Computer games/apps and toys for micro engineers
June 30, 2016 7:07 AM   Subscribe

My son turns 4 tomorrow. His fine motor skills are behind the curve (but within the range of normal). He loves Rube-Goldberg devices, Making Things That Do Things and sandbox worlds. His favorite toy is gravity. Please recommend me.

I've found that a lot of things that I look at and think, "My lord, my kid would love that" are still above his pay grade when it comes to the fine motor skills and general developmental level required (a lot of this stuff seems targeted at the 7-9 age range). For instance, he loves Algodoo, but requires immense amounts of me sitting there doing stuff for him because the buttons are tiny (he mainly interfaces with the touch screen because him trying to use the trackpad is a mess) and the icons are kind of opaque for someone who can't read the tool tips. In the physical world, he loves building race tracks, but all the standard Hot Wheels type stuff is, again, beyond his fine motor abilities to assemble. (He gets frustrated very easily, especially with fine motor stuff and will just give up if it's too hard for him.) He has building blocks and Lego Juniors, but those things don't, on their own, do anything and he's really all about "making things happen". He's not a super imaginative or artistic kid in the typical senses (all his pretend-play games are pretty basic and focus on the things he does in every day life anyway, like ride the bus or eat a meal and his art is mainly about mixing colors to see what new colors he can make, not actually creating new images). But he could watch this thing work all day long (it's located at our Children's Museum and while his usual attention span there is about 30 seconds, he will sit and watch this thing digest and poop out balls for 20 minutes solid).

I have built him some toys and will probably continue to do so in the future, but I don't have the time or the talent to construct stuff that will really jazz him with any regularity. If his interests continue in this vein, he'll have the coolest toys and games ever when he's older (and will probably annoy me endlessly about Minecraft) and can read and operate a mouse and fit tab A into slot B without having to run and get a parent, but I'd like to find some real premium stuff to tide him over until then.

Bonus: We're going on a long car trip for the 4th of July weekend and new apps for his Android tablet would really be helpful.
posted by soren_lorensen to Education (6 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
That's around the age when my son started getting into Quadrilla. It's not cheap, but it's quality stuff that will last generations.

It's easy for a kid to assemble. I don't think it would take very fine motor skills to build it or to operate it. You just stack it up like blocks and then drop marbles into it. Like Lego, all the parts from all the sets are interchangeable so you can start small and build up your collection over time.

My son was also very into Rube Goldberg machines, he still is at age 14, and he would spend hours building Quadrilla structures. We had a couple other marble run sets but this was easily the best of them.

On the app front, I can't get to it from work, but Linerider (Google it) is basically the game that taught my son how to use a mouse/trackpad and computer. It's kind of like building a virtual Hot Wheels track. You build a track and then the little snowman rides down it on a sled. Tracks can be simple or complex. It's not really a game as there is no score or point to it, it's just kind of a physics sandbox. It might be a little complex for a four year old but I think if you start doing it with him he'll quickly get the hang of making basic tracks.
posted by bondcliff at 7:19 AM on June 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

A cheap USB microscope, hanging off a tablet is surprisingly engaging.
posted by Leon at 8:50 AM on June 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

This oldie but goodie will keep a kid that age going for a long time. I think its a terrific "programming" toy that forces you to think ahead, calculate distances etc as well. Had one as a kid and my kid has one too (does not use it much anymore though she is now 10).
posted by H. Roark at 9:00 AM on June 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

Battat makes these great take-apart toys that my kids have really liked. They are simple enough to not be crazy-making but complex enough to be challenging. My 3-year-old was a little young for them at Christmas, but he's now coming around. There are similar things where it is just a board and the kids drill plastic screws into a grid to make designs (here's one that glows!)

Toca Boca apps are always a hit. My son likes Toca Lab, Kitchen, Robot Lab, Tea Party. I haven't played with Toca Builders or Toca Blocks, but sound like they might be right up your son's alley.
posted by LKWorking at 12:37 PM on June 30, 2016

Little Bits
posted by SuperSquirrel at 5:12 PM on June 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

Pocket Operator. And maybe some headphones.
posted by oceanjesse at 7:50 AM on July 2, 2016

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