3D Printing For Kids

My daughter first got the idea into her head about a 3D Printer a couple years ago. I can’t pinpoint the exact moment, but when a friend of hers brought a little plastic character that his dad had printed, had to have been close. For the last two years, she’s lamented the fact that she didn’t have enough money, nor enough ways to earn money, to purchase her own 3D Printer. All of that changed this Christmas.

3D Printers for Kids

I’m a computer guy. These days I do web development and other programming, andĀ a decade ago, I was a pretty high-end systems administrator. There aren’t many computer things that I can’t get working. So, it was with some confidence that me and 10 dove into the world of 3D printing. But, it’s tougher than it looks. It took eight tries just to get the Z-level right, and we didn’t even know what a Z-level was when we started.

xyz jr 3d printer

Just started printing a 3D Dalek. That blue stuff is the bottom layer.

We watched a couple Youtube videos (that helps more than you might think), read the pathetically small instructions, set the Z-height, loaded some filament, and after a few false starts, we were off to 3D printing. That afternoon she started making her own models using software we just downloaded a few minutes earlier. Turns out Dad isn’t the only one who is good at computers šŸ™‚

By the time Christmas Break was over, she had 3D printed gifts for all of her friends.

What Is 3D Printing Like

I’m going to crank out a small manual or series of articles about 3D printing and how it works because there isn’t much out there aimed at parents of kids who are into 3D printing.

First, thing is first. 3D Printing is NOT like regular printing. These are not nearly the error-free laser printer type machinesĀ that plug and play on your desk and can be expected to crank out hundreds of copies without a paper jam or other issue. In fact, as you research actual 3D Printing sources, you’ll come to find out that a 3D printer is much more of a workshop device. A tool that you have to work with, calibrate and understand. Even then, there are going to be errors.

This is good news, because while we had some early success with the XYZ Jr. 3D Printer that she got, we had plenty of errors too. Just enough to worry that maybe this was a mistake, and maybe $300-level 3D Printers just weren’t worth it. Turns out that people with $3,000 3D printers have the same issues, from prints that don’t stick properly to the printing bed, to clogged extruders.

I can’t say which 3D printer is best for kids, because thisĀ one that Santa brought is the only one I’ve ever used, but so far, I’d have to say it has been up to the task. It’s important to remember that this isn’t about printing flawless artifacts that can be sold in New York boutiques, but rather about cranking out a plastic model of whatever your heart desires. When you focus on custom, anything goes, and less on flawless production, your experiences will be much better.

To 3D print something, you load a string (for lack of a better word) of plastic into a feeder. The printer heats up and melts that plastic as it comes out a tiny tube. Then, the print bed moves back and forth, while the print head moves side to side. Think of laying down tiny strings of plastic over and over to build up the shape, and that’s something of the idea.

To make this work, you need a digital 3D model which you can create in different software.Ā Then, you need to “slice” that model using software that matches your 3D printer. Then, you copy that file to the memory card, and then use the buttons to select what you want to print. You can also connect it to your computer, but that doesn’t save you much effort.

So, far, my daughter has figured out the basic software, downloaded basic models, and constructed her own. She’s also run into the first of what I’m sure will be many tricky problems such as why certain things get “fixed” and the left off of printouts, and why we seems to be stuck at a certain height before errors occur.

I’ll write up some more details as I figure them out, and get the chance. In the meantime, Ā the most important thing out of all of this is that what we really ended up withĀ is a fun, technical challenge that presents real world problems, troubleshooting, and rewards. This thing sitting on her desk is probably worth a year of so-called STEM education.

If you have the means, and an interested child, I highly recommend it.


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Halloween Candy

Halloween is one of those holidays where parenting styles really differ. Some parents worry about safety and maybe morality issues. Other parents are fine with the holiday itself, but aren’t so keen on things like costumes and candy. For us, our holiday is colored by the knowledge that, unlike some other holidays, this one comes with a pretty short life span.

