Blog

Codezilla's Tech Toy Recos for 2017

I've had 5 parents in 5 days contact me for tech toy recommendations, so I hurriedly wrote this in time for the Holidays! 🙂

  • 200+ kids have played with these toys over the past year. Plus a lot of "big kids" such as Codezilla’s awesome team of instructors and parents.
  • We choose educational STEM and tech toys that spark creativity, curiosity and extended play. They also have to be gender-neutral and F-U-N!

Tech Toy

Price Range

$50 - $200

Codezilla Comments

“Mouse + Maze” / Code & Go Robot Mouse

Low

A personal favourite! This toy promotes conventional play (building) while also introducing early computational thinking (pre-coding skills like logic, sequence).

 

Kids build a maze using tiles, walls and tunnels, position the cheese and then program directions onto the robotic mouse. Good for solo or group play.

TO BUY: available at some Canadian retailers. To buy online, http://amzn.to/2BPwKTY

Kano Motion Sensor

Low

A very cool experience! Nice intro to coding for beginners.

An LED light sensor recognizes your hand motion (how far, how fast) to control the screen.  Easy step-by-step coding instructions to help you play a video game or a musical instrument. 

TO BUY: available at a Canadian retailer. To buy online, http://amzn.to/2Bo7ckS

Makey Makey

Medium

Play a digital piano, drum or video game using quirky control keys! Great for older kids who like to tinker and as a group activity.

This “invention kit” teaches children about circuitry. Plug it into a computer and re-route the keyboard (up/down, left/right keys) using colourful alligator clips that attach to everyday objects that conduct electricity, like Play-Doh, bananas, veggies, etc.

TO BUY: unaware of any Canadian retailer selling this. To buy online, http://amzn.to/2A9fKb2

Ozobot

Medium

Ozobot is one of our favourite Tech Toys - we just bought a 2nd one! Great for all ages and a good entry price for getting into robots and coding.

Both kids and parents get excited watching this tiny robot follow a path they’ve drawn with markers. As kids get more confident, they can use Ozobot with an iPad: trace a path with their finger on the screen or code the robot's movements using Blockly (Google’s programming language).

TO BUY: unaware of any Canadian retailer selling the entry-level kit. To buy online, http://amzn.to/2BStze2

Elenco Snap Circuits

Medium

Lego meets electricity! A popular toy that offers a lot of playtime for adults and kids alike.

We have Snap Circuits 300 (a project for nearly every day of the year) and Snap Circuits Arcade. The payoff is always special: a propeller that spins or flies up in the air (“flying saucer”), disco lights, a variety of sounds - or a combination of the above!

TO BUY: available at many Canadian retailers. To buy online, http://amzn.to/2B23uNd

Kano Pixel Kit

Medium - High

A lot of ‘wow-factor’ and appeals to older and younger kids. A bit bug-y, but it’s an innovative toy to get kids excited about STEM and coding.

Remember Lite-Brite? This is the 21st century version: a light box that plays standalone video games with a simple turn of the knob. Or hook up to your computer for coding sessions for art, apps, games and more.

TO BUY: available at a Canadian retailer. To buy online, http://amzn.to/2BoVg2a

Osmo Genius Kit

Medium - High

Our newest purchase: we can already tell it’s going to be a favourite for adults and kids alike!

You need to have an iPad to use Osmo. After that, you simply download the games such as:

  • Tangram - match your puzzle pieces with the image on the iPad
  • Words - guess and spell out the image on the screen using Scrabble type blocks).

TO BUY: available at many Canadian retailers. To buy online, http://amzn.to/2A75Eao

Dash Robot

High

A class favourite! Pricey, but it’s well made, works for multiple ages and offers a lot of fun, educational play and great intro to coding.

You need to have a tablet (or smart phone) to use Dash. After that, you simply download the app (4 games for different age levels and skills). Kids can advance to drag & drop coding using Blockly (Google's programming language).

TO BUY: available at many Canadian retailers. To buy online, http://amzn.to/2ANGDUZ

 

Disclaimer: We've not found a CDN retailer that stocks all of the toys that we use in our Tech Toys Code + Play workshops (we’ve often had to buy direct from the US) so this info is based on current knowledge. For online sales via the links above, Codezilla earns a small commission.


