2018 Maker Gift Guide: Ages 5 - 11
I’ve long believed the things we give our kids matter. Some gifts are simple pleasures, but a truly great child’s gift will expand their mind in some way, let them explore new ideas and it will be so much fun that the recipient won’t ever consider it an educational toy. A truly great gift also allows for creativity. Here are a few of my top picks for grades K – 5 this year.
There was one year when my daughter gave a version of this to every birthday child she knew. Squishy Circuits are a fabulous way for kids as young as 5 to explore circuits. The dough is very familiar to them, and the idea of powering lights, a buzzer or even a motor via dough and a few wires is pretty amazing. One thing I like about this kit in particular is that it includes both the conductive dough and the insulating dough. It’s totally open ended and kids of all ages will engage with it. Yes, even teens will play with this if you put it in front of them. And it helps build fine motor skills too.
Geoboards are great for building fine motor skills and geometric and mathematical thinking. I’m seeing kids come into our classes who have never before played with rubber bands. These simple boards are mesmerizing, and open-ended. Try making patterns, find symmetry, or make a picture.
I want to be 10 again and to spend time exploring all the projects in Rubber Band Engineer. Did you notice this isn’t a gendered gift list? Give this book to a girl (or a boy, or someone who doesn’t identify in a binary way). Seriously. I wish I had fewer barbies and more engineering type toys as a kid. Leaf through this before gifting and assemble some materials, in addition to a big bag of rubber bands. How about adding some paper clips and pliers too?
Back in the day, LEGO made amazing kits, like the Auto Chassis Expert Builder set (you’ll have to search eBay for it). I’ve been a bit disappointed with the company’s descent into violent character-driven product lines. But you can get a taste of some really great mechanical designs with Klutz’s LEGO Chain Reactions set. Do the projects here and learn about gears, levers, ramps and other simple machines, energy … the basics of physics. Just don’t mix up these specialized pieces in your big bin of LEGOs. Oh yeah, while this set is on our grades K-5 list, tweens and teens can get a lot out of it too. If they think they’re too old, ask them to “help” a younger child.
We have a set of these blocks up in the attic. As if by magic, they spill out of the box and assemble themselves into towers of varying designs. I thought my kids were done with these, but apparently not. This Keva set includes 400 blocks, a booklet with contraptions you can make, and two nicely weighted balls. I love tech, but simple open-ended toys like this help kids build an innate understanding of physics, design and proportion.
Circuits are the basic elements in every computer and device we use. It’s worthwhile–and fun–to explore them and Chibitronics makes it easy. Don’t worry if you forgot the difference between wiring in series or parallel. This kit has clear instructions and room for your child to be creative and illustrate their creations. If they like this, buy them a box of LEDs, some 2032 batteries and more copper tape and let them go wild.
Does your kid like the box better than the gift? Just go with it and give them this makedo toolkit with reusable connectors they can use to create their own cardboard creations. Art, architecture, whatever they can imagine. This would be even better when combined with the Chibitronics above so kids can light up their projects.
Wearable electronics are super exciting right now. This LilyPad Sewable Electronics Kit has everything you need to get started with eTextiles. This kit explores circuits with conductive thread and includes sewable battery holders and LEDs, switches and buttons. It also includes a pre-programmed LilyMini circuit that reacts to ambient light levels.
Already explored paper circuits and ready to learn to solder? Try this Simon Says Soldering Kit from SparkFun. You need your own soldering iron, solder and wire cutters. Everything else is in the kit. This could be a lot of fun for a tween or teen. But younger kids can do it too if working closely with an adult. I loved Simon as a kid. What’s old is new again.
Looking for a robot? Of course you are. But which one? There are so many. We LOVE Codey Rocky from MakeBlock. It’s wifi enabled, is replete with 10 programmable electronic sensors and you can code it in both block code and (this is why we love it so) Python! Yes. It looks like a cute little robot and even says it’s for kids 6+. But add in Python programmability and this cutie pie could make it onto our teen list too. We’ll leave it here. But please, if you buy this for your child, let them play with it too!