Here’s What 4 Tech And Media Influencers Are Buying Their Own Kids For Back To School

Technology, app development, and educational publishing experts offer their picks to make your kids smarter.

by Steve Schiff
Originally Published: 
back to school

This round up is just one in Fatherly’s exhaustive Back To School Product Guide. Click here for everything from your kid needs, from winning math to standing at a bus stop on the rain (which is what you used to do, only uphill both ways).

There’s no getting around the fact that you’re going to be spending a bunch of dough on your kid this back to school season. The only issue is whether you’ll spend it wisely. To help you out, here are 13 back to school essentials selected by four individuals who have made their names and their livings making kids of all ages smarter: Tinybop founder Raul Gutierrez, Museum Of Modern Art associate publisher Charles Kim, WIRED editor-at-large Jason Tanz, and the GeekDad himself, Matt Blum.

Raul Gutierrez, Founder Of Tinybop

Sons, 8 and 10Gutierrez’s studio turns out quirky apps with lessons on things like biology, physics, and cultural anthropology that are baked in so artfully, your kids won’t even realize they’re learning. Both his sons will be taking tech classes this year, so he’s been focused on products that can help them understand the fundamentals.

  • Chibitronics Circuit Stickers — “This ingenious kit combines stickers and electronics, letting kids make working circuits using stickers.” Buy Now $30
  • Pocket Operator Synthesizer Kits — “One of the most fun ways to teach ideas around electronics is with music. Teenage Engineering sells surprisingly sophisticated synth kits in a super-kid friendly package.” Buy Now $59
  • Maps — “I’m old fashioned about geography — I think kids should know the names of places and the basic shape of the globe. Finding a way in, in the era of Google Earth, has been hard, but I just bought this great, lushly illustrated children’s book, which seems to be just right for kids. The details are fun and fascinating.” Buy Now $23

Charles Kim, Associate Publisher, MoMA

Daughter, 9New York’s Museum Of Modern Art publishes 25 to 30 of them a year, so Kim knows from books. But even he has a hard time keeping up with his daughter, who devours anything Lemony Snicket and Richard Riordan. Still, she’ll occasionally put those down in favor of these.

  • Young Charlotte, Filmmaker — “Children, when you ask them what they want to be, they say fireman or doctor or ballerina. They don’t often say curator or painter or designer. So, at MoMA, we started a series of books in which children practice professions related to the museum’s collections and activities. This one is about a girl who makes films.” Buy Now $15
  • 3D Doodler Pen — “It allows you to create everything from taxi cabs to little boys and girls, and it’s all done with filament, a changeable nozzle, and a smoothing tool to refine things. Two hours go by and she’s still focused, concentrating on building whole communities. She likes Legos, but this is a step up in terms of creativity.”Buy Now $102
  • Exploration ($4) (iOS) (Android) — “It’s like Minecraft, except there’s no killing. She didn’t like the zombies chasing her or having to kill cows or pigs to move forward. She liked using her imagination in 3 dimensions, and this game allows her to just build.”

Jason Tanz, Editor-At-Large, WIRED Magazine

Son, 6Tanz, like most parents, expresses a desire for his kid to understand the basics of programming, based on the assumption that those skills will be essential in the economy he grows up in. “I don’t care so much about Mandarin exposure,” Tanz says. “But interacting with stuff, modding it, and making it his own, is a good gateway into [programming].”

  • Hackaball — “It’s a ball with sensors and lights in it so if you drop it, for example, it changes color. Or you can play hot potato and after a certain period of time it starts vibrating and that person is out. You determine different games by using an iPad app, which might be over-ambitious to call ‘programming,’ but at least he’s not just staring at a screen.” Buy Now $89, pre-order
  • Kano — “Instead of building a snap-together model airplane, you can build a working computer. The idea is, instead of just buying something and using it and having no idea what’s inside (which is really my orientation to the world), he’ll understand that, ‘Oh, someone put this together and it has parts that you can get into and rearrange and personalize.’ He has ownership over it; it’s not just consuming.” Buy Now $145
  • Lego Flatiron Building — “He has a lot of kits, but one of his favorites is the Eiffel Tower, which was surprising to me. He’s never been to Paris, but there was something about building it that he really responded to. They have a Flatiron Building, and we live just outside New York, so he can go visit it after we build it.” Buy Now $66

Matt Blum, Editor-In-Chief, GeekDad

Son, 14, Daughter, 12The Editor-In-Chief of Webby-winning parenting site GeekDad, Blum has his fingers on the pulse of cool gadgets, fanboy gear, and cool gadgets that double as fanboy gear. Needless to say, his kids are pretty well kitted out for school.

  • Gunnar Intercept Glasses — “They’re meant for gaming or computing and have a subtle yellow tint and curve that helps filter artificial light. I get migraines from fluorescent light, which my son is starting to get because there’s a genetic component there. These help a lot; if your kid gets headaches at school, it might be because of the lighting.” Buy Now $54
  • Darth Vader Lightsaber Mobile Charger — “This is probably more useful for a college student, since if you’re in high school your phone is probably off for most of the day (or at least it should be), but a pocket charger is a good thing to have. I like things that are geeky and utilitarian.” Buy Now $52
  • Dr. Who Adipose Stress Ball — “We got this for my daughter for school because she was having anger issues. It’s something to get the aggression out, and we’re huge Dr. Who fans. It’s just a silly-looking creature that’s actually made of fat, but it’s cute.” Buy Now $17

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