From birth to around Age 4, you pick your kid’s costume, and any trick or treating is pretty limited. A little bag or bucket and just a few stops is the whole thing. We did our early trick or treating at a day time event at the Denver Zoo called Boo at the Zoo. They have little trick or treat stations as you walk around the zoo. It’s safe, easy, and it comes with a visit to the zoo.


Marry Poppins, a football, the Deathly Hallows, and an owl.

Fast forward, and realize that many kids stop trick or treating with their parents in their early teens. Add it all up, and that means that, as a parent, you will get 10 total Halloweens with your children. After that, they’ll want to trick or treat with their friends, or go to a costume party at someone’s house, or whatever. Either way, it won’t necessarily include you.

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I don’t know about you, but with that limitation, I’m going to go ahead and do it up a bit. We get costumes, go to a few trick or treating places, and carve up pumpkins with our kids. You can worry about them getting a costume they will never wear again, but if you look at it from the perspective of, you get to buy them 10 costumes their whole life, that changes the math a bit.

Halloween Costumes for Kids

Asking your kid what they want to be for Halloween is a good start, but many of them don’t know what the options are. Obviously, if your kiddo loves Curious George and wants to go as Curious George, then done and done.

But, if your child seems to be having trouble deciding what they want, they may not be able to conjure up a full vision of choices. Looking online is one option, but that can lead to unrealistic, or very expensive, choices. I prefer a quick stop into either a Party City, or one of those temporary Halloween shops that pop up each year. We do pretty well at Halloween City, and there always seems to be a 20% off coupon you can get on your phone, or print off. With that discount, the costumes there cost just about what they cost online, and your kiddo gets the joy of walking out of the store with the costume in hand.

This year, our kids went in different directions. 7 decided to go as a football player. He chose that costume only half because he really wanted to be a football player, but he most definitely, 100% wanted a football helmet. Fun is fun, No matter how you get there.

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Our older one with with a cool costume from the video game Assassins Creed. Although none of us have ever played, or really seen, the game, a cool costume of belts and cloaks and hoods, is a cool costume of belts and cloaks and hoods. Through in a cool, plastic, assassin weapon, and you’ve got a sweet Halloween costume.

Halloween Candy

In our neighborhood, we don’t get too many trick or treaters. In part, it’s because we go out trick or treating during prime hours ourselves, but our street is also a side street off of a long, well lit, street with limited participation from neighbors. Whatever the case, we end up with plenty of left over candy.


If you’re the same, consider buying everyone’s favorites for your own candy bowl. That way, your leftovers can be your Halloween treat, and you won’t have to resort to stealing, or “taxing”, you little one’s hard earned candy.

Happy Halloween, everyone!


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Do It Yourself Harry Potter Birthday

So, we just recently pulled off a pretty stellar Harry Potter birthday for our 10-year old that was praised several times by her friends, including a comment I overheard, “This is the most awesome party ever.” The best part is that we didn’t end up buying a bunch of overpriced junk to make it work either.

A Homemade Harry Potter Birthday Theme

The trick to a great do it yourself Harry Potter birthday party is knowing what parts of the movies and books to use for your party theme. Obviously, it would be really cool if you could have flying brooms, and if you pull that off, please let me know how. But, since flying and spells are pretty tricky for us Muggles, there are other things that work out great.

Harry Potter Music

This one is easy. Grab the Harry Potter soundtrack on DVD, or plug your Phone in somewhere. Set the music to background volume. It just gives a nice Harry Potter feel to your party.

Harry Potter Lights

Floating candles like in the Great Dining Hall at Hogwarts would be awesome. I’ve seem something rigged up with thin wire so it looks like they are floating, but we found that stringing up small strings of Christmas style white lights made a really nice Great Hall effect for our birthday party.

Harry Potter Chocolate Frogs

I think you can actually buy these if you can find them. But, if not, what you can buy a chocolate frog mold. The mold is just a piece of plastic with frog-shaped wells. You fill the wells with chocolate and Bam! chocolate frogs.

chocolate frogs

One tip, don’t screw around when it comes to the chocolate. Get the special melting chocolate. It not only melts easy, but it solidifies easy and without cracking or getting fragile. Incidentally, chocolate frogs come in various colors, so you can get clever. Our 10-year old wanted some blue ones.