 

3 Educational Tech Toys That Promote STEM


Research has long confirmed that children learn best through play. And since STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) skills are increasingly important, I invest in enrichment toys that promote play and learning without sacrificing creativity. But I don't want glorified electronics. Nor a remote control car that's been updated as a drone.

A great toy should encourage learning, thinking, creativity, self expression, experimentation, and even trial & error and perseverance. All three of these tech toys hit that mark. In fact, these tech toys are based on timeless childhood toys - such as blocks, LEGO or puzzles. They've just been  modernized for today’s 21st Century child.

Also, all 3 toys are award-winning, so they’ve been endorsed by educators and other parents. Final proof that I shopped smart? Both my daughters (ages 9 and 5) have thoroughly enjoyed them. We frequently host playdates at our home, so when their friends say: “I want this for my birthday," it's the ultimate endorsement! 

Makey Makey

This “invention kit” teaches children about circuitry. Using colourful alligator clips, Makey Makey allows you to make a keyboard (geddit?) from any object of your choosing - just so long as it conducts electricity. Simply plug it into your computer and attach the alligator clips to Play-Doh, bananas or cutlery (we’ve also used carrots and snap peas. And slime!) to transform them into keyboard keys with which to play a digital piano, drum machine or video game controls.

It was invented by MIT, so it’s not surprising that it works well with another widely popular MIT-invention, ScratchScratch has been used by millions of kids worldwide to learn computer programming (coding) so by using Scratch together with Makey Makey, you enable the toy to “grow up” with your child. Translation: great value for money!


Mouse + Maze

Developed by Learning Resources, this toy is actually called Code & Go Robot Mouse Activity Set. (Now you see why I re-branded it).

Kids create their own maze, hide the cheese and then tap (code) directions onto the mouse to help it find the prize. The mouse also flashes light and makes funny sounds when it 'strikes cheese'! This was a great purchase because my younger daughter really enjoys creating the maze: using the platform and pieces (bridges, walls) the construct the labyrinth. As she's gotten older, she better understands the principals of coding: how to program a sequence of directions onto the buzzing and beeping robotic mouse.

Snap Circuit

We have Elenco Snap Circuits SC-300 which has 300 different projects -- nearly one for every day of the year. Think of it as LEGO pieces that ‘snap’ together to create a variety of electrical circuits. The payoff is always special: a lamp that lights up, a siren that sings or a flying saucer that flies up in the air  (that one is always a fav).

Snap Circuits is essentially an electronic, 3D puzzle. It's suitable for both of my older and younger daughters, and can challenge the entire family. Interestingly, my husband noted how he used a kit like this when he was in senior high school -- so it’s great to know that my daughters in elementary school already have a leg up on STEM access! 


At What Age Did These Tech Icons Learn To Code?

There’s a widely-published theory that you need 10,000 hours to become an expert. That works out to approximately 417 days. So if you devoted 2 hours per day to learn a new skill, it would take you approximately 10 years to become a MASTER!

Given this, it’s probably not a big surprise that the world's most successful tech entrepreneurs started computer programming at a young age. We’re also guessing that they devoted a lot more than 2 hours a day to finesse their coding craft!

Here’s a snapshot of when these widely successful tech icons first start to learn computer programming (coding):

  • Larry Page (Google): got his first computer at age 6
  • Elon Musk (Tesla): started coding at age 9
  • Mark Zuckerburg (Facebook): started coding at age 10
  • Jack Dorsey (Twitter): started coding as a teen
  • Kevin Systrom (Instagram): started coding as a teen
  • Bill Gates (Microsoft): started coding as a teen

Yet despite easier-than-ever access to computers, mobile phones and tablets, you may be shocked to learn that many kids don’t officially learn coding until they reach high school (Gr 9 - 12). And while there’s more awareness and effort – like Hour of Code – we already know that you need at least 9,999 more hours to become an expert!

That’s why many tech experts, like Apple CEO Tim Cook, say that “kids should be taught to code alongside the alphabet”. Or taught the language of programming just as they would learn any other language, like French or Spanish. This may help explain why countries such as the US, UK, Australia and Japan have recently made coding mandatory for children as young as 5 years.

So don’t be afraid to get your child exposed to computer programming at a young age. You never know…the next young coder could be the next Mark Zuckerburg, Bill Gates or Elon Musk.