Ask the grumpies: Mini-update and how to add movement and lights to legos?

(No Longer A) Mover says:

Pre-covid, moving to the bay area got delayed and we kept DC in the local school until the new school year. Everyone has been working remotely (and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future), so no updates anticipated.

Separately, my DD (5) has recently gotten super into LEGOs (Friends, Disney ladies) and wants to figure out how to add electronic movement. Any thoughts for an age appropriate intro to robotics kit that would fit the bill? Is that even the right thing to research? The kits mostly seem geared towards robots or a specific task (buzzer for your room!) vs open-ended. She is likely more interested in adding a light to the submarine, making Anna’s canoe move, etc.

Also—brainquest was a bright spot this spring…great recommendation! Thanks again for all of the info you and your community share.

Well, we just got our DC2 (8) a Chibi Lights set because Amazon kept pushing it and I finally gave in.  Zie hasn’t used it yet though because zie has been too busy with the birthday present that led to this recommendation, a Nintendo Labo kit to go with the Nintendo switch (A++ would recommend if you already own a switch).  But in theory Chibi lights will allow you to add small lights to anything via stickers and tiny batteries.

One of my DH’s many professional hats is electrical engineer so he and DC2 (7 at the time) added a bunch of LED lights to a poster project last winter break, but I think that involved actual soldering.  DH says he ordered parts from adafruit (not sponsored) which he says is a great website for kids electronics projects.   He suggests going through their projects guide for kids.  The poster idea came from one of these.  (You can also get more chibi electronics stuff and somewhat lower prices than amazon from adafruit.)

I know there’s a youtube community that makes little houses (like christmas villages but not for christmas) somewhere– that’s probably where you would want to be looking for tips and tricks, but I’m not entirely sure what to look for (I once clicked on a twitter video and then youtube suggested a bunch, but it has been a while).  Aha!  Here’s one of their youtube channels:  Miniature Land.  That’s probably the direction you want to take your google searches– figure out how these miniature doll house makers do their automation and lighting.  There’s all sorts of hobbyist webpages

In terms of non-lego robot/electronic/engineering projects:

Ozo-bots (not sponsored) were really fun for both kids for about a week over winter break a few years back and then they got bored.  The prices have doubled since we got ours.. I don’t know if the kit has gotten better.

We never did get much use out of the Lego Mindstorms (not sponsored) DC1 got many years ago.  I’m not sure why not.  It seems better suited for Robotics teams rather than home use, somehow.  DH says this would be the most obvious way to add movement to legos, but it is expensive and will be hard for a five year old.  (Here’s some more movement stuff directly from lego (also not sponsored))

Neither of the kids were huge fans of snap circuits either.

We have two raspberry pi... and an arduino (not sponsored) those also got about a week of use last summer before going back to sleep in their boxes forever.

DC1 (then pre-teen) had a lot of fun designing things with an online CAD program and then we sent off hir designs to shapeways (not sponsored) and they sent back the item in whatever material we requested.  (Zie made a ring for my sister that way one year.)

DC1 LOVED the theramin kit zie got last Christmas.  (Though it too has been put away for a while.  But it did get a lot more than one week of use!)

What I’ve really wanted is one of those big circuit board kits that Radio Shack used to make where you could use the set to do a ton of projects like make a short-wave radio station or an alarm or a ton of other stuff.  I spent days playing with it.  But last time I searched I couldn’t find anything like it.  I mean, snap circuits does some of the stuff but not any of the really cool stuff.  Here’s an example.

Grumpy Nation, do you have any suggestions for adding movement and lights to legos?  How about other fun electronics toys?

Thoughts on the children’s Xmas haul this year

  • Our brothers and sisters in law spent less on our kids this year than in previous years.  This is a good thing.  Maybe next year we’ll also spend less on them (we spent about $50/kid, mostly on books), but probably not because I love picking out and buying books.
  • We spent Christmas at the in-laws’ this year, which means we opened presents there.  MIL is going to end up spending a ton to send the presents home.  I don’t really know of any way to suggest just letting amazon send the bigger stuff directly to us so she doesn’t have to do that.  But also she probably likes watching everybody open gifts.  And presumably she doesn’t want cousins to feel like they’re being treated differently.  But there are so many gifts that I’m not sure anybody notices.
  • DC1 got a Nintendo DS.  And since DH had mentioned earlier that it was probably too expensive for hir to take to school given the number of times DC1 has lost hir cheap flip-phone (that thankfully nobody wants to steal, so it has been recovered each time thus far), DC1 also got a Kindle Fire.
  • The problem of DC2 getting the same gifts as hir slightly older same-gendered cousin is getting worse.  And we couldn’t just confiscate those gifts either (for the most part) because DC2 saw them at Christmas and MIL is planning on taking them out of the packaging before sending.  Putting on the wish list what DC2 was into in general terms didn’t help much.  Zie got some stuff related to that, but still got lots of stuff zie isn’t interested in that hir cousin likes.  Nor did it help to say explicitly on the amazon list that DC2 wants what DC1 gets (though my mom paid attention to that and got both of them rubix cubes!)  One of the items was so bad that I actually did take it to MIL and tell her we couldn’t accept it– it had crossed a line (I didn’t say it like that though, it was more like could you give this to hir cousin, we don’t really approve of this show).  I know it’s easier to keep things even across grandkids if she’s getting the same stuff for them, but maybe she could match hir up with the opposite-gendered kid who is about the same age instead of the older same-gendered kid?
  • So we’re still struggling with what to do about our in-laws bounty, particularly for DC2.  They still get DC1 really cool stuff even if they’re over-generous (mostly things that hir somewhat younger cousin already owns and loves).  They did get some of the things off the amazon list for the children, but in the end my mom ended up buying most of it just before Christmas.  And that stuff, along with the stuff we got hir, has gotten a lot more playtime out of it.  DC2 just really isn’t into the same things hir same-gender older cousin is into.
  • One thing that did happen that I’m embarrassed about… I was talking to BIL about presents, I can’t remember what about exactly, as we were going up the stairs, but I mentioned that DC2 seemed to get the same stuff as his kid, and he said, “that’s good because they like the same stuff” and I was all, “well, not really, DC2 is really into what DC1 is into.”  At which point we turned the corner and saw my MIL.  So, uh, maybe this will resolve itself?
  • Why can’t the cousin be as into Bubble Guppies (and other gender-neutral stuff) as DC2 is?
  • Sometimes getting the same gendered stuff for both cousins works… DH’s sister got them both a gendered-craft kit that they both loved and spent many hours working on.
  • DC1 may have gotten all the cousins addicted to Batman.

Non-edible Stocking Stuffers for Budding Nerds and Other Small Fry

  • A cheap calculator (ze still loves this!)
  • A watch (these are popular until lost)
  • Books (depending on the size of your stocking)
  • Small stuffed animal (popular probably until school starts up again)
  • Logic puzzles (including tangrams)
  • Small video games
  • Slinkie (popular until it dies a contorted bent mess as all slinkies do)
  • yo-yo
  • Balls
  • Kite, jump rope (really better for Easter baskets)
  • Markers/colored pencils (if I were smart I would have picked up some from back to school sales)
  • Other office supplies, like post-it notes
  • Stationery?  (Santa wouldn’t be mean enough to put in thank you cards, would he?)

Do you have any suggestions?  Santa wants to know.