STEM learning can take on many, many forms. It is our job to imagine ways to keep our kids learning. We are hearing a lot of about 3D printers these days. I had the pleasure of checking out a few first hand when I visited the Microsoft Campus in December of 2013. 3D printers are now being used for many, many things. Can you imagine what it would be like as a child to print your own toys? With today’s 3D printing technology, children and adults of all ages can design action figures, a digital dollhouse, themed jewelry, a plastic city, and much more. Using intuitive software, a personal-use 3D printer, and a lot of imagination, your family can bond over a hobby where creating, printing, and playing with toys is all part of the fun. Here are just a few of the playthings made possible with a 3D printer:

  1. Cool Wearables: Most children don’t really care much about fashion, but they probably have a style all their own just waiting to emerge. My daughters love to create Rainbow Loom bracelets, and they love to crochet. But with a 3D printer they could take their bracelet crafting to another level. 3D printers make jewelry customization a quick, creative, and very techy process. Starting with a basic ring, for example, kids can add custom shapes like a heart or a cartoon skull. From there, they might choose to brand their bling with personal initials or a special password that only their friends know. All of a sudden, that simple plastic ring has become a secret decoder ring — something your child will cherish much longer than any store-bought item.
  1. Custom Dollhouses: If your child has an interior design bug, let them craft the furniture and decorations for their dream house, just as they envision it. Digital Dollhouse technology allows kids to choose their favorite chaise lounge (queue Value City Furniture commercial), add designs, and more. They can even emboss their name or a funny word into the furniture before hitting “print”. Using colored filaments, kids can design a neon-green coffee table with little butterflies studded around the border, or whatever other unique creation they can imagine. They can even print themed decor for the holidays, like a mini Christmas tree bedecked with ornaments.
  1. Miniature Cities: Perhaps your kid likes to imagine worlds on a larger scale, drawing their own cities with futuristic skyscrapers, hovercrafts, and giant sports stadiums. Computer design tools like 3D System’s Cityscape are easy for anyone to use, providing a range of 3D objects to populate your toy city. Starting with a base shape, kids can select office towers, various architectural structures, and tourist attractions to place anywhere they like. When they’re pleased with the finished product, they can print their signature into the city’s foundation, marking the start of a lifelong love for urban planning.
  1. Stackable Blocks: There’s a reason why Lego bricks have captured young people’s minds for decades: the limitless possibilities. Now, 3D printers are taking that idea into the future, combining the software creation features of the massively popular video game Minecraft with real blocks. Apps like Blokify use touch screens to enable kids to draw designs with textured 3D cubes, collaborate with friends, and print their finished object at home. Elaborate castles and spaceships can be conjured up in minutes and then brought to life. My boys are Mindcraft junkies and they would just love this.