littleBits Starter KitSpring 2013 Toys
With littleBits, users are given a playground powered with simple electronics. They are incredibly easy to use (we snapped our first circuit together within minutes of opening the box), but have tremendous potential for more complex products.
Opening the box itself is a lovely experience: the magnetized, hinged lid snaps open to reveal a tray of colorful components: battery, LED lights, wires, switches and knobs, each of them clearly labeled and easy to understand. The simple instructions give short guidelines (any circuit needs a blue power component and a green output, the pink input components and orange wires are optional). It only takes a minute to plug the battery into the blue component, and snap it onto the green led output, and you've turned on a light. The components snap together easily with the help of magnets, so you can't put them together incorrectly.
Once the basics are mastered, exploration begins. The instructions get you started with a few circuits (power + dimmer knob + led light = light you can switch by turning the knob), and offer more projects and lessons on the website (littleBits.cc/community). The back page offers a few more sample projects you can do with items from your home, such as a simple back massager (use your own ping pong ball, piece of cardboard shaped like a hand, and add their power + pressure sensor + bar graph + wire + vibration motor).
The website is a true user community, with beautiful photos and explanations of do-it-yourself projects from the simple to the advanced. My 8-year-old was engaged for over an hour just experimenting, snapping different components together to see what he could create. I am looking forward to taking it to our 4-H meeting to see what a group could build together, especially after seeing the interesting projects on the website (Interactive Mother's Day Card? Yes, please!).