Choosing toys for children and grandchildren is a tricky pleasure. With the stores full of cheap tat – novelties with the value and lifespan of a meme on social media – it is so easy to buy things which entertain briefly before dying or being forgotten.
Some toys, notably LEGOⓇ kits, are in a different league, but of late even they seem more concerned in linking to popular culture than providing tools to expand young minds.
If you have not yet discovered littleBits™ electronics kits, then let me introduce you to the most empowering ‘toys’ that I have come across since LEGOⓇ. They are not cheap, but with a little care should last well into the next generation.
We all know how important it is for children to gain an early understanding of concepts which will be important in adult life, as well as having fun. Electronics is an area in which they need to acquire thorough understanding and competence, and in which children of all abilities (and ages!) enjoy, when it is presented well. For some, throwing them a box of wire-wrap components, breadboards, and a couple of electronics books might ignite a burning passion. But most kids struggle with that, and it simply turns them off.
LittleBits™ kits package useful electronic units into neat modules, which link together using magnetic connectors. Instead of loose components, these modules are far more accessible, usable, and conceptually meaningful. Beautifully illustrated manuals guide them through a basic repertoire of projects, with all the explanation necessary to bring understanding and insight into why and how electronic devices work.
So far we have bought our grandson two littleBits™ kits: the general purpose Premium Kit with switches, a fan, and more, which provides an excellent start in using and understanding circuits; and the Synth Kit, created in conjunction with Korg, which will help him understand the basics of sound generation, signal processing, and more. These kits are simply gorgeous in their presentation. Housed in fibre trays within their own organiser box, they are thoroughly well designed and produced.
Kits and modules cover much of the broad scope of modern electronics, with a Space Kit, Arduino integration, and IoT-style Smart Home and cloudBit Kits. Modules are also available separately, at prices which are more within reach of a young teenager’s budget, allowing them to expand and extend as they wish. Please ensure that you give them to your (grand)daughter(s) too: littleBits™ is gender-free and enjoyed by all.
LittleBits™ is also Open Source and encourages the development of new ideas and new modules, particularly through its website. For those with bigger budgets or groups to cater for, there are even bigger kits that the rest of us will just have to dream about.
Major online retailers such as Amazon now carry a good range of littleBits™ kits and modules, and if you can get to the new littleBits™ store at 355 West Broadway, SoHo, New York City, you are likely to spend even more.