Toys Archives - Eva Varga

December 14, 20152
I received this product in exchange for an honest review. I also received monetary compensation for my time spent in reviewing the product. All opinions expressed are true and completely our own. Please see my disclosure policy for more information.

computerprogrammingWhy limit your child’s exposure to computer programming to just a single hour annually?  Fischertechnik provides the materials and curriculum support to engage students in basic computer programming skills year round. 

Last month I shared how excited we were to discover the Introduction to STEM I Kit in my post Play and Learn with Fischertechnik. We have since spent weeks building the various models and discovering how everyday technology and simple machines actually work.

How Does It Work In Our Homeschool?

When the Introduction to STEM I & II Kits arrived at our home, we immediately opened all of the materials and of course Jeffrey was SO excited to just BUILD something. I let him experiment with all of the pieces for a few weeks and he built model after model. It wasn’t long before the models he was building caught the attention of his older sister. She wanted in on the fun as well.

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, we sat down with our cousins (the more the merrier!) and installed the software. This was as easy as putting the disc in the computer.

I promise.

programfischertechnikComputer Programming with Fischertechnik

The girls jumped right in and immediately began to CONSTRUCT a merry-go-round model without any problems. The instructions took them through the process step by step. The process is very achievable for this age level.

They then spent a little time with the software and soon figured out the basic PROGRAM to get the wheel to operate a series of simple commands. The ROBO Pro light software programming is drag and drop, so it’s very easy to learn! A sample is given on screen as well as in the accompanying guide book.

After the model had been built, it was time to CONTEMPLATE why things worked they way they did and for further experimentation. Once the girls were familiar with what each of the different buttons did, they were ready to begin experimenting in all kinds of ways.The curriculum guide provides suggestions for assessment questions to aide students in reflecting on the process.

Finally, students are invited to CONTINUE their learning with more experimentation and a challenge to build and program more complex models and interactions.  My daughter is now motivated to learn MORE.

The Introduction to STEM II kit allows elementary classrooms of different ages to enter the exciting world of STEM and learn the basic skills of computer programming – an exciting activity for young people. 

fischertechnikMaking the Investment in Fischertechnik

If your child is interested in engineering and computer programming, I strongly suggest you invest in Fischertechnik products.

While the cost may at first seem high (the kits begin at $99), you receive a versatile set of bricks, sensors, motors, and a USB connection, along with the software and teacher’s guide. This enables your student to build the 12 models, but from there the creativity is LIMITLESS.

The Introduction to STEM I kit contains 500 pieces with instructions for building 40 different models in all. Students can build a centrifugal governor, manual transmission, block and tackle, wind turbine, a beam balance, and so much more.

The Introduction to STEM II contains 200 additional fischertechnik parts, including:

  • ROBO LT Controller (USB interface/USB power supply)
  • ROBO PRO Light software
  • An XS motor
  • 2 lights
  • A lens tip lamp
  • Photo-transistor
  • 2 switches

Of course, my kids love the models they have made with the instructions, but they also loves to be creative. They have now begun experimenting with the variety of components.

The beauty of this is that they are thinking through problems and solutions; asking good questions. Skills that will serve them later in life.

Interested? Order a free sample activity kit today! 

November 2, 2015

I received this product in exchange for an honest review. I also received monetary compensation for my time spent in reviewing the product. All opinions expressed are true and completely our own. Please see my disclosure policy for more information.

When the Fed-Ex truck pulled up and the driver rang our door bell, my son raced to answer the door. He’d been anxiously awaiting the arrival of a cool new construction toy, fischertechnik, since I first shared with him their website the week prior.

My son loves to build and like many children his age is fascinated by robotics and construction. I knew the fischertechnik system was going to grab his attention and pull him into the STEM concepts we have so enjoyed.

Play & Learn with Fischertechnik

Open the World of Technology

fischertechnik is the flexible and innovative construction system built around the unique fischertechnik building block, which allows attachment to all six sides. fischertechnik is used widely in schools around the globe to enable students to explore, hands-on, STEM concepts such as Mechanics, Statics, Pneumatics, Renewable Energies, Electronics, and Robotics.

I am excited to share with you the recently released pair of new products called the fischertechnik Education “Introduction to STEM” I & II. These sets are specifically designed for introducing students in grades 2 thru 5 to STEM concepts and methodology, with the focus on simple machines, and an introduction to robotics and programming.

fischertechnik Introduction to STEM I Kit

Jeffrey immediately began to sort the 500 pieces into the compartments provided within the sturdy storage box (I love this!). As an experienced builder, he knew the time he spent organizing at the start would save time searching for a piece later.

“The pieces are so cool, Mom! They connect on all sides, you can change some around, and they lock in place. These are better than Lego!”

