These days, if you’re failing to raise your kid on a solid foundation of programming, engineering, science, and math skills you immediately forgot after eighth grade graduation, you may as well be raising the Wolfpack. STEM education is all the rage and it’s not going anywhere as long as the future is chock full of high-tech jobs that don’t exist yet. Give your kid one of these 10 programming, engineering, and construction toys and they could end up building the next Santa tracker. Which is currently running on a severely outdated platform.
Wonder Workshop Dash And DotDash and Dot are a pair of adorable, programmable robots that can build, make music, or just drive around looking festive in reindeer antlers and Santa hats, because they’re LEGO-compatible. Coding the bots to do their bidding helps kids understand that computers are actually machines that people build to do what they want, not just sentient hunks of metal that wreak havoc out of the box. Not yet, anyway.
Wonder Workshop Dash & Dot Robot Wonder Pack ($280)
Makey MakeyMakey Makey Classic and Makey Makey GO are a mini circuit board and USB stick that turn anything into a touchpad, with endlessly awesome possibilities. Banana keyboard? Check. Jell-O joystick? Done. SmartPie Selfie camera that automatically snaps a photo when your kid takes a cream pie to the face?? Hell yes. For 25 bucks, you give your kid the ability to create all that other crap on their list. It’s a Christmas miracle!
Makey Makey Classic ($50)
Makey Makey GO ($25)
GoldieBlox All Gold EverythingLiterally every GoldieBlox thing. If you still don’t know about GoldieBlox: 1) What the hell were you doing during the Super Bowl and Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade? 2) Seriously? Here’s the skinny: they blew past their $150,000 Kickstarter goal in 4 days, and less than 3 years later are “disrupting the pink aisle” in Toys ‘R’ Us stores nationwide, slinging engineering toys to good little future-building girls of all ages. So yeah, that little girl on your list wants all of them.
GoldieBlox All Gold Everything ($280)
BitsboxBitsbox delivers a new set of coding projects every month that allow kids age 6-12 to build real apps for real devices (in real life, despite being originally launched on the Island Of Made Up Toys that is Kickstarter). The ongoing subscription ensures their interest in coding won’t wane over time. Kind of like your Fitbit keeping you focused on that New Year’s weight loss resolution. How many steps did you take today?
Bitsbox ($20 monthly PDF, $40 month to month, $35 for 3 months, $30 for 12 months)
Makedo Cardboard ConstructionWhatever you give your kid, they’d rather play with the box. So after you clean up the tinsel and wrapping paper explosion and they’ve tired of what’s inside the packages, create something truly epic with Makedo’s starter kit. The safety saw and fastener screws will ensure that all your parts are customized and securely fastened. Because a homemade Santa sleigh is great, but Scotch tape just doesn’t hold at those altitudes.
Makedo Cardboard Construction Starter Toolkit ($13)
Code Monkey IslandThis board game cleverly uses cards to teach kids programming skills like strategic problem solving, adaptability, looping, assignment operations, and Boolean operators. The cards dictate how each player’s team of monkeys moves towards their goal of reaching the banana patch, and your kids don’t even realize they’re learning because LOOKIT THE MONKEYS!
Code Monkey Island ($35)
Modular RoboticsThese blocks snap together using magnets and ball-bearings to form thousands of robots. Kids as young as 4 can build simple robots (and their understanding of larger systems) with Cubelets, while MOSS kits offer more complex robot builds that older kids can program to respond to light and proximity. Consider these the ghosts of LEGO future, after the robots have taken over and blocks have evolved.
Modular Robotics ($150 And Up)
KanoEveryone knows Nintendo 64 is the best ever (YASSSS!), but how does it work? You never learned, but your born online should, and this build-and-program-it-yourself computer kit helps them do so. Kids age 6-14 “level up” through the story-like instructions by learning to add functionality like internet browsing, and tweak games like Minecraft, which you still don’t need to understand.
Kano Computer Kit ($150)
LightUpKids snap together magnetic components like batteries, LED lights, and buttons to build any kind of gizmo, then photograph it with the LightUp tutor app, which shows via overlay the flow of electricity or things they need to fix. Once complete, devices are programmable via any browser. Your kid will be equally equipped to become a programmer or an electrician. Or help you get those damn Christmas lights to stop blinking.
LightUp — Edison ($39)
LightUp — Tesla ($96
Hello RubyHello Ruby became the most funded children’s book ever on Kickstarter because you want your kids to speak code the same way your parents wanted you to speak Spanish. The story introduces coding basics through storytelling and activities as main character Ruby befriends anthropomorphized programming languages in her quest to find 5 hidden gems. What, like talking reindeer are much more realistic?
Hello Ruby: Adventures In Coding by Linda Liukas ($13)