by Gabby Cullen

It’s time to take apart play time and give your curious kiddo all the materials she needs to be a real mini-maker. From working with electricity to dabbling in design, there’s no end to the fun when the only limit is your kid’s imagination. Read on for seven of the best tinkering kits for kids.

tinkeringlabsdiykit_tinkeringlabs_tinkering_redtricyclephoto: courtesy Tinkering Labs

Electric Motors Catalyst Kit
One of the coolest kits to hit the maker scene is the Catalyst, designed by the founders of Tinkering Labs. The kit provides over 50 pieces—real motors, real hardware and real wood—and there’s also a deck of Challenge Cards to inspire mini-makers to design, build and test their own inventions. Each kit is open ended, which means there’s room for kids to add their own components from the junk drawer or garage at home. The Catalyst is also designed to be safe (it includes electricity) and the parts are easy to put together, test and then take apart, for hours of tinkering fun. Be sure to check out the visual guides for the 10 challenge cards, and see other projects by young inventors here

Good to know: Tinkering Labs has recently added expansion packs to their online shop! You can now purchase items like motor packs, more wooden parts and brushings.

Ages: 6 & up.

Available at tinkeringlabs.com, $45 per kit.

samlabs_sam_tinkeringkits_tinkeringforkids_redtricyclephoto: courtesy Sam Labs 

SAM Labs
Here’s why you never judge a block by it’s size. SAM Labs is the maker of wireless blocks with specific skills that can be controlled via bluetooth and an app. Need a door buzzer? Done. Need a headlight for that LEGO car? Easy-peasy. There is no coding involved, and both the website and the free app offer cool project ideas on how to use the blocks. You can opt to buy individual blocks that have different uses (dimmer, motor, button, light sensor, etc) or buy a whole kit, which includes four blocks, five step-by-step project guides, a charging cable and other items.

Good to know: The newest release from SAM Labs is the Curious Cars Kit, which includes six blocks, five car designs, one car base, one controller, 20+ starter projects and an exclusive game app. Psst! Your kids can use their LEGO blocks with this kit.

Ages: 7 & up.

Available at samlabs.com/shop, $33 & up.

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photo: courtesy STEMBox 

STEMBox
Brought to life by a female scientist who noticed how few women were in STEM industries, this is a subscription kit designed with girls in mind (although boys love it too!). There is a different experiment each month, and even though some are chemistry or biology based, many of the themes focus on the engineering and electrical aspects of STEM, which is exactly what little tinkers enjoy the most. From bridges to rockets and DIY microscopes, each month brings a new adventure for kids who like to think, ahem, outside the box. Don’t miss the in-depth tutorials from founder Kina, which can be found on YouTube.

Good to know: While it’s not possible to purchase a single box just yet, if you decide not to keep the subscription, you can cancel at any time.

Ages: 8 & up.

Available at mystembox.com, $25 a month and up.

imaginologykit_preschoolgiftguide2016_redtricycle

Imaginology Kit
These kits from Dream Big Science and Art are a curious kid’s dream. There are no directions and no batteries, but plenty of opportunities for open-ended play and discovery. The plastic container comes with over 200 different items: pipettes, corks, fabric, sponges, twine, tiles, natural rocks and much more. Kids can tinker, experiments, create—it’s an easy way to provide your mini-maker with all the material he needs to start tinkering.

Ages: 5 & up.

Available at amazon.com, $59.99.

makeymakey_tinkerkitsforkids_redtricyclephoto: courtesy Makey Makey

Makey Makey
The award-winning classic kit from Makey Makey is pretty cool. How else would your kid be able to turn a banana into a keyboard? The set up is easy, there’s no software or programming knowledge needed, and the possibilities are endless. Each box comes with a Makey Makey Board, USB Cable, seven Alligator Clips, six Connector Wires, Instructions with Visual Project Start Guide, Online Documentation, and 20 Color Stickers.

Good to know: You can buy a Makey Makey Go for on-the-go tinker fun. It’s about the size of a memory drive, fits on a keychain and makes an instant inventor out of anyone!

Ages: 6 & up.

Available at amazon.com, $49.95.

mini-skate-park-lifestyle_tinkerkits_redtricyclephoto: courtesy Tinkineers 

Marbleocity from Tinkineers
Join the Tinkineers as they explore the world of engineering and tech! This cool company introduces STEM concepts to kids in a fun and engaging manner, using some seriously amazing kinetic build-your-own models. Each model consists of a modular marble machine, and besides being able to interconnect with each other (there are four currently available for purchase with five more in the works), each one comes with a graphic novel that tells the stories of Kelvin, Joule, Newt, Mosfet, and Iggy—five friends who are always building (or un-building) stuff—and the lessons they learn along the way! The kits are designed to be built in steps, which is ideal for parents who want to give younger makers a hand in the process. There’s even a motor for those who want to power up their project.

Good to know: While these kits are best for older kids to do on their own, they are all perfect for a family tinkering night.

Ages: 7 & up.

Available at tinkineer.com, $29.95 and up.

groovylabinabox_facebook_tinkeringkits_tinkering_redtricyclephoto: courtesy Groovy Lab in a Box

Groovy Lab in a Box
One of the coolest kits for curious kids is Groovy Lab in a Box. Each one arrives full of materials, challenges, and thought-provoking questions. What makes this kit especially neat for mini-makers is the engineering design challenge. There are no detailed instructions with the challenge, but instead, STEMists (aka your kids!) will call on their critical thinking skills to think like an engineer and, depending on the box’s theme for that month, learn how to utilize real-life science inquiries. Parents can opt to purchase a single box, or, sign up for a monthly subscription.

Good to know: If you have a subscription, you gain access to Beyond…in a Box, an online learning portal that gives kids extra challenges and activities.

Ages: 8 & up.

Available at groovylabinabox.com, $36.95 for a single kit or $29 & up for monthly subscriptions.

Does your kid like to tinker? Share with us in a Comment below!

—Gabby Cullen