Kids love Minecraft. The building game is great for expanding the imagination. With the book and code available in Learn to Program with Minecraft, kids are also taught how to use the Python programming language to further customize a Minecraft world—by building disco dance floors, turning swords into magic wands, and much more.
Published by No Starch Press, Learn to Program with Minecraft is available as a printed book and e-book for $29.95 or as just an e-book for $24.95. Both editions include the code needed for instruction and, although the publisher does not make age recommendations, it’s made for kids new to coding but familiar with Minecraft.
GoldieBlox makes award-winning construction and STEM toys for girls. Founder and CEO, Debi Sterling, had one main goal: get girls building! They are determined to disrupt the ‘pink’ toy aisle and make toys and games that will stimulate and sustain girls’ interest in STEM (studies show that when STEM toys and classes are mostly targeted to boys, girls start to lose interest in STEM by age 8). GoldieBlox works with many partners to foster STEM interest and skill in girls, including Black Girls Code, Girls Who Code, and the Society of Women Engineers.
The GoldieBlox toys are actually kits where girls are taught skills about science and engineering by building roller coasters, rockets, racing cars and much more, in story lines involving Goldie and her ethnically-diverse group of friends.
Toys and kits range from $8-$224 and are suitable for ages 4 and up.
Makey Makey is a kid’s invention kit. With it, youngsters can take everyday objects and turn them into ‘smart’ devices that are automated and connect to the Internet (check out the Makey Makey site for the Banana Piano).
The kit turns everyday items into interactive keyboards, but it also teaches how to build controllers and other devices. Makey Makey is suitable for ages 8 and up and is priced at $49.95 for the Simple Box and $59.95 for the Giftable Collector’s box.
Buzz and his friends, the Pixel Pals, teach kids the fundamentals of electronic design with the Buzz’s Brain Blast kits. From soldering circuitry to programming, kids are taught complex concepts in fun and interactive ways. The basic kit is priced at $25 and an add-on, which teaches the basics of robotics, is available for another $20. The kits work with Raspberry Pi, Arduino, and Brain Board systems.
This is a microscope that kids assemble themselves. It zooms up to 750x, allowing a view of the tiniest of details. Unlike many traditional microscopes, this one uses an LED light for its light source instead of a mirror, providing viewing any time of the day.
For an additional $20, the DIY Slide Making Kit can be included. The kit instructs on preparing specimens for microscopic observations on glass slides. Pollen, fibrous tissue, and even bring shrimp ship with the kit for observation. The DIY Microsoft Kit is priced at $40.
Foundation Chemistry Set
The Foundation Chemistry Kit is a great way for kids to create their own—safe—chemistry experiments. The kit includes many items one would find in a traditional chemistry lab, including a lab book, safety goggles, beakers, a thermometer and more.
The company that makes the kit, Yellow Scope, was started by scientists Marcie Colledge, Ph.D. and Kelly McCollum, MPH, to get real science into the hands of girls. The founders seek to build girls’ confidence in science at the age when their interest in STEM subjects is most vulnerable.
The Foundation Chemistry Kit is priced at $44.
Lulzbot Mini 3D Printer
The priciest item on the list at $1250, the LulzBot Mini 3D Printer is a great STEM investment for older kids with an interest in art and computer design.
3D printers allow printing artistic 3D objects, replacement parts, accessories for cosplay costumes and more. The LulzBot Mini 3D printer is an ideal home 3D printer because it has a small, desktop form factor and a relatively low price for a 3D printer. This particular printer has received high marks from professional printer reviewers at PCMag.com. ComputerWorld, and Make (Magazine).
Virtual Reality is all the rage and 2016 is expected to be a year of VR innovation. There are expensive headsets that are coming to or are on the market, including the Samsung Gear VR ($99), the Oculus Rift ($TBA), and the Microsoft HoloLens (Development Edition, $3000).
You can save some money and get your kids a jump start on VR with Google Cardboard. Although there are numerous third parties from which you can buy an already-made Google Cardboard headset, you can download the template and have the kids make their own with just cardboard and a few items that can be found in hardware stores or online (velcro, rubber bands, a lens, and other needed items that are listed in this download. 3D Google Cardboard content continues to become available via apps and games in Google Play.
Discover Electronics Kit
The Discover Electronics Kit v2 is an ideal kit for teaching the fundamentals of electronics. Kids build circuits from the included components and make objects such as LED flashers and noisemakers.
The kit is priced at $50 and requires four AA batteries.
Sylvia’s Super Awesome Project Book
Sylvia is a real-life kid who has written and illustrated her Sylvia’s Super-Awesome Project Book to teach other kids about creating Arduino microcontroller programming. Arduino is an electronics platform that many inventors are using to create smart, connected ‘Internet of Things’ devices, such as smart lights, cookware that can be controlled with an app, and much more.
From Sylvia’s book, kids learn how to make a strobe light and musical instruments. More importantly, they are learning important skills in electronics, computer hardware, and coding.
Sylvia’s Super-Awesome Project Book is priced at $16 and includes everything needed to build the projects.