Scott Hanselman

Teaching Kids Electronics, Computers, and Programming Fundamentals with Snap Circuits

September 13, '13 Comments [33] Posted in Daddy | Parenting | Programming
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I'm not particularly interested in my kids being programmers or computer people. I'd rather they be interested in life and totally geeked about something. If that's  computers, fine. If that's ballet, also fine.

That said, I think if they are going to be effective users (If not builders) I think they should have a basic sense of how electronics work.

I bought them a basic set of Snap Circuits, specifically Snap Circuits Jr. SC-100, which is just about US$20 on Amazon.

These are brilliant. Check this picture, as it's worth a thousand words and you'll get its genius immediately.

Snap Circuits SC-100

The 5 year old loves the motor and fan, as well as the speaker and noise makers. The boys have made doorbells, a light-controlled fan, lit-up LEDs and made an AM radio. Here's an Instagram Video of the 5 year old explaining his creation:

The pieces snap onto the grid with little buttons. The pieces are plastic and the wires run through them. They're not extremely resilient, in that they can break, particularly the capacitors, but it's actually nice to be able to see the resistors and other parts exposed through the plastic. It strikes a reasonable balance between being friendly to little hands, being sturdy, and actually working reliably as electronic components.

WP_20130912_18_01_15_Pro

The 5 year old is no prodigy, to be clear, but he's already getting a general sense of electrical movement. He'll say that the resistors "slow down the electricity" and that the capacitors "store it up." He knows positive and negative, and how to use a multimeter to measure voltage. (I recommend a $10 multimeter as well for debugging your projects.) He's starting to look at doorbells and remote controls differently now, which means these little projects have already achieved my goal in just a few weeks. I anticipate they'll play with them for some months, forget about them, and then rediscover Snap Circuits every few years. These toys are great for a 5 or 6 year old, but even a 12 to 14 year old could totally appreciate them. I'm even running through some of the experiments and using the millimeter to remind myself of long-forgotten concepts.

We quickly outgrew the 30 parts in the Snap Circuits Jr. Even though it has 100 projects, I recommend you get the Snap Circuits SC-300 that has 60 parts and 300 projects, or do what we did and just get the Snap Circuits Extreme SC-750 that has 80+ parts and 750 projects. I like this one because it includes a computer interface (via your microphone jack, so any old computer will work!) as well as a Solar Panel.

The Snap Circuits SC-750 is a bargain at prices like US$75 if you can find it, especially considering how many tablets, Kindles and iPads some kids have.

WP_20130910_19_23_04_Pro

The next Snap Circuits kids we're considering are either Snap Circuits "Light" that includes LEDs and Fiber Optics, although the 5 year old is pressuring me for the Snap Circuits Robot Rover. It'll likely be the Rover for the holidays around here.

I have no relationship with Snap Circuits, I bought these kits on my own and am reviewing them because they are awesome. If I could invest in Elenco Electronics, I would. The links here are Amazon affiliate links. If you use them, I can buy more Snap Circuits! ;)


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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. I am a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Friday, September 13, 2013 7:04:27 PM UTC
Wow, realy cool styff! I would play with it too)
Bythe way looks like I am ready for arduino stuff
Friday, September 13, 2013 7:18:57 PM UTC
My daughter got this as a gift from her uncle when she was 4. She had a fun time with it. It was also intrigued by this (so much that I would sneak in and do couple of projects myself :)).
Friday, September 13, 2013 7:21:21 PM UTC
We home school our kids and we bought several of these kits a few years ago. They *LOVE* them. They will spend hours not just going through the little kit book, but figuring out new and creative ways to put them together.

Really neat stuff.
Tim
Friday, September 13, 2013 7:24:45 PM UTC
Similar to littleBits

http://littlebits.com/products

John P
Friday, September 13, 2013 7:35:32 PM UTC
You should also check out the Robot Turtles kickstarter. It's a board game that sneakily teaches programming fundamentals.

Joe
Friday, September 13, 2013 7:48:26 PM UTC
John - I'll check those out!

