When you first open a littleBits kit, you might think you were looking at a box of random electronic components that you might find at a flea market. There’s a bit of truth there—you are getting a collection of components—but there’s more to it than that. Each set includes LED lights, servos, battery or power blocks, and various sensors. The object is to build something that does something, and that’s exactly what you and the kids will be able to do. The instruction book does as great job of explaining how things work, but littleBits is all about hands-on learning. String the pieces together along with materials of your own to make everything from simple on/off circuits and back massagers to moving vehicles and musical instruments. Need a little inspiration? The website has plenty of suggestion for all skill levels. littleBits is as fantastic way to introduce the kids (and yourself) to basic and not-so-basic electronics. Yes, you’re dealing with electricity, but there’s no danger of anyone getting hurt. The pieces fit together only in ways that make electrocution pretty much impossible. Perhaps the best part is watching your child think through problems, going from “what I want to happen” to “hey, I can make that happen!” For ages 5 and up. $99 to $199. http://littlebits.cc/
Air-Stream machines are to air what littleBits is to electronics. These engaging, fun—and, yes, educational—kits tech kids (and their parents) about air pressure and air-driven mechanics. The kit comes with everything you need to complete 10 different projects, each of which highlights a real-world application that convert air flow to electrical or mechanical energy. There are propeller-driven vehicles and batting machines that toss balls in the air. But the star of the show is a hovercraft that can actually float over land or water. Really. The accompanying booklet is both instruction manual and educational text. Air-Stream machines are perfect for anyone 8 and up who’s got an interest in science or green technology. From Thames & Kosmos (http://www.thamesandkosmos.com) or your favorite retailer for about $63.00.
Edutech Throttle Motorcycle
The Throttle Motorcycle is part of a line of toys that’s designed to show kids the inner workings of various vehicles in an interactive way. The motorcycle is already assembled, but the outer shell is transparent so kids can see how 10 separate parts of the bike function, including brakes, exhaust, engine, transmission, and turn signals. The included storybook, which you’ll enjoy reading to your little one, explains each of those functions and then gives the child a code to activate that specific system. The code is entered by pushing a combination of simple buttons (circle, square, triangle, and X) on the bike itself. Because it’s so solidly built and there aren’t any tiny swallowable pieces, the Throttle is great for kids as young as three. Batteries are required and the bike can get a little noisy with all the revving, but there’s a parent-friendly volume control that will undoubtedly come in handy. http://worxtoys.com/
You and your kids can learn the science of cooking while creating real, edible (and quite tasty) candies and chocolates at home. You’ll learn why sugar crystallizes, and about heat and the phases of matter by molding chocolates and using the candy thermometer. Your child can learn about measurements and conversions, volumes, and weights, and then eat the conclusions. The kit includes metal molds, thermometer, spatula, dipping fork, foil, paper cups, sticks, wrappers and a nice manual, but you’ll need to supply the ingredients. Parental supervision definitely required. $38. http://www.thamesandkosmos.com/