Great Solar Gadgets The Best Assemble-Your-Own Solar-Powered Toys

Racecars, boats, planes and animal gadgets are fun toys for kids. But they usually require batteries—producing waste in the process—a prospect that’s no good for your wallet or the planet. Pretty much any motorized toy can be powered by a built-in solar panel instead—and lots of the latest assembly type toys do just that. These solar gadgets are more than just unique gift ideas—they teach kids about alternative energy, and give them a hands-on feel for assembling an electrical device

By Land…

The racecar is one of the most popular solar-powered toys on the market. OWI’s Super Solar Race Car Kit ($10.95, www.owirobot.com) is extremely easy to assemble and appropriate for kids over three. If you’re looking for a little more power and a larger model, try the Sonic F1 Solar Racer Kit ($15.95). This sleek model gives young kids a chance to assemble and race a high-speed car and the solar cell lasts for about two years. For older kids, check out the futuristic-looking Solar Racers at Uncle Milton (unclemilton.com) The package includes two racers, each with a PV cell, and a straightaway track, and no assembly is required. The kit sells for about $83 on Amazon, a bit pricier than the previous models, but with the added appeal of racing with a friend.

…Or By Sea

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Solar power is making strides among toy boats, too. The Solar Powered Speed Boat Kit is well suited for older kids, and sells for 9.99 (approximately $13) from Maplan (www.maplan.co.uk). Kids can assemble the boat and learn about solar cells—and a switch sends the boat forward or backward with long self-paddling oars. Indoors, the boat can be taken on bathtub missions, and it comes with an optional AA-battery option. There is also OWI’s Amphibious Solar Vehicle ($39.95) that relies on small paddle wheels for motion at Scientifics Online (scientificsonline.com). The vehicle runs on land or water, is assembled by the user and also has a battery option. Writes one reviewer: “It is awesome.”

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Creatures Great and Small

Nothing says “stocking stuffer surprise” like OWI’s Frightened Grasshopper Kit, which sells for $5.25 on Amazon. The energy from the grasshopper’s solar cell is converted into motion, making the grasshopper—including his googly eyes and long antennae—shake and shiver. It would make a great Secret Santa gift for office-mates, too. The same company offers a solar-powered Walking King Crab (about $13) that tiptoes on its claws, and looks a little like those oversized scorpions on Clash of the Titans. And once the Solar Climbing Orangutan ($14.99 from www.thinkgeek.com) is assembled, you set up the climbing string and expose the robot-like orangutan to light. As long as the light persists, he keeps on climbing.

Other Fun Finds

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Educational solar kits come in many entertaining forms. Take, for example, the Solar Powered FM Radio Kit from Science Time (about $22 at the Ethical Superstore,www.ethicalsuperstore.com). With a bright blue retro design, the kit is intended for kids eight and up. Through assembly, kids learn about solar energy, and have a working gadget to show for it (that can also run on batteries at night). The Amazing Eco House Electronics Kit from Maplan (about $17) is full of fascinating details. Once assembled, the eco house features a working windmill, an LED door sign and door sounds, all of which can be activated independently with power from the rooftop solar panel. Batteries provide backup.

Finally there is the Powerplus Chameleon ($20.22 from www.outdoorgb.com), a 6-in-1 toy for ages 10 and up that can be configured into a windmill, plane, airboat, revolving plane, puppy or car—all of which are activated by solar power. The toy offers lots of opportunities for model-building—and for testing a wide range of powering possibilities offered by the sun (or a halogen lamp, in a pinch).