From VR-powered drones to life-like robots and digitally-connected teddy bears, New York Toy Fair had lots of great gadgets.
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The more I talk to kids about what they are dreaming about showing up under the Christmas tree, the more I hear about really cool, high tech gadgets like virtual reality headsets, 3D printers, robots like Spheros or Ozobots, and drones.
Here is a newsflash. All of those items are amazing and all of those items can be really hard to use at the start. I am not trying to play The Grinch here; I am telling you now so you can be ready for the learning curve.
When kids dream of drones, they don’t dream of a parent muttering words that could get them on the naughty list while trying to assemble it. They don’t dream of an endless series of 3 second flights either. They dream of that thing lifting off in the living room and capturing with its camera the majesty of a Christmas morning. Reality is that these toys can make many dreams come true but it will take time. Here are some tips.
1. Prepare yourself. Whether you receive the gift or give the gift, understand that the cool stuff you saw happening in the YouTube promotional video probably was highly edited and performed by the inventors of the device. Make that kind of high level use your goal….someday, not right out of the box.
2. Seek out help. Speaking of YouTube, most companies now post many product support videos online. When I bought my XYZ Mini Maker 3D printer I found their online support videos to be far more detailed and helpful than the printed instructions. You can also often find videos created by other users of the product that share their own tweaks and helpful hints. Use all of the knowledge that exists and that people are willing to share. It can make a big difference.
3. Make it about the journey. Instead of pouting that your first 3D printed phone case turned out more like something stuck to the pan at the bottom of great grandma’s egg casserole, have a laugh and know your skills will greatly improve. Try and figure out what went wrong so you can improve upon future designs. Keep that lumpy pile of goo so that when you are cranking out really cool stuff you can look back and see how far you have come. It has taken me months to produce anything really useful with my printer.
4. Remember 1 thing. Everything is awesome! We are so lucky to be living in the day and age we do….especially over the holidays. If you need a reminder, just listen to the old Christmas carol “Up on the Housetop.” Here is what those kids got from Dear Old Saint Nick:
“Next comes the stocking of little Will
Oh, just see what a glorious fill
Here is a hammer and lots of tacks
Also a ball and a whip that cracks”
No VR headset for little Will? Bummer. Poor Will probably had to go fix the roof and then drive the oxen to town that day once all of the wrapping paper was cleaned up. The point is…..if you get something amazing, be grateful, and when (not if) it doesn’t work perfectly right at the start, be happy about that. Don’t get mad. Getter better at it.
It’s too early to put up your tree. It’s too early to even turn on the 24 hour Christmas music station. No, it is…..well at least at our house. When the turkey dinner is cleaned up, then it…..is…..on!
It’s never too early though to get a jump on holiday shopping and here is your 2015 gift giving guide from MrLosik.com. In the past I have talked iPads and tablets. Last year it was all about putting STEAM in a kid’s Christmas. This year it’s all about “learning toys that kids don’t know are learning toys” with just a little tech sprinkled into the mix. I have included the link to most of these products on Amazon and most have Prime shipping available. Most are also available from the big box department stores like Walmart and Target as so keep your eyes open when out battling the crowds. Keep your eyes open for me as well on WOOD TV next Monday morning (November 30) to about a bunch of these.
Squishy Human Body – The “visible man” human body models have been around for a long time but what makes this one different is that all of the guts come out and kids can spend endless hours doing surgery by extracting them and putting them all back in together. Smart Lab Toys also includes a great guide book that teaches about each body part. This just one of a bunch of amazing products the company offers. There’s a squishy brain that looks totally gross. Get the Squishy Human Body on Amazon for $21.99.
Star Wars Science – Death Star Planetarium – With Star Wars The Force Awakens opening soon, there is no doubt that Star Wars toys are going to be hot this season. It reminds me a lot of the Christmas when I was a first grader. The first movie (or Episode IV – A New Dawn or whatever you want to call it) had just come out and I can’t remember anything I got that Christmas that didn’t have Darth Vader on it. Here comes a great model of the Death Star from Uncle Milton Toys and their line of Star Wars science that turns a dark room into a full map of our night sky or the Star Wars planetary system.
Candy Craft Chocolate Pen – Doodling is great. Doodling with chocolate in a variety of colors is amazing. This pen uses a variety of chocolate-filled cartridges and allows free-hand creativity or is great for filling 50 different molds that are included in the starter kit. I was exploring traditional 3D printers and doodlers, the ones that create plastic objects when I discovered the chocolate pen. Give me chocolate over plastic any day and you will save a bunch of money too. There are a ton of optional accessories that can be added from the Candy Craft line of products from Skyrocket toys. Amazon has it available for $24.93.
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Anki Overdrive Race Track Starter Kit – Take the old slot car race track and move it 50 years into the future. Anki’s starter kit comes with two robotically controlled race cars and eight pieces of easily adjustable track. Instead of just a little trigger that makes the cars go fast or too fast, these cars are controlled by an iOS or Android app. The app talks to the car and the car talks to the track helping to prevent endless spinouts and slide-offs. The app even keeps track of race position and laps completed. No one to race against? No problem. These cars can drive themselves. Yes, just like those Google cars we keep hearing about. If you think that is amazing, they also come with electronic weapons like phasers and forcefields that disrupt the other cars on the track. The starter kit is expandable with more cars and more track pieces, even jumps. This toy is more expensive at $135 but you get a lot of play for the money. it is still cheaper than most gaming systems or larger electronic devices and it stimulates the science, tech, and engineering of racing along with the creativity of designing the ultimate track layout. Get it at Amazon.
Stay In The Game: Jared Veldheer’s Journey To The NFL – I am 100% biased on this one but having spent the last five years creating this book I know it will provide a lot of entertainment and insight to any sports fan age 10 and up. Jared Veldheer was an over-sized, brainy kid who often found it hard to fit-in. Things all changed when he realized he could combine his amazing athletic gifts and size with his intelligence in order to do big things in the sports world. Now he’s one of the top left tackles in the National Football League. If Jared hadn’t made a career of football, the core principles of his life would have likely made him successful in whatever he had decided to pursue.
Jared’s offensive line coach at Hillsdale College was one of the first to read it and said he couldn’t put it down, “ ‘Stay In The Game’ is a great story and a great read. I think current and future football players will benefit tremendously from the insight it provides.”
For $219 this is a great device that does anything you can do with your Chrome browser all with the convenience of the touchscreen and its price comes in way below what tablet makers like Samsung and Apple can offer. It’s made believers out of a lot of educators and I know of at least two districts in Michigan that are selecting this device for their upcoming 1:1 technology initiatives. There is a ton of learning and fun in this one.
A few other odds and ends to explore:
Amazon Fire Tablet: At $49 this is a great little 7″ device for playing games, surfing the web (Do people still say that?), or watching streaming content. It might not have the full capability of an iPad but for under $50 it still packs a lot of fun and functionality.