10 tech toys to help kids learn as they play

Here are some really cool kits and games for future IT talent.

  • 4M Solar Rover

  • Robot Turtles

  • Snap Circuits

  • Makey Makey

  • Fisher-Price Code-a-pillar

  • littleBits Rule Your Room Kit

  • Kano Technologies Kano Computer Kit

  • Wonder Workshop Dash

  • Thames & Kosmos Robotics Workshop

tech toys for kids

Tech toys that teach

Buying a great holiday gift for the kids in your life can, at first, seem easy ("Of course they would love another LEGO set!"). But the problem with so many of the toys out there is that they lack an educational component, especially one that teaches about a subject that's increasingly important in our lives: tech.  

We’ve got you covered. Here are a variety of gifts that help teach kids about science and technology, but in a fun way, so they won’t even realize they are learning. These toys are, at the same time, innovative, educational, and not the same old thing. Prices range from under $20 all the way up to $200, so there is a gift idea here to fit your budget.

And if you are still looking for a gift for the adult in your life, check out Computerworld’s holiday gift guide. We’ve surely got something for everyone on your list.

4m solar rover
  • 4M Solar Rover

Green Science Solar Rover

Do you know a Mars enthusiast who follows the happenings of robotic explorers such as NASA’s Curiosity? Then why not get him or her a small solar rover to build at home?

Toymaker 4M’s Green Science Solar Rover uses a recycled soda can (not included) to create a small rover. Not only can kids build the entire rover on their own, they can observe first-hand how solar rays are converted into energy -- as long as the solar panel gets plenty of sunlight in order to work. And if a solar rover isn’t your thing, 4M has many other robotic kits that you can do at home. 4M recommends this toy for kids ages 8+.

robot turtles
Robot Turtles
  • Robot Turtles

Robot Turtles

I’ve said it before and I will say it again -- everyday life has too few robot turtles.

This board game, developed by a Googler looking for a way to introduce his four-year-old twins to programming, is a great introduction to coding for young kids. After creating a maze on the board, kids flip over cards that let them turn right, left or move forward to make their way towards the prize: a jewel in the middle of the board. Robot Turtles has several different levels of play to introduce kids to different coding concepts.

Perhaps one of the most appealing aspects of Robot Turtles is that it is an interactive game that you actually play with the kids in your life, no screen involved. The game is recommended for kids aged 3-8.

snap circuits
Snap Circuits
  • Snap Circuits

Snap Circuits Jr.

Do you have a budding electrical engineer in your life? Snap Circuits might be the perfect gift for him or her.

Each kit comes with a plastic circuit board that you snap electronic components on to. The components, which are color-coded, include snap wires, slide switches, an alarm circuit, a speaker and more. With just the basic Snap Circuits Jr. model, kids can make a musical doorbell, a lamp or a flying saucer. And that is just one model. There are dozens of Snap Circuits sets, with which kids can create infinitely more complicated circuit boards.

Snap Circuits are recommended for kids 8+, but with adult help can be used by kids half that age.

doughnut key
Makey Makey
  • Makey Makey

Makey Makey

I am not going to lie -- I thought this product wasn’t real when I first heard about it.

Makey Makey, which uses a circuit board, connector wires and alligator clips, makes almost anything into a touchpad. Connect Makey Makey to a banana, and you have a banana touchpad. Join it with Play-Doh to make a game controller. As long as the material can conduct electricity, you can use it with Makey Makey.

Makey Makey ($50 vendor price) works by opening and closing circuits. But kids don’t need to know all of that (unless they want to -- then by all means, explain how it works!). They just have to know that they can turn anything they want into a touchpad.

The suggested ages are 8 to infinity.

code a pillar
  • Fisher-Price Code-a-pillar

Think & Learn Code-a-pillar

How young can kids be when they start learning the basics of coding? With Fisher-Price's Think & Learn Code-a-pillar, pretty darn young. The toy, which comes with eight segments (plus a head), teaches preschoolers the basics of planning and sequencing. Each segment designates a specific movement for the Code-a-pillar. How kids put the toy together dictates how it moves -- and because they can take the Code-a-pillar apart and put it back together in multiple different configurations, kids can make it move however they want. They can even set up obstacle courses for the Code-a-pillar to move through.

