Boston terriers in red ear-flap hats with white beards

2018 Holiday Gift Guide: Teens

Teens can be hard to find gifts for. We have two at home–we know! Never fear. We have some great ideas for you, plus a couple gifts from my own list for the kid at heart. As with our 2018 Holiday Guide for Ages 5 – 11, I look for gifts that help kids attain new skills or expand their minds in some way. But first and foremost, these gifts are fun! Enjoy!

OK. It might not be glamorous, but we highly endorse teaching kids how to use basic tools BEFORE they fly the coop. So why not equip them with a real set of their own, like this one from Stanley? There’s something truly empowering about having your own tools and not having to ask to borrow someone else’s. And all makers need good tools. Bonus: your teen will be well equipped to help with small repairs around the house. (I have a set just like this and it’s super handy.)

Suddenly anything can become a circuit with Bare Conductive’s Electric Paint. No need to solder wires and it sticks where copper tape won’t. I found this product in a kit I bought at MoMA several years ago and was thrilled when it worked! It’s water-based and I’ve seen it used on the skin too. The active ingredient is carbon, so no harsh chemicals to worry about. If you’re thinking about being a cyborg next Halloween, this is the product for you! Also great for paper circuits projects.

Make: Paper Inventions is a great source for inspiration and instructions for paper-based projects. And it’s a wonderful blend of art and science. We love that the projects in here are all low-cost using widely available components and they provide fun opportunities to hone skills and competency in circuitry, even math (check out the geodesic dome project.) Add some copper tape, LEDs, tilt switches, and some nice cardstock paper.

Karakuri: How to Make Mechanical Paper Models That Move is a beautiful book that blends art with mechanics. It takes you through creating your own gears, cams and other mechanism to make paper constructions move. Automata are pretty awesome and author Keisuke Saka has shown his work in several museums. I think I might have to get this for myself too! The precision required for these projects might be too much for younger kids, but teens who like to tinker should be up to the task.

Some kids are thirsty to know how things work. If that sounds like your child, Thames & Kosmos is one of the best creators of educational kits. This Physics Pro kit includes all the components and instructions for models and devices including a wind tunnel, pneumatic shocks and a hydraulic lift. Continue to explore fluid dynamics, energy, and oscillation.

I think I need these silicone molds for making pendants myself. Fill them with epoxy resin and embed small objects, glitter, color, or, ahem, LEDs! This kit comes with small screw eyes to turn your creations into pendants. Putting the Art in STEAM! (Make sure to work in a well-ventilated area.)

Looking for a robot that’s more than just a toy? Us too. The MakeBlock mBot is an easy build and can be coded with block code on your Android or iOS device. It has an ultrasonic sensor and can do obstacle avoidance and line following. But perhaps the best part of mBot is that you can reconfigure it, add your own LEGOs or other components to design your own robot. The Interactive Light & Sound Add-On Pack gives you even more options. If you’re more interested in coding than building and want to code in Python, choose Codey Rocky, also from Makeblock. The ages 6+ recommendation earned it a place on our younger list, but teens (or possibly adults) can use it to hone their Python skills.

The OSOYOO Arduino-based self balancing robot is open source and easy to assemble. Control it with an Android device. In this build you’ll incorporate a Bluetooth module, inertial measurement unit (measures balance parameters) and a motor driver. We think it’s pretty cool.

The Circuit Playground Express is my new favorite microcontroller. It has so many components already on it (read on). But mostly I love how easy it is to get up and running with it. Code it with MakeCode block code (very similar to Scratch) and connect whatever you want with alligator clips for immediate gratification. Here’s what you get with the Circuit Playground Express (excuse me, it’s a lot!):

10 x mini NeoPixels, each one can display any color (LEDs)
1 x Motion sensor (LIS3DH triple-axis accelerometer with tap detection, free-fall detection)
1 x Temperature sensor (thermistor)
1 x Light sensor (phototransistor). Can also act as a color sensor and pulse sensor.
1 x Sound sensor (MEMS microphone)
1 x Mini speaker with class D amplifier (7.5mm magnetic speaker/buzzer)
2 x Push buttons, labeled A and B
1 x Slide switch
Infrared receiver and transmitter – can receive and transmit any remote control codes, as well as send messages between Circuit Playground Expresses. Can also act as a proximity sensor.
8 x alligator-clip friendly input/output pins
Includes I2C, UART, 8 pins that can do analog inputs, multiple PWM output
7 pads can act as capacitive touch inputs and the 1 remaining is a true analog output
Green “ON” LED so you know its powered
Red “#13” LED for basic blinking
Reset button
ATSAMD21 ARM Cortex M0 Processor, running at 3.3V and 48MHz
2 MB of SPI Flash storage, used primarily with CircuitPython to store code and libraries.
MicroUSB port for programming and debugging
USB port can act like serial port, keyboard, mouse, joystick or MIDI!

