Holiday Gift and Activity Guide

My friend Bruce Henderson asked me to put together a few recommendations for STEM related activities for the Newton STEM site. Here’s what I recommended with a few embellishments for baldwisdom fans! has thousands of cool projects, from the outrageous to the absurd — much of which is doable with kids and full of STEM. I have a few instructables there too, but you’ll find lots of crafts, projects for enhancing toys and lots and lots of simple electronics projects like the Atari Punk Console. You might want to browse it by different types of projects, like FoodPlay, or Living. Or search by topic like Lego. sells do-it-yourself and open-source hardware designs that originated from its blog, Evil Mad Science Laboratories.

Make cool designs on eggs, or anything round with the egg-bot, which also serves as an introduction to CNC (Computer Numeric Control) machines. Or build an LED Menorah.

MAKE magazine, a quarterly magazine with lots of do-it-yourself projects , is great subscription gift for makers of any age.  They also have a lot of great stuff in their store and recently had a special issue on cool kits, and most of them are available here.

Radio Shack is now carrying the Arduino, which is an easy-to-use, open-source electronics prototyping platform for artists, designers, hobbyists, and anyone interested in creating interactive objects or environments. There’s a Getting Started with Arduino kit that includes has the Arduino board, a great introductory book, and some electronic components to do the projects in the book.

While you can get Arduino at Radio Shack, my favorite purveyor of electronics kits and inspirational parts is They make their own opensource hardware kits, and carry the best of others. Adafruit also sells a variety of Arduino related shields, bundles and accessories, in addition to her original kits.

The EL wire starter pack makes it easy to create things like Tron costumes, and glowing bike frame lights. This doesn’t take a lot of special skills and is great for getting kids interested in technology (especially if they are craft oriented.)

One kit I’ve made with kids as young as 8 that they love is the TV-B-Gone kit. It allows you to turn off any TV, allowing for some good natured pranks, and introducing the idea that it’s fun to turn TVs off!

And of course, there’s Lego Mindstorms NXT — the Lego robotics system that allows you to make sophisticated robots and machines and program them in an easy-to-learn graphical environment. Used in schools and in First Lego League competitions, it’s best suited to Middle school students and above. Some people have difficulty getting started with NXT, especially if they don’t have an engineering background. Here are some great books to get you started:

Don’t just buy any of this stuff though! Get together with your family and make something!