For parents looking to prise their children away from a life online, there are plenty of tangible, inventive, educational and/or entertaining physical products out there for the tech-savvy children of 2015.
Whether you’re a parent, carer, relative or family friend – and whatever your price range – you’re spoiled for choice when it comes to tech-related presents this year. Here are some of the best examples.
1. Amazon Fire HD Kids Edition Tablet (£100)
If your children are constantly trying to get their hands on your tablet, it may make sense to buy them their own – with suitable rules about how much they use it, of course. Amazon’s child-focused tablet is well worth a look. For £100 you get a nippy device with a chunky rubberised case to protect it from drops – with Amazon’s Fire for Kids Unlimited £3.99-a-month subscription bundling apps, books and games.
2. Coding for Beginners Using Scratch (£13)
Usborne has been publishing children’s books about programming since the late 1970s, and its latest release fits neatly into that fine heritage. The book focuses on Scratch, the visual programming environment that’s being used in a growing number of British schools to introduce kids to coding. It’s an accessible introduction, walking children through the basics before getting them started on some fun projects to stretch their skills.
Millions of children love playing Minecraft, as well as watching the online videos that were created using it by YouTubers like Stampy and The Diamond Minecart. This kit from Mattel aims to turn kids into blocky storytellers in their own right, though. It’s a set of props and mini-figure characters that can be arranged, then moved to create stop-motion films using the (free) companion app for Android or iOS.
4. Haynes Build Your Own V8 Engine (£40)
How many modern parents feel truly at home when peering into the innards of their cars? Perhaps it’s time to train up our children. This kit from the company behind the famous car manuals is a fully functioning V8 petrol engine, which children can build from scratch. Flashing spark plugs and sounds recorded from the real thing are included.
This isn’t a gadget: as far as your children are concerned, it’s just a print book. But the technology is behind the scenes. First, because it’s personalised to your child’s name, following on from publisher Lost My Name’s first book The Little Boy/Girl Who Lost His/Her Name. But secondly, because your address is used to make the final page a satellite map of your own house. Watch your children’s jaws drop when they realise.
6. SAM Science Museum Inventor Kit (£100)
Micro-electronics may be making a comeback in a number of schools, but getting hands-on with hardware can still be intimidating for children. The Science Museum’s Inventor Kit aims to make it more accessible, with a box of sensors and buzzers that can be connected wirelessly and controlled via a companion app. Five projects, from sending Morse code to playing a drum machine, are included.
7. PlayOsmo Starter Kit (£70)
Osmo is an iPad accessory aimed at 5-13 year-olds, with a base that the tablet stands in, and a mirror that attaches to its top to turn your table into a “playing field”. That means children can place the supplied number or letter tiles, wooden puzzle pieces or their own drawings in front of the iPad to play Osmo’s learning and creativity games. It has lots of potential for future expansion.
8. Boom Kids Coloud headphones (£25)
If your children are blasting Justin Bieber, One Direction or Cradle of Filth Taylor Swift at you, these colourful over-ear headphones may be just the thing to keep your Christmas peaceful. They’re light but feel like they could take a battering, and the most appealing feature for parents may be the built-in volume control that enables you to limit how loud your children play their music.
9. World of Warriors: A New Hero (£7)
Not a piece of technology, but rather a novel based on a mobile game: Mind Candy’s history-themed World of Warriors, which like the same company’s Moshi Monsters, has spawned a host of merchandise in time for Christmas 2015. So can a mobile game really encourage children to read? Based on my two sons’ enjoyment of A New Hero, yes. It’s an engaging tale about some of the game’s key characters, which feels like a proper story rather than a thin promotional spin-off.
10. Tiggly Words (£25)
Another tablet accessory, this time for young children – and working with Android tablets as well as iPads. What you get for your 25 quid is a set of physical letters – the five vowels – which are recognised by Tiggly’s apps when placed on the tablet touchscreen. Those apps – Tiggly Doctor, Tiggly Story Maker, Tiggly Submarine and the new Sesame Street Alphabet Kitchen Reading – are free, using the letters to help children practise phonics, problem solving and word building skills, among others.
