If you have a young child, and that young child enjoys machines and vehicles, you may find your home filling up with toy cars and airplanes and motorcycles and cement mixers of every size from “lies unnoticed on the floor until you step on it” to “takes up all the available space in your apartment.” Some are ironically inert lumps of wheeled plastic; others make irritating beeping sounds and require you to change the batteries with a screwdriver. Here are some better alternatives I’ve recommended on Slate’s parenting podcast, Mom and Dad Are Fighting, that will scratch your child’s mechanistic itch without driving you nuts.
Richard Scarry’s Busytown Busy, Busy Airport Game
Games for little kids are usually on the Chutes and Ladders model: useful for teaching toddlers to take turns but soporific for the adult stuck supervising. Busy, Busy Airport is different: Kids (and also adults!) make simple strategic choices and carry toy-size paperboard airplanes to destinations all over the room. And there’s lots of appealingly detailed Richard Scarry artwork, making this a great choice for fans of Cars and Trucks and Things That Go.
Klutz LEGO Chain Reactions Craft Kit
Slightly older mechanophiles will get a kick out of this simple kit containing Lego pieces, balls, string, ramps, and step-by-step instructions for building 10 gizmos, starting with simple ramps and levers and showing how they can be assembled into satisfying Rube Goldberg contraptions. With patience and care, your kid can kick a gum wrapper into the trash with just a few ramps, a funnel, a pulley, a trigger, and a hammer.
Crazy Gears iOS Game
$2.99, App Store
If you’re willing to let your kids have a little screen time, Crazy Gears will let them satisfy their jones for machinery in a virtual environment. Kids solve increasingly tricky puzzles by assembling gears and levers into simple machines. To advance, they’ll need to use trial and error, combine strategies, and build on their knowledge. Can kids learn about real-world physics from a video game? I don’t know, but they can definitely have fun playing with cogs.
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