As he continued to sort, I scanned the detailed, full-color 170 page instruction booklet and shared with him some of the projects he could build: a manual transmission, block and tackle, wind turbine, a beam balance, and more.

He was immediately drawn to the merry-go-round, one of the more complicated projects, and construction was soon underway. The Introduction to STEM I Kit is a great introduction to how simple machines work.

Play & Learn with Fischertechnik

Activities & Curriculum

As an educator, one of the things I love best about the Introduction to STEM I Kit is the curriculum. The standards based curriculum provides everything you need to conduct the various lessons; from activity sheets and step-by-step instructions, to rubrics for assessment purposes. For classroom teachers, the education materials are laid out by grade level and establish a quick look at the goals and models to be constructed.

Having traveled quite extensively, we have had the opportunity to observe windmills in many locations (Maui, HI; Tehachapi, CA; San Francisco, CA, and most recently on the island of Mykonos, Greece). The optional project based research activity was the perfect way to integrate Jeffrey’s real-life experiences with STEM concepts.

Play & Learn with Fischertechnik @EvaVarga.netWindmills transform the motion of the wind into rotary motion that humans use to accomplish work. We discussed the windmills we had observed and how each had been designed for specific work.

The wind turbine project described in the enclosed instruction manual requires students to turn a crank which causes the blades to turn and thereby move wind. The problem is to reverse the energy process from the wind turbine project. Utilizing the education materials I had downloaded as a guide, I challenged him to remove the crank and design a method of attaching gears or pulleys to transfer the power to another device. He loved the challenge!

I am confidant kids will love building the models, performing the activities, and then taking it apart to build another project. Join me next month when I share our experiences with the fischertechnik Introduction to STEM II Kit.

January 10, 2014

In our Quarterly box from Bill Nye, we received a couple of fun toys that provided us the opportunity to explore alternative energy resources. As we are studying energy in STEM Club this trimester, it was the perfect opportunity to investigate alternative energy with these toys.

This post contains affiliate links.

alternative energy toys

As was expected, Buddy was immediately drawn to the  Salt Water Fuel Cell Car while Sweetie was interested in the “cute”  Solar Powered Grasshopper Kit.  As such, there was no argument over who would build what kit – Bliss!

Buddy had no difficulty putting the little car together.  He needed help only with smoothly clipping off the little plastic stubs that remained on the pieces after breaking them apart.  As he put the final pieces together, Sweetie mixed up the salt water solution.  The instructions state that any salt to water ratio will function but the most efficient ratio was 1:5.  We had just reviewed ratios in math so this was the perfect real-life application of the skill. The task enabled me to also explain the concept of efficiency.

Both of the kids loved the Salt Water Fuel Cell Car – Sweetie even exclaimed, “It would be awesome to have a big fleet of these cars in different colors!” They enjoyed playing with the car for nearly an hour.  A few times, it stopped running and they worked together to figure out the problem.  Sometimes, it was a little debris caught under the wheels.  Other times, there was too much salt water or dirt that clogged up the mechanism.  They would clean it off and let it rip once again.  I loved that they ran into the supply closet and began to set up a track for the car.  Sadly, the car was just a smidgen too wide for the track but they stated they were going to build something another time.

The Solar Powered Grasshopper Kit was also fun – but their interest in this was short lived.  The instructions were easy to follow and Sweetie had it put together in only a few minutes.  We took it outside and watched it hop about.  The kids delighted in discovering that if they cast a shadow over the grasshopper, it would stop moving.  They moved on to the car shortly after and showed little interest in the grasshopper thereafter.

NYE01 also included a mini-sundial kit.  A sundial is a device that tells the time of day by the position of the Sun.  The sun casts a shadow from its style onto a surface marked with lines indicating the hours of the day. The style is the time-telling edge of the gnomon, often a thin rod or a sharp, straight edge. As the sun moves across the sky, the shadow-edge aligns with different hour-lines. The DIY activity included in NYE01 was simple and provided us an opportunity to further explore how people, animals and even plants have been using the sun to tell time throughout the ages.

We had such fun with these alternative energy toys that we ordered another kit and look forward to playing with it soon … the Thames & Kosmos Wind Power Kit.  This kit includes two styles of wind turbine blades and a gearbox with three different gear ratios for experimenting. The wind spins the turbine, which turns an electric generator, which in turn charges rechargeable AA batteries.  The kids can then use the wind charged batteries to power the model vehicles they build. The six models include a glider, sail car, jet car, tractor, race car, and tricycle. They can also experiment by adjusting the angle and number of wind turbine blades to make best use of the wind, the make the LED light up brightly, and to charge the rechargeable battery as fast as possible.