If all that is overwhelming, you can always drop in for Open Lab at MKR LAB and we’ll help get you started, show you some cool things you can do, like connect fruit up to the capacitive touch sensors and turn your produce into a musical instrument, or embed it in a glove and create a game controller that reacts to your hand position. So many possibilities!

I love drones. And DJI is one of the best drone makers, though usually at a much higher price point. So the Tello is pretty amazing at about $100. What’s even better is that it has a decent camera (ok, it’s only 720P but I’ll take it at this price) and you can code it in Scratch if you want! It’s also light enough that you don’t have to register it with the FAA. This all means the Tello is so much more than a toy. Try your hand at video editing or code some cool tricks. Note that you will want the controller. While you can pair the drone with your phone, the connection is much more stable with the controller.

This one is a big ticket item, so it can be a family gift. The HTC Vive Virtual Reality System is the top choice from all the kids I queried for this list. It’s also what we use at MKR LAB. We’ve tested this rig plenty and it’s a crowd pleaser. Our youngest child, 9, loves to “paint” with it. I “play” a meditative game on it. And of course there are your typical high-thrill games and sports. A year in, we still are just scratching the surface of all we can do with the Vive. This is the model to get. It outperforms the Oculus and, while there’s a new Pro model available, it only increases performance slightly at a big price differential.

My 15-year old really wants magnetic nail polish this year. It’s regular nail polish with tiny magnetic particles in it. Paint a nail, then hold a magnet over it while wet and the particles will be attracted toward the magnet and create a design. The lid on each of the 8 bottles in this Sally Hansen Magnetic Nail Polish set has magnets in a wave pattern. I quizzed my girl all about magnetism to see if she knew the basic science behind this beauty trend. She did. And she also has been learning a lot about microcontrollers. I think she’ll get this wish.

2 Boston Terriers in silly hats with ear flaps

2018 Holiday Gift Guide: Ages 5 – 11

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!

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Glowing Pompom Crown Workshop

LED PomPom Crowns

LEDs, Wearables, Circuits & Fun

No power, no problem! The lights may be out, but this crew is glowing with LED headgear they made.

After tornados passed through Westchester and left most of our town without power, but the kids were good to proceed so we quickly secured a couple more battery-powered hot glue guns and had a great time with this crew.


Kids made circuits with LEDs, a battery holder and copper wire

While this isn’t the best photo, it gives you a sense of the basic elements of this project, before it was festooned with colorful pompoms. We would have preferred to use low-heat hot glue guns, but we had a power outage to contend with, so we used battery powered glue guns and they can get hot and burn little fingers. So an adult held the headband carefully and the student did the gluing. Our goal is to have the student participate fully from start to finish.

Step 1 was to glue the LEDs in place with all the anodes facing the same direction so they could be wired in parallel easily. We used a combination of blue, green, white and blinking LEDs, but learned that red and yellow LEDs are lower voltage and will make the other colors not function, so we didn’t use those.

If you look closely, you’ll see a black battery holder on the lower left end of the headband. That’s our power source. Two copper wires are soldered onto the battery holder. Students then wrapped the copper wire around the legs of the LEDs and once we confirmed that each circuit was wired properly (they all got it the first time – yay!) we encased the connections in hot glue. That’s what’s happening above.

Students combined big and small pompoms to decorate their crowns

Once the students made their circuits, it was time to get creative with pompoms! The best part was seeing how each student approached their project differently. Some were methodical, curating a limited color palate and placing each pompom precisely. Others went for a rambunctious riot of color! They all were perfect! And they learned a lot about circuits.

LED wearables

MKR LAB in the News!

The Lewisboro Hamlet Hub wrote about MKR LAB. It’s so exciting that people are finding us here in Northern Westchester.

“MKR LAB Inc. announced several workshops for May and June to introduce students in grades K-12 to electricity and circuits, soldering and more STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) fields. The new business hopes to build a maker space once it completes the zoning process and can occupy its own space in Lewisboro. In the meantime, MKR LAB is offering classes at the new DayDreamer Studio in the Yellow Monkey Village in Cross River.”

Read the full article here.

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Talking Mother’s Day Cards

We’ve got a fun and free event coming up at the Lewisboro Library. This one’s for all ages, and it checks off an item on your to-do-list too!

Using a greeting card sound module, you can record a personal message for Mom, Grandma, that special woman in your life.

Kids will draw on the front, write a message inside and record their sweet voices with a special message. Even young kids can do that and if a teen wants to do it God bless ’em!

Handmade cards are always best!

Sign up at or call 914-875-9004 to reserve your spot.