With a dash of ingenuity and lots of imagination, there’s almost nothing junior creators can’t dream up. Thanks to a cool crop of apps and kits aimed at young inventors, budding Edisons can bring to life even their most fanciful contraptions that merge digital with analogue. Check out our roundup of some of the most innovative creation apps and invention products for kids.
Educational gaming company Osmo’s newest creative experience features a furry orange monster named Mo who helps kids co-create short animated movies that they can view, save and share. Using an iPad and the Osmo Creative Set, Mo directs young artists to draw various objects on an erasable whiteboard, then an ingenious, proprietary reflective artificial intelligence technology incorporates physical drawings into Mo’s digital world. Junior animators will delight in seeing their real-life drawings magically move and interact with Mo onscreen, while parents will appreciate the science behind the technology. Created by Google and Disney alums, Osmo Monster recently launched with one experience, “Mo’s Magic Show,” with more experiences slated to be released later this fall as free updates to the accompanying Monster App for iPad.
Fans of the classic SimCity computer and console games will thoroughly enjoy building their own beautiful, bustling cities on their mobile devices with the all-new SimCity BuildIt. As Mayor of SimCity, it’s players’ job to ensure that citizens are happy and thriving as cities grow larger and more intricate. With countless buildings and vivid, 3D-quality graphics, SimCity BuildIt doesn’t disappoint with its claim as “the most realistic city builder on mobile.” In addition to the thrill of watching city skylines come to life, young urban planners learn lessons about solving real-world challenges like managing resources and dealing with natural (and some not-so-natural) disasters, while coordinating public services such as power plants and police departments. Competitive players will want to take on players around the world in the Contest of Mayors and compete to earn rewards.
Minecrafters and junior pixel artists can create their own 3D Minecraft-inspired characters and pixel objects by assembling 3D pixel blocks with this surprisingly addictive and fun app. With a palette that includes 65 million colors, players craft 3D pixel sculptures that can be used as avatars, characters or models using an intuitive and well-designed toolkit (although the multi-touch navigation does take some getting used to). Creations can be shared worldwide via an online gallery or imported as .obj files and further tweaked on most 3D image editing software. Best of all, pixel creations can be ordered directly from the app, 3D printed and delivered straight to your home. Be forewarned: while the solid, real-life pixel sculptures look incredible, they can be pricey, starting at $40 and up per piece.
Free for iOS
Forget about old-school coloring books. Makanim is an enthralling interactive, multi-touch app that lets creators of all ages design colorful, graphic animations on the fly. With 48 pre-set shapes, 33 arrangements of colors, and an endless combination of visual effects, hypnotic, beautifully designed animations can be projected onto larger screens or recorded and downloaded to create cool digital wallpapers. Kids will be mesmerized by the pretty moving shapes and colors, while some parents might have flashbacks to our college rave days.
Future industrial designers can practice their 3D creation skills with this well-made app, which makes building three-dimensional sculptures as simple as dragging and dropping interlocking pieces onto a virtual workspace to make fun characters, out-of-this-world creatures or fanciful jewelry and accessories. The app smartly includes a variety of built-in character templates (for those who don’t want to start from scratch) and easy-to-understand tutorials (for more adventurous creators). Once creations are completed, they can be arranged into different poses and placed on customizable backgrounds that range from serene to interstellar. With hundreds of different parts to mix and match, and a myriad of colors and surface textures that can be applied to any component pieces, each 3D sculpture is unique. A handy tool lets creators download .stl files, which can be printed on most 3D printers.
Touted as the LEGO of electronics building systems, littleBits offers a wide assortment of easy-to-use, plug-and-play smart building blocks that let fledgling engineers create all manner of electronics projects—no wiring, soldering or programming required. With littleBits’ Rule Your Room Kit, amateur CSIs can build a Burglar Buzzer to protect their most-prized possessions and catch would-be thieves in the act. Powered by a 9-volt battery, modular circuit units are mounted on a board, then placed on a box that serves as the platform for the burglar trap. A buzzer sounds when a trip wire connected to the possession is released, thwarting any burglary attempt. All littleBits components are compatible with each other, allowing for the creation of an infinite array of inventions. Perfect for restless tinkerers who are always looking to build their next big idea.
$99.95 at littleBits.cc
Part social network and part 3D panorama print workshop, Scandy combines digital photography with 3D technology. Take or upload panoramic photos from your iPhone or iPad, then Scandy renders the image into a 3D sphere. The app’s simple interface allows users to share their Scandy Spheres with other Scandy app users (think Instagram for 3D panoramic images) or order physical orbs that capture their favorite photographic moments in three dimensions (starting at $20 per orb). Scandy for iPad users can attach a 3D scanner like Structure Sensor or iSense Scanner and turn Scandy into a powerful 3D scanning platform for iOS.
Kiddie computer science enthusiasts who’ve been itching to get in on the augmented reality craze will totally dig ZooKazam, a neat AR app that lets users virtually place animals of all kinds in unexpected scenarios, such as a giraffe towering over a computer keyboard or a horse galloping on top of a newspaper. Unlike other AR apps, ZooKazam doesn’t require printed markers to virtually place items in the real world. The app features more than 40 animals and nine different categories, ranging from American Bald Eagle to Tyrannosaurus Rex. A powerful graphics engine renders 3D animals from every angle with full animation, creating realistic-looking creatures in unexpected locales. Users can even add snow or rain to their scenes or apply more than a half dozen different photo filters.
What began as a crowdfunded invention has since evolved into a line of smart, connected toys that neatly merge the time-honored practice of folding and flying paper airplanes with high-tech gadgetry that transforms mere paper planes into remote-controllable drones. The PowerUp 3.0 Kit comes with supplies to fold a sturdy paper plane plus a Smart Module that links with your mobile device to the aircraft. Using the free PowerUp 3.0 app, available for iOS or Android, junior pilots can precisely maneuver their planes, with each flight lasting about 10 minutes per charge. It’s the kind of flying project that Amelia Earhart could happily endorse.
Brooklyn-based design and tech studio Tinybop is on a mission to develop engaging, interactive games and toys that help unleash kids’ creative power. With The Everything Machine app, young developers ages six and older can build virtually any kind of machine using an intuitive, kid-friendly drag and snap system—no coding skills or additional hardware needed. The app’s simple visual programming language connects and controls with mobile device functions to create projects that range from a stop-motion camera to a voice disguiser, plus much more. The genius of the app lies in a simple, visually-appealing interface that packs a wallop behind the scenes by capitalizing on a smartphone’s camera, microphone, speaker, gyroscope and screen to create machines that can be super-simple to amazingly complex.
$2.99 for iOS
What are your favorite apps and kits for your young inventors? Tell us in the comments below!