Reviewed by Louise Totton
I think it’s fair to say that we are a bit gadget mad in our house. I love little gadgets and gizmos, and my fondness of them is definitely rubbing off on the kids. I do, however, at least try to make sure that a chunk of their gadget and electronics time isn’t spent staring at a tablet or playing on the Xbox, especially as there are so many fantastic, educational and engaging gadget type toys to pick from. My eldest has a clip-style circuit board kit that she loves and the youngest has a couple of junior coding toys. They get online homework from school that is completed virtually, and this often involves small coding tasks.
We had had an absolutely rotten week or so, weather-wise, so receiving a parcel from Tech Will Save Us with a couple of educational but exciting electronics toys to try out came at just the right time for us. We were sent the Tech Will Save Us Sew & Glow Kit and the Tech Will Save Us Creative Coder Kit to try out, and both of my girls were absolutely delighted!
We started with the Sew & Glow kit (£19.99) – this kit is aimed at ages 8+. The Sew & Glow is a small kit that combines basic sewing with a battery, circuits and LEDs to create light-up badges. The kit contains everything you would need to do this, and there are suggestions for extension tasks which would require the purchase of a cheap t-shirt or other cheap items, to make something even more fun.
I have a nine-year-old and a nearly seven-year-old. They both wanted to join in, so after unboxing the kit, I decided it would be appropriate for both of them, as long as I supported my younger daughter with some of the trickier bits. The box contained:
- Two badge templates to help with your creations
- Four coloured felt squares to build your badges with
- Sewing thread to attach the badges to your bag or clothes
- Electro-thread to make your creations light up
- A pen to help draw out your designs
- The sew & glow battery pack to make your ideas come alive
- Two Tech-moji templates for inspiration
- Fifteen connectors to build your circuits with
- Two needles to help you sew
- An easy to access manual available on all devices
The first job (after checking all of the components are present) is to log on to the Tech Will Save Us website and create an account for your child. This account can then be used with any TWSU products they may accumulate and is a lovely record of their progress as well as being a very thorough, accessible instruction manual and providing extension activities to push and further develop understanding.
We selected our product from the list and got started. The portal really is fantastic and we found that the instructions were simple, engaging and pitched at just the right level for an 8+ child to be able to fellow pretty much independently. That isn’t to say my eldest found it easy; she absolutely didn’t but it was pitched at a level whereby she wasn’t discouraged from continuing if she was struggling. The initial tutorial is broken up into bite-sized chunks with estimated times for completion. This is great as it gives the child or the parent an indication of whether they want to move on to the next part or leave it for later. As they moved on through the tutorial, they earn little badges and can see their progress which is something that I think works really well with young kids and it means that they are able to pace themselves and know how close to completion their project is.
Once you have mastered the basics and have followed the first tutorial, there are lots and lots of other projects, all with simple, visual step-by-step guides for the children to complete and organised by difficulty. Again, we found this great as it meant that I could steer the girls to the projects that were most appropriate for their ability and they didn’t become frustrated.
Both of my girls loved this kit. The youngest did need support, but because we do crafts as a family anyway, she is quite dextrous and already does some basic sewing, so she was fine with it. We only wish there were two battery packs included as trying to explain that they must un-pick their hard work to then create another badge isn’t ideal. Still, it doesn’t detract from the fun and educational value of this toy and we really enjoyed trying it out.
The other product we were sent to try out was the Tech Will Save Us Creative Coder Kit. This kit is a little more expensive than the Sew & Glow at £54.99 but it doesn’t have consumable parts like the Sew & Glow, so you don’t need to worry about running out of anything. The Creative Coder Kit allows you to build and code a wearable smart device, and with wearables being very ‘in’ at the moment, the kids were very keen to try this one out. Again, the kit is aimed at 8+ but I decided that with support, both kids would be able to use it.
Just like the other kit, the first step is to log on to the portal and there are step-by-step instruction guides to follow. We laid out the contents of the box to check that there was nothing missing. The box contains:
- Casing & Battery Pack
- Velcro Strap
- Micro USB Cable
- Free access to our coding software
- Brain and Light PCBs
We were then ready to start assembling the kit. The first step is to assemble to device itself. This isn’t difficult at all, and it simply clicks together. The online instructions make doing this very easy and my eldest was able to do this with minimal support from me. This part of the tutorial also made it clear to the kids exactly what the device was, and how it worked. There are three ‘memory slots’ – two of them are each taken up with a permanent function (the Activity App and the Bike Light App), whereas the third slot is for the user to decide on.
There are loads of apps to pick from but the device can only hold one at a time. This isn’t an issue, because it can always be swapped back again should they pick an app that they’re not as keen on. Depending on what you make, the device can be attached to a slap band, a Velcro strap or just be used as a ‘disc’.
You need to download some software to you PC, laptop or Mac. You need to be on a computer running MacOS (10.9 or later) or Windows (7 or later). Fortunately, my laptop ticked all the boxes so we were good to go and get coding!
The interface of the app is great and lends itself perfectly to the child being able to work independently. My eldest was up and running with it in now time, and had soon figured out the block coding method that the Bolt software uses. Just as with the Sew and Glow kit, there are step-by-step guides that have copies of the coding required to create different functions. Most of the functions are filed under ‘easy’, which means they were accessible to both of the kids – the Fortune Teller was a particular favourite as they had been making the paper versions at school recently. My eldest also thoroughly enjoyed making a light sabre, although this did require some bits from our scrap card and craft cupboard. She is really keen to get cracking on the hard level task – creating your own code from scratch but I’m not entirely sure that she’s ready for that yet.
Having said that, I see that as a good thing as it means that it will grow with her and she will continue to be stretched and challenged by it. We loved this kit, and I think it is something that both girls will come back to again and again. Like the best educational toys, it doesn’t feel like you are learning – it just feels like a challenge, like problem solving and like good fun!
These kits have both filled an otherwise windy, wet and dark weekend and I think they would each make brilliant Christmas gifts. TWSU have kits to suit all budgets and there are some fabulous ones in the range, so there is bound to be something to suit all interests, ad there are kits suitable for kids as young as 4!
I would rate both of these as 5 out of 5!
For more information or to buy visit www.techwillsaveus.com.