Calling themselves “Legos for the iPad Generation,” littleBits, which offers budding inventors ages 5 and up kits of easy-to-use electronic building blocks, recently opened the doors to its first ever New York City pop-up store in Manhattan’s SoHo district. A formal grand opening is planned for August 13, but we dropped in early for a sneak peek. Here’s the scoop on the STEAM-y store your little engineers will be begging to hit up again and again!

The Maker Space

Over half of the impressive 2,200-square-foot store is devoted to various work stations, where kids (and adults) can try their hand at connecting customized littleBits components to form electronic circuits. (This is the basic concept of the toys; the components can then be used to create pretty much anything a user imagines.)

At one table, snapping your Bits together, connecting the result to a USB cable and wrapping it in a strip of colored paper creates an individual, colorful light. String an entire series via wires and you have a blinking design or your name literally spelled out in lights (this is New York City after all, where every kid is a star.)

At another table, you can construct a machine that doodles for you. (Remember that Spirograph you had as a kid? This automates the process!). For more advanced builders — typically age 8 and up— there’s the chance to unleash your inner rock star. Select a cut-out of a guitar off the wall, then stick on your personalized, hand-built circuit that can blink, make noise and vibrate. The keyboard, oscillator, synth speaker and battery are all provided so you can take your show on the road! For tiny engineers especially interested in things that “go”, littleBits has a station where you can add wheels to… pretty much anything. Inventors can then test their creations on a track.

photo: Alina Adams

Can your kid really make something?

Yes! The beginner projects are set up to take about 10 minutes apiece, with the more advanced ones estimated to require 15-20 minutes of work. However, it’s not uncommon for some projects to take longer, with some trial and error to get things just right and working smoothly. In these days of instant gratification, it’s refreshing to see kids struggle at a task, experiment, and try, try again, before ultimately succeeding. The store also makes every aspect engineering and building of process accessible to young minds and tiny fingers.

 

Playing and Paying at littleBits

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Perhaps the best part about the littleBits store is that you are welcome to come in and play for free. You can stay as long as you like, work in as many stations as you like, make as many projects as you like. Visitors to the littleBits store are expected to work on their own, but if they get stuck, they can push a handy button right there on the table, and an associate will come running.

If, in the end, you wish to keep what you’ve constructed, you may purchase the entire kit. Prices for projects mentioned above range from $29.95 for the light kit to $74.95 for the “keytar”, with further add-ons available for an extra fee.

Builders are also welcome to leave inventions at the store for other people to remix, but if your little creator wants to preserve the memory before say good-bye, pop into the photo booth for quick picture. (These left-behind items are dubbed “Inventions to Stay”, littleBits’ version of open-source collaboration.)

photo: Alina Adams

Go Before It’s Gone!

The littleBits Store is open now and will be in this SoHo spot through the end of 2015. Things will be busy while it’s here, with events like weekend workshops and guest speakers. The owners see it as a learning lab, not only for the customers who’ll come in and build things they never dreamed of, but for them, too, as there are plans for establishing a more permanent NYC space down the line.

So run, don’t walk to SoHo: This mecca of family tech creativity and fun will only be open for a littleBit!

LittleBits Store
355 West Broadway
SoHo
917-924-2302 (ext. 102)
Open: M-F: 11:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.; Sat & Sun: 10:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Online: littleBits.cc/store

Does your kid love littleBits? Share in the comments below!

—Alina Adams