Parents' Choice Foundation: Reviewing Children's Media Since 1978

Piper Computer Kit

Piper Computer Kit

Fall 2017 Toys
Ages: 7 - 13 yrs.
Manufacturer: Piper
Price: $299.99

The Piper computer is a science kit disguised as a video game. It is an excellent idea that is well, but not perfectly, executed. The kit will challenge your child's fine motor and problem-solving skills and also teach her how basic electronic devices work. The assembly instructions are clear, but an overview booklet or getting started web page for parents or older users would lessen frustration and facilitate learning.

The first steps assemble the wooden computer case. The pieces are precision cut and fit together flawlessly. The wordless instructions are printed on a large plastic mat that is best spread out on a big table or on the floor. Be prepared for some frustration and adult assistance at this stage. We needed to attach the hinges on the case top a few times for it to open and close properly.

With the wooden parts together, your child will put together the electronic components, again following the wordless instructions. Anyone who has charged a cell phone and plugged in a USB mouse will find this 10 minute phase easy. Overall, assembly to the running video game stage took about two hours and was a fun activity.

Press the power button on the battery pack and the screen lights up to a menu for different running modes. Story mode first helps the player build confidence with the Piper computer, including mouse buttons and the Piper screen layout. It then teaches the player how to install electric buttons using jumper wires and a circuit breadboard. This hardware aspect of the game harkens back to Radio Shack electronic kits of years ago and was a hit with the builder and her dad. But here is an instance of where a guide for parents or older children would be helpful. A few pages explaining the purpose of these hardware parts and how they work could enhance the educational opportunity.

The game progresses to Mine Craft-styled scenes that in turn introduce other hardware components and wiring. Again, a guide outside of the game itself would be helpful.

Overall, Piper is an excellent learning tool for children interested in video games and building virtual worlds but with patience and the ability to work with small parts. And as they say on TV infomercials, "But wait! There's more!" Piper is actually a small computer that can be connected to the internet or used for simple programming.

John Green   ©2017 Parents' Choice
John Green is an economist in Washington DC and father of three. He has a PhD in economics from the University of Pennsylvania.

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