Gifts, gifts … 10 days to Christmas, are you ready?
Have you already bought everything?
Or have not you even thought about it yet? ?
At this point the children will have already written their letters to Father Christmas, and parents will already be grappling with boxes of Lego or other stuff, to be hidden at the bottom of some closets … but for those who want to try to gift something able to bring kids closer to the technology in a creative way, not too difficult but not too superficial, here are five tips tested for you in the past months, during many activities with children and kids.
Gifts? what kind of gifts?
Let’s say immediately that these are products that you may not find in the store right around the corner, so keep an eye on places like Amazon, but also Kickstarter or Indiegogo – and keep an eye on delivery times too, which being so close to Christmas, are at risk. But even if the package will not be under the tree … a technological gift is always welcome! ?
We have to say that these are expensive products, all certainly above € 50, so it is worth thinking about how you are spending your money. For this reason, we think this guide can be useful.
Speaking about money, even if they do not give us any (in fact, we could ask them a little something for this advertising …) we recommend the excellent online store CampuStore , in Italy, specialized in technologies for education and in some cases , also official importer to Italy for the presented products.
There are a lot of fun gifts and gadgets for
hopeless nerds enthusiasts of creative use of technologies out there, but honestly only some of them will really give the opportunity to teach something to children and young people who will use them … so we left out things like the mini Sphero BB-8 droid replica , in favor of perhaps less fashionable, but more effective products in this perspective. We have also excluded products such as the now famous “little bees” beeBot and their many clones (also made in Italy, like Clementoni’s Doc) … because we think that now there is better for the age groups to which they are addressed. We have finally neglected the various kits of DIY computers (all derivated by the original Kano , based on Raspberry Pi) because the point was to indicate gift to be immediately usable.
And here they are, our magnificent 5 recommended gifts: we have already tried them all in activities with dozens of children and youngsters, at school and out of school, and therefore are guaranteed by the experience “in the field” as effective tools, able to stimulate creativity, without requiring too much time to learn how to use them and how they work.
Their order is absolutely random … as they are all number 1s!
The small robot (which appears to be… gender-neutral, as they want us to learn on the official website ) is built having in mind Montessori suggestions in terms of shapes and natural materials.
The robot follows the instructions corresponding to different colored magnetic blocks, to be put in a row on the programming table, and then transmitted and executed once the blue key is pressed. It is possible to indicate a routine of recurrent instructions by inserting up to four blocks in the squared positions of the table, and recalling them with the appropriate block.
It is proposed as a possible evolution (for younger ones) of the turtle from Seymour Papert’s Logo, and indeed the commands available are mainly regarding movement. Obviously, it is possible to attach some markers to the robot and then leave colored traces during its movement, on sheets of paper … or on washable floors! ?
The complete kit also includes cards and one or more game boards, which can however be built at-home with sheets and felt-tip pens: they are maps within which Cubetto can move, and which constitute a possible background to stories or adventures to be built, then moving Cubetto inside them, and associating it with the cards drawn by the users or encountered on the board while moving.
price: around € 230
recommended for: those who still can not read, enjoy inventing stories and adventures, are more focused on the game than on the technological aspect. Effective up to 6-7 years.
skills required for adults: absolutely none, taking for granted that at your age you know how to distinguish the four directions
advantages: no need to read-write, suitable for either boys and girls, you can expand it with other sets of command blocks that introduce random behavior etc.
disadvantages: the cost is high, the aspect, a bit ‘childish’, makes it less suitable for those aged 7-8+
Makey Makey classic
The simplest control card ever: MakeyMakey connects via USB to any type of computer, which recognizes it as an external keyboard. So you do not need to install any software, drivers etc. (not even in Window$, incredible ?).
By connecting electrical cables to the board in the pre-set spaces, and holding the ground connection in hand, everything connected to the cables is recognized by the computer when it is touched, as if it were the corresponding key.
In the diagram below, touching the banana sends out a signal equivalent to the up-arrow key to a computer:
Starting from this, the simplest use is to build some controllers for your favorite games, for example Minecraft (on the back of the card there are also connections to the AWSD keys). Knowing a little about the use of coding platforms (even the simplest ones like Scratch ), however, you can associate the connected objects and the corresponding keys with something else: sounds, animations, musical sequences and much more, to create installations using your own fantasy.
price: around € 70
recommended for: those who want to experience interaction between computers and the real world, who try to use the computer in ways different from the usual, who are curious and do not hold back if there are wires to be connected, circuits to close etc.
Recommended age: from 7-8 years up.
skills required for adults: basic knowledge of electricity, knowledge of Scratch for advanced uses, or (in both cases) the desire to learn together with your children.
advantages: it is possible to connect any object which conducts electricity, and use it as a key / control; the very low USB voltage (0.5 Volt) makes it absolutely safe even in the most extreme uses (wires in the water, etc.). The card is instantly recognized and can be used immediately, without installing any additional software, drivers, etc.
disadvantages: you need a computer, and a little knowledge of coding in order to use the card in an advanced way.
