10 Dec 2015

Build your own techie toys for Xmas

12:11 pm on 10 December 2015

We are well and truly living in the digital age and children are more tech-savvy than ever.

That can be intimidating when looking for Christmas presents for the children in your life.

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The Code Club at Maungaraki School. Photo: RNZ / Kate Pereyra Garcia

At the Code Club at Maungaraki School in Lower Hutt, students have been learning to programme their own games.

The Mind Lab by Unitec - a digital learning partnership - runs events during school holidays for children who want to know more about technology

Unitec's David Parsons said fostering technological creativity was important.

"We don't know what's going to happen in the future, but we do know that there are going to be problems to be solved and therefore if kids grow up understanding that they can solve problems, that they can be imaginative and creative, and they don't have to just learn some facts and reiterate them... that's really what it's all about."

At Mind Lab they use products such as Makey Makey. "By connecting this little circuit board to various things, including themselves, they plug it into a computer, they programme it using a visual programming language called Scratch, and they can make their own keyboards and drum kits out of cardboard and plasticine and silver paper and all sorts of other materials."

Plenty of toys in the shops lose their appeal after a few days but things that inspire creativity will always be popular, Dr Parsons said.

General manager of Code Clubs Aotearoa Michael Trengrove said it was about people learning how things were made rather than just using the final hardware.

There are more than 130 code clubs in New Zealand.

Mr Trengrove said Scratch, a free online programming language created by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), was a great tool for teaching coding.

Tim Carr, who started his own company Mind Kits selling tech toys, said parents should not be intimidated about getting their children involved.

"Being ok with being a facilitator, and allowing us to make those mistakes and saying to our kids, gee, I don't know lets go and see if we can find out."

His favourite item is the mBot, a build-your-own robot that children then programme themselves.

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Photo: RNZ/ Kate Pereyra Garcia

Techie toy ideas

  • Scratch - a free programming language.
  • mBot - build-your-own robot.
  • Hello Ruby - a children's book and app that teaches programming fundamentals.
  • Raspberry Pi - a tiny computer to learn programming on.
  • Kano - a build your own computer.
  • Makey Makey - a physical computing platform that allows you to use anything as a keyboard.
  • Chibi circuit sticker book - LED stickers which introduce children to circuits.

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