11. Stargazer Lottie (£20)
Giving the “smart” Barbie doll a miss on privacy grounds? Stargazer Lottie may be an interesting alternative. The character is an astronomer with her own telescope and suitably-warm clothing for night-time stargazing. What’s more, her maker has worked with the European Space Agency, which has launched a companion website to encourage children to find out more about the skies above.
12. Marbotic Smart Letters (£50)
More letters designed to be used with a tablet – iPad only in this case, for now – with Marbotic supplying an entire alphabet’s worth of touchscreen-recognisable wooden letters. Beginning life as a Kickstarter crowdfunding project, the Smart Letters will have two companion apps when they go on sale in early December – Alphamonster and Vocabubble – with more following in 2016. A neat modern twist on wooden-letter puzzles.
13. Touch Board Starter Kit (£95)
More micro-electronics with this kit, which blends wires and alligator clips with traditional papercraft – stickers, cutouts and stencils are included in the box. The core is the actual Touch Board: an Arduino computer with 12 electrodes, that can be connected using “electric paint” – conductive paint that can be painted on to other materials to turn them into sensors. Three projects are suggested in the box, with more inspiration on the official website.
14. Hello Ruby: Adventures in Coding (£11)
Aimed at boys and girls alike, Hello Ruby is the brainchild of Finnish developer Linda Liukas, who raised $380k on Kickstarter in 2014 to crowdfund her book teaching the fundamentals of programming to children. Ruby is the star of the book, which is half story and half coding-related activities. Rather than teach specific languages, it focuses on computational thinking: breaking down tasks into steps, spotting patterns and more.
15. Toca Paper Creatures (£20)
Toca Boca is one of the most inventive, creative children’s app developers in the world, with its quirky animated characters having delighted millions of kids in recent years. Toca Paper Creatures isn’t an app, though: it’s a “play set” of colourful critter parts made from card, which children can slot together however they like to make their own characters.
16. Da Vinci Junior 3D Printer (£300)
Alright, 3D printers may not be at the top of the list of Christmas presents for most parents – let alone within their budgets – but for those wanting to let their children loose on the technology ahead of the crowds, the Da Vinci Jr is worth a try. It promises to avoid the calibration pains of more complex models, and has its own online community for children to find interesting 3D designs to print.
17. Kano Kit (£90)
British startup Kano is another company trying to get children computing – and in this case, they build the computer themselves. Its device is based on the latest Raspberry Pi computer, augmented with a bright orange keyboard and software to get children making music, programming and even fiddling about with Minecraft. Also new: a £110 “screen kit” for children to build their own portable display.
18. EE Robin tablet (£30 + monthly contract)
An alternative to Amazon’s Fire HD Kids Edition (or pass-on iPads) is mobile operator EE’s Robin, which launched in October. It’s an Android tablet that comes preloaded with apps, games and e-books, as well as free access to the (excellent) Hopster service, which bundles streaming TV shows with educational mini-games. Parental controls and a web filtering system are also included.
19. Stampy’s Lovely Book (£8)
If you have children who love Minecraft and YouTube, you’ll already know all about Stampy – aka British YouTuber Joseph Garrett. Having attracted more than 6.6 million subscribers to his channel, this year he launched his first book with publisher Egmont. It’s a mixture of cartoons, quizzes, facts about Stampy and his friends, and activity ideas – plus a cake recipe – with plenty of references for his young fans to spot. More than just a cash-in annual.
20. Dot and Dash coding robots (£130)
More coding for kids – a big theme in 2015 – except this time there’s a pair of rotund robots to help. Dot is the stationary one on the right that looks like a webcam, while Dash is its larger companion, capable of rolling around the room. Both are controlled by stringing together blocks of code in their companion apps, which aim to teach children first programming skills.