To more effectively hold the interest of young kids, the Code-a-pillar, which sells for $46 (vendor price), lights up and makes noises as it moves -- because what small child doesn’t like that? Recommended for ages 3-6.

littlebits rule your room
  • littleBits Rule Your Room Kit

LittleBits Rule Your Room Kit

How many of us have heard our kids say, “Don’t touch my stuff!” Kids are famously protective of their things and their space, and now the LittleBits Rule Your Room Kit lets them protect it -- with technology. 

Using the “bits” that come with the kit, kids can use circuits to create defensive gadgets for their possessions. The lights, sensors, controls and motors snap together with magnets. The kit even comes with a Makey Makey, so kids can connect them to everyday objects to have a specified reaction when someone tries to, say, access their piggy bank or open their diary. The kit costs $100 (vendor price) and is recommended for ages 8+.

kano computer kit
  • Kano Technologies Kano Computer Kit

Kano Computer Kit

Kids love screens (heck, so do adults), but many parents want to make sure that kids are using said screens for educational purposes. Well, the Kano Computer Kit does just that, and takes it a step farther.

You see, kids can’t even get this computer to work without first building it. The kit ($140 vendor price) makes the whole thing easy -- Kano comes with a detailed instruction book that is as easy to follow along with as a LEGO instruction book, the company says. The computer is powered by a Raspberry Pi 3, and comes with its own Kano OS, which is supposed to “demystify the PC and teach computational thinking.”

The apps that come with the computer encourage kids to learn how to code by hacking the games kids might otherwise just play. Recommended for ages 6+, but younger children may need a bit of help. The basic kit doesn’t come with a monitor, but it can connect to any HDMI screen.

dash front
Wonder Workshop
  • Wonder Workshop Dash


Kids are fascinated by robots. But robots now are a lot more educational than the Transformers of my youth. Enter Wonder Workshop's Dash

This little blue robot comes ready to go, right out of the box. Pair it with one of Dash’s educational apps, available for Android, iOS and Amazon, and you can make the robot do, well, lots of stuff. Using the apps, which teach the fundamentals of coding, kids can make Dash zig and zag around the house, play a xylophone, or sing, among other things.

Dash ($150 vendor price) comes with a USB charging cable and connectors that let kids use LEGO with their robot. Some of the apps are good for all ages, others are recommended for 8+.


Basic Flybrix Kit

Drones are cool -- there is no denying that. But so many of the drones geared towards kids seem a little, well, uninspired.

Flybrix is different -- it isn’t your typical drone. Kids have to actually build the drone before they can fly it, and they do that using LEGO bricks, which come in the starter kit. With the starter kit, kids can create a quad-, hex- or octocopter. They then control the drone with the companion app, available for iOS and Android. And if the drone crashes, kids can just build it again, differently each time.

What makes this drone special is that instead of just flying around, kids are learning about aerodynamics and electrical engineering. The kit comes with everything you need to get started. Flybrix is recommended for ages 14+. Just note, the company says the last day to order Flybrix to guarantee a Christmas arrival is December 15th.

robotics workshop
Thames & Kosmos
  • Thames & Kosmos Robotics Workshop

Robotics Workshop

We’ve already established that kids love robots. But what about kids who want to build their own?

For those kids, we have Thames & Kosmos' Robotics Workshop. This kit ($200 vendor price) comes with everything you need to build a robot from scratch. With the instructions that come with the kit, kids can use the parts included to build 10 different robots, or they can go off-script and design their own.

But building the robot alone is not the end goal here -- these robots all do something, like draw, grab objects or shoot balls. Once the robot is built, kids can use the companion app, available for iOS, Android and on Windows PCs, to program the robot.

The Robotic Workshop is recommended for kids 10+.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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