Osmo's learning kits are a fun way to introduce STEAM concepts to kids with engaging math and word games

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  • Educational toys can help your kids learn new words, develop better math skills, and even grasp basic coding concepts.
  • Osmo's educational kits are beautifully designed and employ the family tablet to engage your kids with thoughtful activities.
  • There's the Osmo Coding Kit ($99.99), Osmo Genius Starter Kit + Family Game Night ($139.99), and Little Genius Starter Kit + Early Math ($119.99).

There's lots of pressure on parents to encourage kids to learn, limit their screen time to worthy content, and help them develop new skills. While there are tons of educational toys, apps, and games that promise to ignite a passion in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) subjects, or improve literacy in a fun way, few of them live up to those promises. Trust me, we have several languishing in the backs of closets.

Osmo's thoughtfully designed educational kits are different. Employing the family tablet (iPad or Fire tablet) and combining physical pieces with onscreen games, this is fun learning at its best. Most of what's in these kits is familiar, but Osmo recently bundled its coding games together with new durable pieces and unveiled fresh cooperative and competitive word and math games to encourage families to play together.

I've spent the last week testing three new kits with the help of my enthusiastic 8-year-old daughter and skeptical 11-year-old son.  Read on to see what we liked, and didn't like, about them.

Design, specs, and setup

Each Osmo kit comes with a stand for an iPad or Amazon Fire tablet and a special top piece with a mirror that slides over the front-facing camera. This gives the tablet a view of the tabletop or floor in front of it where you'll slide pieces into play. 

There are different pieces in each kit. For example, the Coding Kit comes with plastic pieces that slot together magnetically and can be stacked to create commands. The Genius Kit features letter, number, and shape tiles. The Little Genius Kit has squiggly lines that can be put together to form letters, numbers, or shapes, and also a set of costume tiles.

Everything is well-made, durable, and temptingly tactile. The pieces are fun to play with and even the way they pack into the stackable boxes is satisfying. Each kit offers a different set of games that work with the kit's included pieces.

To get started, I installed the Osmo World app which serves as a hub. 

Osmo Starter Coding Kit

My daughter was excited to try the coding kit first. The opening game challenges kids to guide the cute Osmo character, Awbie, through a forest map chasing bunnies, collecting strawberries, and gathering wood that can be used to build his campsite. By slotting different pieces together, kids command Awbie to move through tiles on the game map. It's a gentle introduction to what the pieces mean that gradually layers up the complexity, introducing concepts like sequencing and looping. 

As a child's confidence grows, they can move on to the other two games in the coding series, which feature tougher problems to solve. Coding Jam has perhaps the strongest hook as it enables kids to create music. The most advanced option is Coding Duo, which is ideal for two kids and introduces concepts like pair programming.

Osmo Genius Starter Kit + Family Game Night

With seven different games to play, there's lots to do with the Genius Kit. My daughter particularly liked the Tangram game, which challenges kids to make the onscreen animals from geometric shapes. Lettertopia is the new word game and it's an interesting cooperative adventure where kids form words to move characters through a map and defeat enemies.

There is also a kind of competitive hangman game that can be played with the letter tiles and my kids were keen to go head-to-head, but it soon sparked an argument. We had a lot more fun with the cooperative play. They especially enjoyed Math Buzz, which dresses up math problems in a bee-themed game they could play as a team. They worked together to solve the puzzles and add, subtract, or multiply their way to the honey.

Little Genius Starter Kit + Early Math Adventure

This kit is aimed at preschoolers, but we actually had some fun using the squiggly plastic pieces to create characters that came to life on screen in Squiggle Magic and to form letters in the ABC game. There are also games that use the costume pieces, challenging kids to pick the right clothes to advance a story and to experiment with outfits.

Osmo's new games in this kit are Counting Town and Shape Builder, both use the sticks and rings to form numbers or create shapes. They were a bit basic for my daughter, but I think kids in the target age range of 3 to 5 years old would benefit from the counting practice and learn to identify shapes.

What makes these stand out

The hook of onscreen action dictated by physical pieces is what makes Osmo's kits unique and both the hardware and software are highly polished. My daughter was so engrossed that she asked to play again every day for the last week. My son remembered testing some Osmo games in the past and decided, at 11, he was now too old. But once he saw my daughter playing, he couldn't resist joining in. 

I appreciate that Osmo has made some effort with the new kits to introduce more cooperative and competitive play elements that can involve the whole family.

The cons

The obvious con here is the price. You can buy a Fire tablet for less than even the cheapest Osmo kit. The quality of Osmo's offerings is high, but you'll want to get a lot of use out of them to justify the cost. To that end, these kits would potentially work great in playgroup or classroom settings. 

The bottom line

Thoughtfully designed, easy to use, and engaging, Osmo's kits offer a rare blend of fun and education that has the potential to spark young imaginations. While they are expensive, you're getting an exceptionally good quality product that's unique. There's nothing else quite like Osmo, particularly the Genius Kits, but young coders may be better served by getting involved in a huge, free, open project like Scratch.

Ultimately, there's enough depth and versatility here, particularly in the Osmo Genius Starter Kit + Family Game Night, to keep kids coming back for more. 

Pros: Polished hardware and software, fun and educational, includes cooperative and competitive games

Cons: Expensive, requires an iPad or Fire tablet

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