21. Techair Universal Tablet Case for Kids (£25)
Whatever tablet your children are using – well, as long as it’s a 10.1-inch one, although a seven-inch version is also available – this case is one of the best ideas for protecting it. Not just because it’ll save you from dreaded screen-crack if the device is dropped on the floor. The selling point here is that the outside of the case is wipe-clean, with washable pens provided for children to scribble their own doodles on the case and colour them in.
22. Raspberry Pi 2 Model B (£26)
The main appeal of the Kano computer is that it makes the Raspberry Pi a bit more accessible to children. But if they (or you) are more confident, you may want to go straight to the raw materials and buy the latest Pi computer board. It’s six times faster than the previous model, and capable of supporting the Windows 10 operating system if Linux isn’t your thing. You’ll need to buy other devices like a screen and keyboard, but putting a Pi-based system together from scratch can be a really fun joint project.
23. Gameband (£65)
One more gift for Minecraft-mad children: this is for those who are playing Mojang’s game on a desktop computer rather than a console or mobile device. Gameband is a wearable band that, when plugged in via USB, backs up children’s Minecraft worlds, so they can take them to play at friends’ houses. A few worlds come preloaded, and the device also works as a pixellated watch – complete with software to customise its display.
24. DIY Electro Dough Kit (£15)
In truth, any product on the marvellous Technology Will Save Us website is worth your consideration for Christmas gifting. But it’s the DIY Electro Dough Kit that may be most enticing: it’s a collection of lights, switches and buzzers designed to be squashed into Play-Doh (or dough that you’ve made with your children at home) to create colourful – and squidgy – electronic circuits. The website offers plenty of ideas for what to make, if inspiration is lacking.
25. Meccano Meccanoid G15 KS Robot (£170)
Yes, it’s expensive. Yes, building it will likely suck up your entire Christmas morning at least – it has more than 1,100 pieces. But Meccano’s humanoid(ish) robot is up there with Lego’s Mindstorms EV3 bot as a brilliant way into robotics for young makers. As with other devices in this roundup, there’s a companion app to control the G15, although children can also teach it through speech and movement.
Another traditonal print book, but again, this was spawned by a digital world. In this case, it’s Night Zookeeper, the online community where children dream up and draw their own magical animals, while reading (and creating) stories and playing a game to defend their zoo. Now there’s book to expand on the world and its creatures, complete with spying giraffes and a time-travelling elephant. This was one of the first books that I caught my (previously reluctant-reader) six year-old son reading by himself after lights-out – high praise indeed.
27. Ozobot Bit (£50)
Forget humanoids: this pocket-sized robot is more reminiscent of an old-school Apple iMac mouse. It packs plenty of smarts though: children “program” the device by drawing lines and blocks of colour on paper, which are translated into commands by its OxoBlockly programming tool. The Ozobot companion apps for Android and iOS will teach children how to get the most out of the robot.
28. Tube Heroes DanTDM Hero Pack (£15)
How can action figures have a tech angle? When they’re based on famous YouTubers, of course. British gamer Daniel “The Diamond Minecart” Middleton has one of the most popular channels in the world in 2015 thanks to his Minecraft adventures. He was also one of the first stars to be turned into a “Tube Heroes” action figure, complete with his wolf Grim. Others in the series include CaptainSparklez, Sky and Tobuscus – all familiar names to young Minecraft fans.
More micro-electronics, in a well thought out box of tricks that aims to get children hands-on with transistors, resistors, capacitors and wires. The focus is on kids building their own projects, from lights and alarms to a loudspeaker for their music. There are eight projects in all, but plenty of inspiration for further experiments after they’ve been completed.
30. I Spy With My Little Eye: Things That Spy on Me (£0.01)
One for slightly older kids. It may seem cheap and somewhat churlish to give your children a present that cost you a penny and may induce paranoia. But they have to learn sometime (about reasons for paranoia, not about your cheapness and churlishness – although that too). This book from tech firm Hide My Ass “details 27 internet-connected household products and appliances that could be hacked into or used to spy on people without their knowledge”. Happy Christmas…
That’s 30 ideas for your Christmas gifting, but what have we missed? The comments section is open for your suggestions of tech-related presents for children.
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