It’s always a struggle around birthdays and holidays to figure out what the kids should give friends and family. Generally, we resort to handmade items; I have a couple of those waiting for me under our tree right now. It’s not that I’m complaining – they are usually cute things and I enjoy looking back at some of them – but the kids are getting older and there’s an opportunity here to take that desire to create and move it from macaroni to 3D printing.
But 3D printing involves expensive machinery, costly materials, and complex computer programming. Not exactly a recipe for the creation of a child’s art project, right? Well, probably not if your child is at the age that they still put every object they encounter directly into their mouths, but even a couple of years beyond that, there is actually CAD software that is age appropriate and that your child can use to create. As for the printing, if you aren’t ready to turn them loose on your 3D printer just yet, there are a good number of reputable print on demand services such as Shapeways, Sculpteo, and MyMIniFactory that you can turn to in order to move your child’s design off the screen and into their hands.
In fact, it’s just this kind of project that will help kids develop an early comfort with this technology which is promising to be an integral part of our social environment. In order to participate in modern society, technological literacy is vital and we all want our kids to have a leg up and be able to seamlessly integrate with the tools that they will need to be successful – even if it’s just making a key ring.
It is in this vein that Sculpteo has released its list of the top 8 CAD software programs for children. The ages for which the programs will be satisfactory range from as young as 4 to 13 and up, and the programs run the gamut from downloadable apps to browser based. You’ve probably heard of most of these programs, but what you may not have realized is how their intuitive nature lends itself not only to the creation of sophisticated models, but also the basic sorts of creations that a child exploring the 3D print and modeling world might create during their first experiences.
Some of these programs were designed specifically with children in mind, such as the SOLIDWORKS Apps for Kids, the program ranked best for children in the 4+ age range. Others are simply programs that work well and that are more commonly utilized by people of all ages, such as SketchUp and 123D Design. I cut a couple of my kids (ages 9 and 12) loose on the programs briefly and it was immediately clear how much simpler it is for this next generation to easily integrate the way the already interact with technology into their understanding of a new software. With Tinkercad and LeoCAD the kids had both designed things that were gift-giving worthy less than an hour after they first started using the program. Rounding out the top 8 programs are Leopoly, BlocksCAD, and 3D Slash.
In the coming days, I think I’ll have them run through all of the programs listed and figure out which ones we might want to keep. As they are all free, there’s no harm in a bit of 3D modeling taste testing and, while it’s too late to put any of these creations under our tree, they just might be able to make something for the last day of Chanukah. To my mind, the world of creation that this opens up to kids, either through what they can do now or how easy this early experimentation makes it for them to participate in the 3D revolution when they are ready to create later, is all the gift I need. Discuss in the CAD for Kids forum at 3DPB.com.