You can put these on the side of the cake, or as a topper on cupcakes or whatever matches your birthday party.

harry potter chocolate frog cupcakes

Harry Potter Wands

Instead of a goodie bag, how about sending each kiddo home with their very own Harry Potter (style) wand. They sell Harry Potter wands, but they are probably a bit much to be giving out to each child that attends your kid’s Harry Potter theme birthday.

Up on Etsy we found this shop that sells unique Harry Pottery style wands. They come sanded but unpainted. Voila! Instant birthday craft. We setup a painting station and each kiddo got a wand and the chance to paint.

Harry Potter Cards

They appear only briefly in the movie, but there are Harry Potter wizard trading cards that come with the cards. You can buy them online, or take pictures and print the kids on their own wizard trading cards. Each kiddo gets to pick a house and then you print some info on the back.

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Harry Potter Jewelry

Believe it or not, you can get 9 different Harry Potter necklacesĀ for less than $15. Divvy them out one each and that plus a freshly painted wand makes for a pretty decent birthday attendee gift.

Harry Potter Movie

Pick your kiddo’s favorite movie from the Harry Potter series and throw in on after cake. Watch them all sit there holding their wands and wearing their necklaces while they watch the movie.

All in all, it wasn’t really that much work, and the kids had lots of fun without a bunch of cheesy cardboard Harry Potter stuff.


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Forbidden Island Fun Strategy Game for Kids and Family

A great way to get fun time with your kids is to play board games. Everyone has fun, and sits around enjoying each other’s company. Best of all, no screens are required šŸ™‚

But, finding the right board games for kids of different ages can be tricky, especially if there is a wide age difference between children, or if Mom and Dad don’t want to have to throw the game so Junior can win.

forbidden island game review

Forbidden Island Board Game Fun

Forbidden Island is a near perfect board game for kids from pre-teen through adult. It comes a small metal box with a snap tight lid, and doesn’t take a ton of room to setup, which means it’s great for taking on trips, whether to a hotel or a camp site. It can be played with between two and four players, which means the kids can play it without you if they want. Most games only take a half-hour or so to play, which means nobody will be trying to pull their eyeballs out by the end, unlikeĀ the many Monopoly games we ended up with.

The other great thing about Forbidden Island is that it is a cooperative game. That means it is the players versus the game. No more having to fake a bad decision to let the youngsters win.

forbidden island game board

Instead, the game premise is that the island is flooding. Players have to gather four items and get to Fool’s Landing and leave the island before its’ too late.

The game mechanics are simple enough for youngsters, but the strategy is real enough for older kids and adults. The game board is a set of tiles set out in an easy to remember pattern. That means each time you play the game, the board is different. Each player gets a pawn which corresponds to one of the characters, each of whom has a special power. All the powers are good, so there is no fighting.

As you play, you draw cards. You collect those cards and trade them for the items that you have to collect to win the game. But, some of the cards trigger more flooding.

Each player decides on their turn what to do: Move, Save (un-flood) a tile, Pass Cards to another player, and so on. Since the game is cooperative, the whole team can strategize together, while each player still getting their own moves. So, while the box says Ages 10 and Up, this game is happily played by our 7 year old, who has picked up some solid strategy along the way.

forbidden island game pieces

Assuming all goes well, the team wins when everything is collected and you leave the island. But, if you can’t save all the items in time, or your landing pad sinks, well then you all lose.

It’s plenty of fun and excitement, in a well contained game that makes it easy to start late in the evening of a school night and know that not only will everyone have fun, but that it won’t go so long as to mess up bedtime either.

While this game is still plenty of fun, and one of our go-to games for road trips, if you ever want something with even more challenge, the game Pandemic, has similar game play to Forbidden Island, but with a few levels of extra complexity.

Forbidden Island is a recommended family game.


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Going Camping With Kids


We are headed up into the mountains to camp with the kids for the first time. Watch this space for all kinds of useful camping tips and packing advice for kids, born of the wisdom learned from this experience.

Wish me luck!

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