As a parent, I'm always looking for toys that aren't *just* toys for my kids. I want toys that inspire learning, ones that will resonate with the kids, and mostly I want toys that won't get abandoned as soon as the shiny luster wears off.
Well parents, I found the holy grail of presents for kids: the Piper computer. Wait, wait before you close the page – this isn't just any old computer. We all don't want our kids sitting passively in front of screens, which is what most computers offer. But, the Piper Computer Kit is different. The Piper is a DIY STEM computer kit that your kids can build themselves.
Yes, they build it all themselves with the help of detailed blueprints. The Piper Computer Kit comes with everything you need to assemble your own computer, including their own Piper screwdriver. So, instead of just sitting in front of a screen like zombies, kids take an active role in learning about the technology they use as they assemble and set it up all on their own. The learning opportunities are plentiful as they are tinkering and troubleshooting all on their own, and the resulting "screen time" isn't at all what you'd expect.
I was originally drawn to Piper because it's just so incredibly cool looking. With its handcrafted wooden box with retro appeal, I loved it at first sight. Then, I found out more about what it can do, and I was smitten. The Piper Computer Kit uses Minecraft and Raspberry Pi to teach kids the fundamentals of electronics, coding, engineering and problem solving. You start your Piper experience with reading your mission letter and then assembling the computer using the huge sheet of blueprints and by matching up the puzzle pieces of the Piper case. It took my daughter and me about 25 minutes to fully assemble the kit thanks to very detailed instructions and etched guides on the wood pieces that helped assist with assembly. When we were done, we marveled at the cuteness of it all. The only bummer was the long wait time to charge the external power supply, which I wish I had had the foresight to pop onto the charger before we actually started the kit – ideally charging it a day in advance or at least a few hours. But, once the power supply was fully juiced up, we powered up Piper to see what she could do.
I must say that the building of the computer is fun, but the fun doesn't end after it's all assembled in its adorable little wooden box. That's when you follow the step-by-step instructions provided within the 3D world of Minecraft and learn the basics of coding. Sounds amazing, right? As are practically all young kids, my children are obsessed with Minecraft, so they couldn't believe their eyes when they realized that not only were they going to get a DIY computer, they were being encouraged to play Minecraft. By completing different challenges in the custom Raspberry Pi Edition of Minecraft adventure the kids really delve into the story while learning, which makes it even more fun than the standard pocket Minecraft you would get on a tablet. The Piper also comes with Scratch, the MIT visual coding platform that my daughter uses in school, so I already knew that was going to be a big hit. My daughter is already gaining some insights into electronics and the basics of circuitry thanks to Piper, and I'm so thrilled to see that she loves it as much as I had hoped. We're working up to adding RazPlex to the Raspberry Pi at some point, but that's what so great about the Piper. With automatic level updates from Piper and the huge capabilities of the Pi, this is a system that's going to grow with the kids over time and become a really awesome learning tool for them throughout the years. Back when I was in school the only computer work we did involved a whole lot of black screen and, if I was lucky, a trip down the Oregon Trail, so I'm so jealous of kids these days who have access to Pipers and all the possibilities they bring. I firmly believe that kids should understand how technology works, and this is the perfect kid-friendly introduction that makes it feel a whole lot less like learning and a whole lot more like playing. It really isn't a surprise to me that the Piper Computer Kit is a Toy of the Year finalist for 2018 with how much possibilities come from teaching kids how technology works and letting them safely explore on their own. My hope is that I can snag another one after the holidays so I can hook up my little guy with his own Piper. He's programmed for stuff like this, which is why we had my daughter take the lead on building the Piper, but I'm not going to be able to keep him away for long! Additional Piper info:
- Self-contained computer running on a Raspberry Pi 3 project board – 1GB RAM – 1200 MHzQuadCore CPU
- Beautiful, handcrafted wooden computer case with HD LCD display
- Custom Raspberry Pi Edition of Minecraft adventure that you experience by building and programming electronic modules
- Electronic gadgets including LED lights, buzzers, buttons, switches, sensors and more
- Cables to connect the screen, Pi and 6600 mAh powerbank together
- USB mouse with a retractable cable
- Wifi enabled with new downloadable levels, and sharing capabilities
- An 8GB SD card that holds your game progress and keeps your creations safe
- Piper Computer Kit is, $209 (reg $299)
- Free 1 yr Piper Protection Plan (reg. $45)
- Demystifies coding by teaching kids how to program tangible physical objects like electronics and hardware in a collaborative engaging and motivating game play-based learning environment.
- Is a free update available by download from the Piper Computer Kit home screen. New Piper Computer Kits have the free PiperCODE upgrade already integrated.
- Removes learning barriers and fosters creative problem solving skills that builds confidence through discovery and play. With unbounded potential to create and program.
- Is the perfect hybrid of augmented text-based and visual programming languages and is powered by a customized version of Google’s open source programming language, Blockly.
- PiperCODE doesn’t just teach kids to program, it opens up minds to the possibilities of solving problems in unique ways and equips kids with the ability to create whole new ways of solving the issues our world faces now, and in the future.
Do your kids love STEM projects as much as mine? You should definitely check out Piper!