Sized like a smart phone, the Raspberry Pi is a mini-computer that offers extraordinary functionality. Developed by the Raspberry Pi Foundation, a charity created to promote the prominence and prevalence of computer science in the United Kingdom, the first Pi model was released in the in 2012. Available for only $35 at launch, the Pi was intended to be a platform for children to program with the popular child-friendly Scratch coding language.
At its core, the Pi is no different than a conventional computer as it contains a processor, memory, and input units. It is available in a range of different configurations and performance options with the Pi Zero W being the most recent model. However, where the Pi differs from typical computers is in its price, low power usage, and operating system. Having a weak processor and low power consumption capabilities means that the Pi runs on lower processor intensive operating systems based on Linux. This means that while the Pi can be successfully used by kids to program on Scratch, the device’s ability to run Linux provides it with the capability to be used for many different projects and utilities that are above and beyond Scratch’s functionality. While choosing to buy a Pi for tech-inclined kids is a no-brainer, the big question is helping them decide what to do with it. Below we’ve listed 11 great ideas to inspire your kids to turn a computer chip into real-world fun.
1. Lego Robot
Originally founded on Kickstarter in 2013, the BrickPi lets children use their Pi to create a moving and functioning robot. By using the Pi as a brain for the BrickPi’s motors and sensors, children can create various types of robots using lego and the BrickPi. From a robotic arm that can swing tennis balls to a functional rover that can move around any terrain, many different types of machines can be created by just combining Lego with your Raspberry Pi and the BrickPi. Since launching, the founders have also added GoPiGo (remote control car) and GrovePi (IoT controller), giving even more options to create Pi controlled robots.
Source: Dexter Industries
2. Kano Kit
While many kids may find the Pi easy to use, some may not find the interface of the design appealing or accessible. This is where the Kano kit comes in. Aimed at children over eight years of age, the Kano is a fully featured kit that provides kids with all of the tools they need for a personal computer including a Pi 3, wireless keyboard, touch pad and power supply. Kano provides detailed instructions to create the computer from the included parts and once setup, it provides a custom operating system designed from the get-go to teach children about computer science via numerous games and creation tools. Naturally, all of this comes at a cost as the cheapest Kano Kit without a screen or display costs US$150. Kano sells a computer kit with a screen for US$285 and has recently launched a screen-less “pixel” kit for US$80.
3. Code with Scratch
While there is a vast assortment of possible projects to create with the Pi, some parents may prefer to save on any extra project costs and simply let their children code and learn with Scratch. Running Scratch on the Pi requires no additional hardware or software upgrades and generally, the software runs just like it would on any other machine. The article linked below provides details on how to use Scratch with the Pi, and we have written a more comprehensive guide to Scratch here.
Source: Tech Advisor
4. Minecraft Mods
For the few who are not aware, Minecraft is an immensely popular sandbox based video game. While it is possible to play the full version of Minecraft on the Pi, the device is better suited to making mods for the game due to the performance constraints created by its weak processor. Making mods for Minecraft on the Pi is possible thanks to Minecraft Pi, a special version of Minecraft designed specifically for the Pi. Once launched, Minecraft Pi presents kids with the ability to mod Minecraft in a Python programming environment for free and via a Python interface. The software provides many different tutorials and resources for kid’s eager to learn more about both Python and Minecraft modding.
Source: Pocket Lint
5. Building Cases
One creative project idea for new Pi owners is making a physical case for the device. Lego is a great tool to use when creating a case for the Pi due to its child friendly design and fact that many households have boxes of it lying around. With the right amount of pieces, kids can cover most of the Pi’s surroundings with a case. A range of great examples can be found across the web, including those on the link below:
Source: Raspberry Pi
6. Arcade Game
One of the Pi’s greatest benefits is its versatility and ability support a lot of different types of software. Arcade games are just one of the many different types of programs that the Pi can comfortably support. By just using a USB and free imaging software on a separate computer, parents can easily download and install free arcade game software like RetroPie on their Pi. Once installed and loaded, RetroPie will allow kids to load arcade games that they can pair with custom built arcade cabinets or controls to simulate a custom arcade. This idea is perfect for Dad’s who (a) spent their early years gaming and (b) like the idea of a mini-construction project with their kids.
Source: I Like to Make Stuff
7. Game Kid
For kids who are not interested in the lengthy process of making their own arcade with the Pi, the Game Kid is a handheld gaming console that is compatible with many different Pi models. Designed for playing retro games on the handheld computer, the Game kid (think Nintendo Game Boy) runs on RetroPie and provides the Pi owners with a 2500mAH battery, HDMI out, twelve different controls and built in stereo speakers to play games with. The GameKid was successfully funded in on Kickstarter in 2015 and is expected to be available for a general pre-order soon.
Source: Robot Loves Kitty
8. Race Cars
One of the most exciting Pi projects for younger children, the Formula Pi lets kids race their Pi’s against each other with the power of their code. Just as the name implies, the Formula Pi provides children with the ability to participate in different Pi races with code designed to control motorized Pi’s movements. Every device in Formula PI has the same hardware and specifications with the only differences being present in the code found in each car. Since there are no remote controls, the cars must be completely autonomous. Even though writing autonomous code may be difficult for some children, Formula Pi provides many free resources and tips for kids to get a hold of the basics. Entry into a race costs around US$50, and although the races will take place in the U.K, children can participate from all around the world by sending their code online. Head to the Formula Pi website to learn more.
Source: Formula Pi
9. Create Apps with the Tingbot
Just like the Kano Kit, the Tingbot centers on providing children with additional functionality for their Pi. Out of the box, the Tingbot comes with a custom LCD screen board, button board and assembly instructions. Once setup, the Tingbot allows children to design graphics, draw pictures, control sounds and much more. While it includes some apps for kids to play with, the primary function of the device is for kids to create their own applications with Python on the included editor. The Tingbot includes a lot of tutorials and examples for beginners and is available for approximately US$76. One of the key differences between the Tingbot and other Pi projects is the custom Tide editor included with the device. Tide is an easy way to make applications for the device and makes the project very accessible for kids.
Sometimes the Pi’s abundant features can be overwhelming. Having a lot of features can be great, but too many features can lead to kids not knowing what to do and losing interest. The Piper computer helps keep things simple while providing much of the learning found via other confusing means on the Pi in a different manner. Every US$300 Piper purchase comes with not only a Pi but a mouse, speaker, LCD screen and all of the tools needed to create a unique, custom computer. Building a computer is where the Piper shines as not only does the device allow children to learn how to code via the PiperUniverse software, but it provides kids with a basic understanding of how to build and modify computers. Overall, while the Piper is expensive, its abundance of resources makes it a great project for any kid interested in taking the next step with the Pi. The Piper’s page contains a lot more details about the device.
Source: Build Piper
11. Make Music with the Piano Hat
One of the best ways to get children interested in computer science is by combining things they like with the subject. For kids fond of music, the Piano Hat is a great tool to blend their passion of computer science with a Pi project. Developed by renowned children’s toy company Pimoroni and available for only $19, the Piano Hat provides the Pi with 13 different touch keys for inputs. With a design reminiscent of a traditional piano, children can customise the function and output of the Piano Hat’s keys using Python via the Raspberry Pi’s programming options. Setup is simple and the Piano Hat is just another example of the seemingly endless ways to get more out of a Raspberry Pi.