One of the most shocking things I found when we toured JPL was that they had toys in the Mechanical Design Center! They use them to demonstrate the designs they have in mind when they are brainstorming wild ideas in the early stages of a project. I am a geeky Mom and am pretty mindful about what kinds of toys I buy my kids. I really believe they can help their little minds when they are developing to think in creative ways. I would so much rather spend my money on something that is fun and educational at the same time. I was pretty happy to find some of the toys we had at our house were in the design center 🙂
I talked to our resident rocket scientist, Mars Rover builder, and most importantly father – Mark, to identify the toys they use to model and also to give us his input on other toys that are great for developing minds. (Before anyone points to government waste here – these were all purchased or donated by the employees themselves – NOT JPL) So here they are straight from the Mechanical Design Center at Jet Propulsion Laboratories:
ZOOB – These were the ones I saw the most of. They were in the Design Center and in Marks office. You can build all sorts of things with them. I’m pretty sure there are going to be some of these under our Christmas tree this year!
Geomag and Magnetix
Magnetix & Geomag – We actually have some of these and my boys like them. They are fun but you really do need two or three sets to be able to build anything substantial. These are not just toys for boys! They come in pink! Its just as important for girls to develop the left side of their minds too, especially since these things might not always come as easily to them as they do to boys. These are definitely for older kiddos too! There are small round magnets included so if you have smaller children be careful when these are around!
Quercetti – These are fun gears that can be built together. The board is not a set pattern, and can be build in various shapes and includes handle for making the gears turn. They also make marbles runs and sets of gears with wheels.
Frigits Wall Coasters
Wall Coaster – This was awesome! Caleb and Davis had so much fun setting up their own track. The one at JPL is magnetic and stays really well on the wall. They have a ton of really cool add on’s like the launcher and corners.
Switch Pitch Throwing Ball
Switch Pitch Throwing Ball – Mark loves this ball and in his words, “its just a really cool design.” When you throw the ball the color of the ball changes so when the other person catches it, its a new color. They also have the Hoberman: Sphere.
LEGO Mindstorms NXT
LEGO Mindstorms NXT – Holy Cow these looks SO fun! Obviously for older kids but seriously so cool!
These next ones were not in the design center but they are Rocket Scientist approved. Mark said they take longer to get the design you are trying to demonstrate across which is why they are not used as much.
KNEX – Definitely a toy for older kids. These are great for building and they even bring gears, pulleys, and mechanics into the mix. Great for helping naturally teach gravity and forces!
Battat Take Apart Toys
So there you have it – some fun and new ideas for toys to buy for Christmas that you can feel really good about!
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