Tablet screens and apps haven’t gone away, but they’re just not enough on their own. With these toys, kids can create and build with their hands, not just a tablet.
• Osmo. As kids arrange magnetic blocks or puzzle pieces, their creations show up on the iPad thanks to a mirror attached to the tablet’s camera. By arranging blocks, for instance, kids put together lines of code to guide an on-screen monster. Another game teaches entrepreneurial and math skills by letting kids run their own pizza shop. The base set costs $30. You then buy add-ons, such as coding for $50 and the pizza business for $40. It works only with iPads for now.
• Makey Makey. You connect one end to a computer’s USB port and the other to any material that conducts electricity, such as coins or even a banana. Kids can then turn bananas into keyboards and pencil drawings into controls for video games. The basic set costs $25, though for $50, you get additional clips and connector wires.
• Meccano sets. This is for the ‘tween’ or young teen who is handy with a wrench and has a lot of time. Even the trio of smaller Micronoids sets ($40) require a decent amount of time and significant motor skills. The larger models, such as the $140 Meccanoid 2.0, can take the better part of a day to construct. Once assembled, these robots can be programmed to dance, play games and interact with each other.
• Illumicraft. This $20 kit combines science and crafting to introduce basic circuitry. Projects include light-up diaries, jewellery organisers, smartphone speakers and picture frames.
• Code This Drone. This kit includes a drone and a one-year subscription to software company Tynker’s education service. The kit costs $100 to $150 depending on the drone selected. It teaches the basics of coding through games played with an app-controlled mini drone. Kids can programme their own flight plan of flips and turns, or build their own game to send an on-app through an obstacle course, as the real drone mirrors the movements.
Some toy makers say it’s never too early to introduce coding concepts, even if a child is still in diapers.
• Think & Learn Code-a-Pillar. Kids as young as three can “write” code by snapping together a $50 toy caterpillar. Each section signifies a command, such as “go straight” or “play sounds”. Hit the execute button to send the toy crawling in the chosen order. Older kids can programme Code-a-Pillar to reach targets placed across a room, or send it through an obstacle course of their own creation.
• Coji. This $60 mini robot teaches pre-readers to code with emojis. It also reacts when you tilt or shake it, and you can control it with your phone or tablet.
• Code & Go Robot Mouse Activity Set. With this $60 toy, kids build a maze with plastic squares and dividers, then programme their mouse to make its way through to the cheese at the end.
Kids want more than robots they can guide with a remote or smartphone; they want personality, a little friend to whom they can relate and who recognises them.
• Cozmo. This $180, palm-sized robot is expressive, adorable and fun to play with. A team of animators designed more than 500 reactions for the robot to pick from when it sees someone it recognizes, wins or loses a game, or completes a task.
• CHiP. This $200 robot doggie cuddles, plays fetch and follows you around your house. When he’s close to running out of juice, he even heads over to his charging pad and parks himself.
There are toys that make virtual reality affordable.
• Air Hogs Connect: Mission Drone. With this $150 system, kids use an app to fly an included drone over a sensor pad that, combined with a phone or tablet’s camera, places the drone into the game on the screen. As the physical drone moves, so does the one in the game. Kids fly the drone through hoops and shoot down alien invaders.
• VR Real Feel Virtual Reality Car Racing Gaming System. This $30 car racing game includes a wireless steering wheel and a virtual-reality headset you stick your phone into. It’s not the fanciest VR technology, but it’s a lot of fun for what you pay. The system is set to ship on December 12.