I’m a 30ish year old guy and this has been so much fun. Perhaps you’re also harbouring dreams of competing on Robot Wars with your own Arduino-based fire breathing death machine named The Squigglator, but LEGO Mindstorms is a more realistic way to get started and you’ll be really surprised at what you can achieve in very short time. Building your own robot and programming it would be a lasting, bonding experience with your son or daughter – whilst still satiating their generation’s desire for everything to be computer-based. I guarantee you’ll have fun with this, and I can’t wait to see what you come up with.
If that’s a bit pricey for you, but you know they’re a fan of MineCraft, consider one of the new LEGO MineCraft sets instead – below is “The First Night” set, priced at $45.
Disney Infinity 2.0 (around $75)
Named for it’s moneymaking potential, Disney Infinity is a little bit like a mix between MineCraft and the LEGO game series, if they had in-app physical world purchases. The story mode is short but undeniably fun, while “toy box” mode allows kids to create their own play worlds and share them online. They can also download any of hundreds of thousands of game worlds created by other users. New, physical character models can be bought which are placed onto a USB reader device, and unlock their respective in-game characters.
Be careful though, some kids will take this hobby to its logical obsessive ending: Disney has a wide range of characters, play sets, and toy box cards to purchase (the latter of which opens up new items or costumes for your characters). Make sure they understand that they can’t have them all – but you can get a starter kit for around $80 on every major games console.
For 8 years and up, LittleBits is a gentle introduction to the world of electronics circuits. The base kit comes with 10 modules – such as a DC motor, light sensor and dimmer – which snap together and combine to form new circuits.
For older kids, I’d suggest just jumping straight into the world of Arduino programming with an ARDX starter kit for $60. If C-programming is a bit daunting but you’d still like them to use real electronics, download Scratch For Arduino, a visual programming language that they may already be familiar with from school lessons.
Hama Bead Kit ($7 and up)
An inexpensive gift for the crafty young geek, Hama beads (also known as Perler, or just generic “fuse beads”) are a delightfully fun way to create physical items like jewellery, 3D wall murals or fridge magnets. Best of all, it’ll keep them quite for hours on end. Don’t forget to point them in the direction of my tutorial on how to create retro 8-bit accessories.
Do you have a budding young geek in your life? What creative toys will you be getting them?