littleBits Base KitFall 2013 Toys
The very best, most successful businesses today merge top-notch electronics with irresistible creativity and design. Yet the experiences that introduce children to technology either leave them as end-users, with no understanding (nor even opportunity for curiosity) of the underlying technology, or require a high learning curve for programming and circuitry construction. littleBits recognizes the gap between these, and with their Base Kit they have kids up and running with technology within seconds and onto advanced projects in minutes.
The Base Kit includes only the most fundamental components, color-coded for simplicity: the necessary power is marked in blue and output is green; optional switches are pink and connectors are orange. Components snap together magnetically; the polarized magnets refuse to connect if the circuit would end up inappropriately reversed. They provide button, dimmer, and light sensor switches as well as a buzzer, an LED, an LED "bargraph", and a gentle motor. The easy-to-read manual (though not scientifically deep; curious minds will have to look elsewhere for an understanding of circuitry) takes the user through basic circuits to learn the components, an instructional course that can be satisfyingly completed in a few minutes, even by younger children. Then the manual leaps into creative projects: the classic hand buzzer (parents, be warned: this gets old long before your child will tire of it), a flashlight or light-sensitive bicycle light, a really amazing windmill to make even the most artsy child love power functions. The set encourages the use of recycled materials—old cups, cardboard, popsicle sticks, or pretty much anything you thought you were going to be allowed to throw out. We went through a lot of tape with this kit.
The manual only has eight projects (although any project is open-ended), but this leads into the next step of exploration: the littleBits website. This site has hundreds of projects, some from the company designers, but more from kids and kids-at-heart all over the world. The website also offers more in-depth education than the manual, and the company stays involved on its own site, so any information that is missing is sure to be provided if parents and teachers contact them.
Though we glow with enthusiasm for this kit, we must admit we were not always thrilled with the strength of the magnets; circuits were occasionally fragile, but they went back together as easily as they came apart. Additionally, the $99 price tag seems very steep; however, given the opportunity for creativity with this set and the uniqueness of the design, and in proportion to other toys on the market it is not so alarming. The website also offers discounts to educators, demonstrating the company's genuine commitment to learning and the global community. Families wishing to expand their littleBits collection should consider the Premium Kit.