Find presents that will help children get ready for their bright future: Raspberry Pi programming, robotic modelling dough and making your own computer games
Dave Coplin is former Chief Envisioning Officer for Microsoft UK. Discover his suggestions for gadgets and tech toys for kids of all ages.
In a world where algorithms answer our questions and robots do the heavy lifting, what we really need is a way of combining the best of technological capability with the best of human ability, and help our children develop the three most important skills they’ll need: creativity, empathy and accountability.”
1. Pirate Radio kit: build your own internet connected radio/speaker
Age 13+, £42
Build your own internet connected speaker, streaming your choice of internet radio, your Spotify playlist or even your favourite AirPlay content with the Pirate Radio Kit. The kit is straightforward to build and incorporates a tiny Raspberry PI Zero to provide a great introduction to building tangible, beautiful connected devices.
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2. Electro Dough: connected creativity for bright young minds
Age 4+, £25
A 21st century take on an old classic, Electro Dough gives you fun ways to learn and play with dough. Making creations that buzz and light up is a perfect introduction to connected play.
3. Amazon Alexa and Google Home: Virtual Assistants connecting your world with your voice
Age 13+, £35+
The future is filled with virtual agents like Amazon Alexa and Google Home, ready to respond to our voice to help us get the best out of our new digital world. From finding out the weather and our team’s final scores through to accessing the latest shared playlist, these devices bring the internet to us without a screen, keyboard or mouse. Better yet, with a little bit of assistance they can also turn any home into a connected smart home that is fit for purpose for the 21st century.
For bonus points, you could even build your own AIY Voice Kit virtual assistant and embed it within your favourite toy or household object.
4. Arcade Coder: part console, part board game
Age 6+, £129
Welcome to 21st century family game night! Unleash your inner game designer with the amazing Arcade Coder connected electronics kit. An evolution of the traditional board game, the kit teaches kids (and grown-ups) to design, build and play their own games using simple, intuitive app-based block coding.
5. Bearables Bear Kit: sewable, wearable, hackable fun
Age 8+, Price £12.50
A great introduction to e-textiles and making things for kids young and old is the Bearables Bear Kit. Build your own cute wearable and wear it with pride on its own or connect it to a sensor (included) with conductable thread to make your own interactive fashion statement!
6. Micro:bit: embed a little digital magic in your physical creations
Age 8+, £15+
The micro:bit is a cheap yet powerful miniature computer that is easily programmed by pretty much anyone. With a wealth of accessories and tutorials available online, these versatile devices are at home bringing life and logic into any of your creative projects.
7. Picade: build your own retro arcade cabinet
Age 14+ (or younger with adult help), £195
Video game consoles are all the rage, but in the end, aren’t they all a bit samey? Why settle for less when this Picade arcade cabinet kit enables you to build your very own desktop arcade cabinet, complete with arcade quality joystick and buttons. You’ll have a lot of fun building it, and once you’re done you can play your favourite retro-games into the small hours of Boxing Day. Better still, since you built it, you’ll know how to modify and tweak it to be your unique statement of retro-gaming prowess!
8. Portable Powerbank: add more power
Age n/a, £10+
I don’t care how big your phone battery is, you and your family are never going to have enough power to see you through the day, especially given all the new content you’re capturing and unleashing with your new-found creativity. Be a hero for your kids, give them the ability to keep going longer without needing to find a wall socket. But don’t forget to charge it once they’re done with it (because let’s face it, they won’t!).
9. RVR – A state of the art programmable robot
Age 10+, £tbd+
The latest programmable home robot the long-established world leaders in bringing fun, programmable robots into our homes, the Sphero RVR offers a powerful platform packed full of sensors and a powerful motor that creates a canvas for creativity. Build the robot of your dreams and then program it with a simple app on your mobile device.
10. YouTube Starter Kit: Getting started in the world of digital celebrity
Age 13+, £n/a
OK, so this is more of an idea and a shopping list than an actual present, but if you’ve got avid YouTube fans in the house, why not encourage them to become YouTubers themselves? All they need is a hobby or topic they’re passionate about and a modest amount of equipment, and soon they can be hosting their own special interest channel and sharing it with the world.
At the most basic, all you need is a smart phone and some basic editing tools, but as they progress you might want to help them by investing in more specialised equipment. A USB microphone like the Blue Snowball is ideal for adding high quality voice overs, and cameras from GoPros (and their clone equivalent) through to more traditional camcorders can increase the quality of the video dramatically.
But like all things, good equipment without a good idea is nothing so make sure you help them plan out what they want to talk about and how they’re going to curate it. Once they’ve got that sorted the equipment will take care of the rest!
Dave has written two books on the impact of technology on modern society and worked all over the world with organisations, individuals and governments - all with the goal of demystifying technology and championing it as a positive transformation in our society.