Lego WeDo 2.0
The Lego brand does not need any introduction, and it is a guarantee of seriousness and reliability. The WeDo series, arrived here at their second update that introduces remote control (via bluetooth) of engines etc. is the most affordable one, for either costs (!) and ease of use. It’s possible to program weDo kits, which include electric motors, proximity sensors and inclination sensors, either with the free Lego software or with Scratch, perhaps combining their use with MakeyMakey cards for even crazier and fanciful creations.
The kit allows to operate motors (which will move gears and can therefore move objects, turn wheels, limbs, blades, etc.) and read the values of inclination and proximity sensors. The combination of these elements within control programs allows you to create lego constructions that walk, stop or move if they reach something, and much more.
Manufacturer: Lego Education
price : around € 150
recommended for: enthusiasts of Lego gifts who want to discover how to animate and automate their creations. If accompanied by adults who are a bit more prepared, you can use it at any age, otherwise the recommended age is from 7-8 years up.
skills required for adults: basic knowledge of coding or the desire to learn together with your children
advantages: it is an official Lego product so it can be integrated with all the bricks already owned and can make them more interesting and funny
disadvantages: in the single kit the “programmable” parts (motors and sensors) are few so quite surely you will have to buy expansions or other kits to take full advantage of the potential of this product. A computer is also required.
littleBits + R2D2
Little bits are small magnetic blocks that, starting from the obligatory starting block, the power supply, allow in full safety to build electric circuits able to activate led lights, propellers and fans, motors, sensors and everything what you can find in about 70 different pieces of the complete set.
In this kit of course the presence of the miniature model of R2-D2, to be assembled to make it interact with the blocks, makes everything more interesting, allowing you to apply the circuits to the droid itself and make it “come alive” (let’s not exaggerate …) with lights, engines and sensors. An app with tutorials makes everything easier.
Manufacturer : Little Bits
price : around € 120
recommended for: Star Wars fans (!) and those interested in electricity, lights, circuits and the like, in short, hardware gifts fans rather than software fans. Even in this case, if supported by adults who are a little “capable”, the tool can be used even since 5 years, as it is not necessary to read-write. Otherwise the recommended age is from 7 years up.
skills required for adults: knowing how to distinguish R2D2 from C3PO ?, basic knowledge of electricity or the desire to learn together with your children
advantages: the circuits are magnetized and do not detach; different colors indicate different functions to make everything easier. The application of the circuits to the R2 D2 model solves the impression of an instrument a bit too much self-centered, that we had using the first, original kits.
disadvantages : once you have exhausted the approximately 15 missions in the app’s tutorials, to keep on having fun you will probably need to buy other components and expansion kits that do not always integrate with R2 D2.
mBot is a robot construction kit, compatible with the famous Arduino board, the first example of Open Source hardware launched years ago (also) by our fellow countryman Massimo Banzi, who gave an incredible boost to the world of makers . In fact, this gift is the closest to the world of adult tinkerers , due to the perfect balance between the construction of electro / mechanical systems and programming of the same, even through a visual coding system / block very similar to that of Scratch, developed by the same Makeblock, but in fact able to interact also with Arduino.
This is the product that we would recommend to older guys, or kids with parents who are a bit more prepared and therefore able to give more support. That said, the possibilities of these little robots are really a lot, especially if we consider the many expansions present, able to make the robots recognize colors, obstacles, tracks to follow and so on. You can organize races, obstacle races and much more.
price : around € 100
recommended for: those who have had fun in the past years with the gifts we have reported on this list, and are now looking for something more; parents who want to give their children real support in the construction and programming of robots … and feel able to do so ? Recommended age: from 10 years up.
advantages: the kit makes it possible to really play with either coding and robotics, maintaining the simplicity of use of block programming applied to this, with the special block-coding version developed by the producers. In addition, the kit can also be programmed via phone or tablet, making the computer unnecessary.
disadvantages: among all the gift presented, this is definitely the one that will put patience and technical skills more at proof, since there is a bit of work to be done before reaching satisfactory results. This is also why we recommend it to a slightly higher age group.
So these were our five suggestions for your technological gifts but … we can not help but mention a sixth ?
Codey Rocky, also from Makeblock, has just passed the funding threshold on Kickstarter (40 days before the deadline!) and is meant to be an advanced version of Cubetto, similar in some aspects also to his older brother mBot, but more focused on coding than on robotics. The delivery is scheduled for April 2018, so the Christmas tree will be in the cellar, but being among the (first …) fundraising supporters on Kickstarter, as soon as it will arrive, you will have a review.
Merry Christmas and happy tech gifting to everyone!