Yes, it’s that time of year again…where, as fast as you can say ‘Halloween,’ October runs swiftly into December and the onset of the holiday season begins. For those of us with tech-crazy children or even just curious learners, this time of year brings the annual struggle of pulling together a list of creative and practical gift ideas that balance education, enthusiasm, inspiration, and, of course, fun.
At Fire Tech, we’re always on the lookout for the next cool and exciting thing; so we thought we’d do some digging and share our building, making, and tinkering gift ideas for your child this holiday season. So whether it’s learning to code and programming, engineering robotics, building computers, or creating music, we’ve got it all in this cracking 2017 STE(A)M gift guide.
1) Electro Dough Kit (age 4+), £22.99
A fun and introductory way of getting some of the youngest of learners interested in technology. Tech Will Save Us’ Electro Dough teaches your four year old how to build an electrical circuit with a material they play with almost everyday…Playdough. Kids mould this conductive dough into whatever shapes they want and then watch it all come alive with buzzers and lights. Your child will have a fantastic time curiously creating all the while learning about the principles of both circuits and electronics.
2) Kano Pixel (age 6+), £74.99
This build-it-yourself light board is a great way to introduce the fundamentals of learning code to your child through the use of dazzling, colourful light. The Pixel encourages both your child’s creative and analytical sides by interactively building games, animations, art, and music. Included in this little work of boxed art is a centerpiece board of 128 super-bright colour LEDs, a processor, removable battery and microSD card, three USB ports and one micro-USB slot for power/recharging. Straightforward tutorials also offer a step-by-step way for your child to build, manage, and manipulate stunning applications that show their brilliance through the broad array of coloured displays. The real learning begins when you plug into your laptop and launch the free Kano app.
3) Sphero Mini App-Enabled Robotic Ball (age 8+), £49.99
This one may look like a tiny ball (and it is), but it offers some big robot fun. Yes, it’s a robot. According to Sphero, it’s the tiniest robot (that they know of) in the world. Inside this pint-size space there’s a gyroscope, accelerometer, LED light, Bluetooth chip and a battery…quite a feat for its diminutive size. This coming from the same company that produced the recent, larger-bodied Star Wars robots with great success. The Sphero mini, however, is a quarter of the R2-D2 droid price tag, so a great entry point for those just beginning their journey into robotics.
Fun, app-interactive features include the Face Drive where you can drive your ball with hilarious or wonkey expressions; but there’s also the Joystick, Tilt, and Slingshot drive mode as other options. The gaming capability allows you to use the app, or the ball itself, as a video game controller for the currently included three games. If this isn’t enough, there’s also a set of three mini traffic cones and six mini bowling pins included to imagine-up your own fun. Sphero’s also noted more app-associated games in the pipeline for the coming year.
Finally, as with any gift, it also needs a touch of personality; which is why Sphero has created five interchangeable coloured shells to keep up with your child’s many possible moods; and with only an hour of charge time, it’s a sure hit for the holiday season.
4) Jewelbots (age 8+ ), £42.50
This smart, wearable jewelry is similar in concept to the original embroidered string friendship bracelets of previous generations…with one big exception: these bracelets teach you how to code. The idea is that kids collect, swap, and exchange colourful straps and charms with one another, but also connect with friends electronically and then some. Initially developed to get more girls interested in STEM fields, the design and colours are inclusive enough that it appeals to both boys and girls alike.
So how does it work? Firstly, the easily-charged Jewelbots use Bluetooth to detect friends when they’re nearby as well as allowing you to send and receive messages. This is great for the younger kids, but to take things a step further, you begin a coding adventure. By downloading the Arduino IDE programming environment, you can write code in C++ and then upload it to your wearable wrist-bot from your computer. You can then create some fun magic button functions, LED functions, buzzer functions, games, and custom animations. If that’s not enough, there’s also a wonderful extended community for exploring and sharing programming ideas. It’s all about finding and connecting with friends, learning new skills, creating, and making.
Jewelbots aren’t as ubiquitous in the UK as some of the other products, but here’s where you can find them.
5) Bloxels Build Your Own Video Game (age 8+), £38.92
“Build with blocks, snap a picture, play and share.” So says this originally-kickstarter-ed company. It’s that simple. This video game creation platform uses a combination of both the physical and digital to create any video game, characters, levels, and art your imagination will allow. Your child builds the layout, the rooms, the design, the colour, and objectives. To get started, you just need the Bloxel game board, some multi-coloured blocks, a mobile device, and some creativity; and your child is on their way to developing their own customised video game. The lowest prices are on Amazon.
6) How to Think like Coder without Even Trying (age 7+), £12.99
This recently-launched book by one of Fire Tech’s own, Jim Christian, offers a no-experience-necessary approach to learning how to code. It’s back-to-basics approach focuses initially on the key concepts of coding rather than launching directly into specific programming techniques. You’ll learn concepts like loops, data types, pseudocode and calculations before writing a single line of code. Straight-forward exercises are also included to encourage and drive critical thinking, creativity, logic, and problem-solving. Once the conceptual foundation is established, Christian offers some beginning programmes to aid your child’s code-learning journey. The book targets all beginners, both adults and children, so is a highly credible way to introduce the fun of coding to your family this holiday season.
7) littleBits Arduino Coding kit (age 12-18), £49.99
Another fantastic introduction to coding, but designed more for your older child or teenage tinkerer. littleBits are essentially small magnetic pieces, or ‘bits,’ of circuits that interchangeably snap together to build and create lots of things like sensors, music, or even just lighting things up.
This particular kit comes with eight ‘little bits’ including an Arduino module. It also comes with a rechargeable battery for powering three inputs and three outputs, so is a great starter kit for those that want to take their circuitry to the next level. It’s also an incredible learning environment for getting your child to explore and experiment with both hardware and electronics.
8) Lego Technic Kits (age 7- 14 ), £34.99 – £159.99
Lego Technic is one of the sub-brands of well known Danish company, Lego. However, instead of the standard studded components we all know and love, the Technic line uses interconnecting plastic rods, gears, wheels, axles, beams, pegs, and other movable, realistic parts. It’s more like model-building or construction and promotes fine motor skills, creativity, and spatial development.
The purpose of this series is to encourage your child to build more advanced and realistic creations and that functions much closer to the corresponding real life working machine. They definitely take a bit more time, but the end result is assembling something far more complex, technical, and accomplished than the original colourful blocks of our youth.
9) UBTech First Order Stormtrooper Bot (age 14+), £299.99
It seems that everyone’s got a robot these days, but this one is for the books. Humanoid robot-maker UBTECH is launching their newest bot, the First Order Stormtrooper, in November for all Star Wars-avid, robot-admiring fans.
The technology combination of an augmented reality feature app, biometric facial recognition for up to three faces, and voice command capability allows you to let this loyal soldier patrol your home and protect your child’s room from the unsavoury Resistance while providing the wonder of robotics. The price packs a punch, but will bring much satisfaction to droid devotees everywhere.
10) Fire Tech Camp Christmas Courses (age 9-17)
It wouldn’t be a Fire Tech Camp gift list if we didn’t include our own empowering and inspiring courses. At the moment we’re offering several December courses that would excite and delight your student’s passion and enthusiasm for learning and technology. From 3D Game Development with Unity to World Building with Minecraft, from Robotics with Lego Mindstorms to Teen Coding with Python II, we’ve got a course full of fun for your curious coder, tinkerer, artist, or maker.
Visit us for more specific course information or to gift one for December.