November 26, 20132

The Christmas season is fast approaching and I know many of you are scratching your heads trying to come up with creative gift ideas that will surprise and delight that special someone. If you are like us, you also want a gift that is educational and perhaps inspirational, not one that will likely end up in the rubbish months later.  Today, I share with you 10 awesome science gifts that will surely inspire your science minded loved ones.

This post contains affiliate links.

10 Awesome Gifts for a Young Scientist

Gifts for a Young Scientist

Groovy Lab in a Box

One of the most exciting popular gifts available today is a subscription to an activity kit. One of my favorites is Groovy Lab in a Box – a monthly box overflowing with science experiments for you and your child to explore together. Recommended for ages 8+, older students may find success in doing the activities independently.

Every month, Groovy Lab in a Box sends a 20+ page lab notebook and everything required to complete the STEM-based experiments inside. Each box is just $26.95, less for longer subscription options.

For the Chemist

Crystal Growing Kit

The 4M Crystal Growing Experimental Kit is a lot of fun and a wonderful introduction to the study of crystals. The steps are simple and all you need is boiling water. Everything else is provided in the kit. Be careful to follow the instructions carefully and crystals start growing immediately and are full size in just 7-10 days.

Salt Water Monster Truck

We received the Salt Water Fuel Cell Monster Truck in our #NYE01 box from Quarterly.  My kids were excited to give it a go and enjoyed taking it out for a spin our driveway.  The kit is well designed and easy to assemble. I think this would be a fun project for any child with an interest in science and engineering.

For the Engineer

Build it Yourself RobotiKits

Another gem that arrived in #NYE01 was a Solar Powered Grasshopper Kit, also by OwiKit. The parts are very small and the enclosed instructions are graphics based – a child versed in Lego should not have difficulty putting it together.  The grasshopper is a build-it-yourself educational solar hobby kit specifically suited for the first time science experimenters.  Kids with little or no experience can explore the potential of solar power – opening a world of possibilities. I’ll write a more detailed review soon – again, we’ll be pulling these out in the next few days while visiting family.  Best of all, this cute little critter is only $7 – the perfect stocking stuffer!

Snap Circuits Alternative Energy Kit

Many homeschoolers are familiar with Snap Circuits.  Are you aware that an Alternative Energy Kit is also available?  Since the previous two kits are all about alternative fuels – this is a great kit for kids with some prior experience with circuits and alliterative fuels. Like other Snap Circuits kits, the parts are all clearly labeled and easy to snap into place. This green kit includes an FM radio, voltmeter, and a fan/windmill, which are all favorites.

For the Naturalist

Keeping a Nature Journal

Nature journaling is a major component of our homeschool science curriculum.  My kids love recording their observations using a variety of art media (colored pencil, chalk pastels, watercolor, pen and ink, etc.).  Much of our inspiration for tying new techniques comes from the book, Keeping a Nature Journal.  Clare Walker Leslie and co-author Charles E. Roth offer easy techniques, exercises, and prompts for all ages. This is not a drawing technique book but inspiration.  If the child’s goal is to draw nature and record what she sees/experiences, this is a book she’ll treasure and refer to often.

Monocular Pocket Spotting Scope

Lastly, it is difficult to journal a bird you observe when it is so far away you can’t see details.  For the budding naturalist, consider a monocular pocket spotting scope. The Bushnell Monocular Scope has a rugged, waterproof design that is perfect for kids. The 9 X 32 mm size is compact, lightweight, clear and easily handled. It’s great for birdwatching and fits easily in your young naturalist’s pocket.

Cell Phone Macro Lens

Another idea for nature lovers is a macro lens designed to clip onto a cell phone. We have several of these on hand at the marine learning center where I volunteer and the visitors have a great time using them as they engage with the live exhibits. For under $15, you’ll want to put one in everyone’s stocking.

For the Computer Programmer


Piper is by far my favorite gift for kids interested in computers and computer programming. It is a complete DIY kit that provides young children with the chance to not only build their first computer but also learn about electronics along the way. Best of all, the kit grows with them. Included is the popular Raspberry Pi computer that budding makers can use in a variety of other projects. They are limited only by their own imagination.

Creation Crate

Creation CrateAnother exciting subscription box is Creation Crate, designed to help you learn about electronics. Surprisingly, this box isn’t just for kids – it’s suitable for anyone age 12+ who wants to learn or enhance their electronics and coding skills. The subscription costs $29.99 per month, and you’ll get to learn how to build simple electronics project without any experience required. It’s fun and definitely educational!

They are giving away a 12-month subscription, enter today. Subscribe and get 10% off your first box.


I hope you’ve found inspiration for your young scientist.  If you have other ideas – please leave a link and comment below.  🙂