Why you’ll love it: The Makeblock Neuron Explorer Kit is equal parts physical building and basic coding, so young makers gain a breadth of experience.


Before you code any of the projects you've built using the Makeblock Neuron Explorer Kit, you have to, y'know, build them. This involves everything from the complex folding of cardboard to make the frame, keys, and hammers of a piano to assembling a rover's wheels complete with rubber treading to building a guitar in which color-coded alligator clips stand in for strings and for which your own body will become an electrical conductor.

The construction phase of the Explorer Kit challenges requires logic, spatial reasoning, and, in some cases for a five-year-old, mom or dad. Though actually, my son constructed much of the piano himself, including the threading of an LED light strip through about a dozen closely spaced slots in a cardboard panel — I was impressed.

Beyond cardboard and clips and such, the projects also involve a dozen smart blocks, such as the LED panel, the Temperature Sensor, the Buzzer, and the DC Motor. These blocks are incorporated in with the building materials to create devices that can flash, play sounds, create movement, detect light or motion, and myriad other functions.

Once your piano, guitar, light sword, or any of the other Makeblockprojects is completed, it's time to code! Makeblock coding is rather basic, but that's the point here — the Explorer Kit is recommended for kids as young as six and it's appropriate for kids even a bit younger than that.

Using the app, kids can follow easy instructions to program predetermined actions, with the actual coding all using a simple drag and drop interface. Once they're comfortable with the system, they can create their own original block-style programs, making their devices to all sorts of new things.

And once they're really comfortable with Makeblock, they can build wholly original projects, using the smart blocks, the hardware from the kit, as well as any other materials they source from around the home.

One parent reviewing the Makeblock Explorer Kit put it perfectly when saying the toy has "an amazing way to weave software and hardware" together, adding that the system is a great way for kids to learn the Swift block coding language.

Pros: Teaches basic coding skills, blends programming and physical construction, great open-ended play opportunities


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