Joe - Yes! I backed that!
Friday, September 13, 2013 8:02:46 PM UTC
You'll find that the Snap Circuits makers are also tremendous about replacement parts. If a piece breaks or goes bad, they will generally replace it for you without charge.

Our six-year old son got his Junior set for Christmas and quickly worked his way through the set. He gave it to a neighbor and has been playing with the Light and Green sets for about six months now. Well worth the dough.
Drew Johnson
Friday, September 13, 2013 8:46:59 PM UTC
Thanks!! My son turns 5 next week and I was looking for something we could do together... between this and and a bucket of legos we should be having some fun. Your link and my Amazon Prime makes it a win win win win.
Friday, September 13, 2013 10:02:02 PM UTC
Thanks Scott, I was looking for something like this to my kid. :-)
Friday, September 13, 2013 10:02:33 PM UTC
Bought one of those for my youngest daughter a couple years ago. She loved it! When I saw it, it reminded me of what I got as a child, the Science Fair Project Electronic Kits, and I just found one on ebay!. Or to go really old school, the crystal radio kits. As your kids get older (assuming they're interested) they can graduate to the Electronics Learning Lab by Radio Shack http://www.radioshack.com/product/index.jsp?productId=3814337.

Great stuff!
Geoff
Friday, September 13, 2013 10:24:34 PM UTC
I have the same kit for my eldest - he loves it.
Marc Gravell
Friday, September 13, 2013 11:17:09 PM UTC
Here is another toy geared towards getting girls into engineering.

http://www.goldieblox.com/
Jesse
Friday, September 13, 2013 11:36:36 PM UTC
My 5yo just completed the same project and loved it, too. Here he is hacking the 7 segment LED with a paperclip.

I want to get the snap wires with snaps on one side and solid wire leads on the other to plug into breadboards. That way we can desolder LEDs, pots and switches from old motherboards and scrap hardware (we have a lot) and expand on the many excellent projects. If this doesn't instill a hacker ethos, I'm not sure what will.
Saturday, September 14, 2013 2:34:18 AM UTC
My kids love this as well. 7 and 8 yr old boys.
Eric
Saturday, September 14, 2013 4:59:01 AM UTC
Reminded me of one of my favourite/most-memorable child-hood toys:

http://www.thestrong.org/online-collections/images/Z004/Z00490/Z0049035.jpg

The chemistry set we had also got a lot of use and I think my dad enjoyed it more than us kids did.
Josh
Saturday, September 14, 2013 7:45:04 AM UTC
Its great seeing how kits like that have evolved :-)

Much like your self my father encouraged me to be "geeked about something" he is a marine biologist and im now a cloud/dev/system/network/electronics geek. When i was 4 or 5 we built a light house from a bulb and a broken train toy which made a noise for a fog horn :), that lead to me wanting the light to flash, now the extent of my fathers electronics knowledge had pretty much been reached building the first version but he got me some elctronics for kids/primary school books and kits and that's where the electronics bug hit. I never did get it to flash but i did start making other projects. Looking back now its that and some programs we wrote together on a micro computer (dragon 32 which is a sort of clone of the Tandy TRS-80) which got me started on the path to where i am now, and also passivly got the idea into my head that you dont just learn at school, that it is fun to learn and push yourself, and if you set your mind to it you can teach your self anything.

Hopefully Scott one day your lads will look back like i do to experiences like this, and if not at least they are having a lot of fun!
Tim
Saturday, September 14, 2013 12:07:27 PM UTC
Fixed it for you:

"These toys are great for a 5 or 6 year old, but even a 12 to 14 to 40-some year old could totally appreciate them."
Brad Rem
Saturday, September 14, 2013 2:16:09 PM UTC
Josh - I had that same kit! Loved it. After that moved on to a Radio Shack AM/FM receiver kit.
Ken
Saturday, September 14, 2013 5:58:32 PM UTC
Did you show them this awesome youtube channel?

http://www.engadget.com/2013/04/02/adafruit-circuit-playground/
peter
Saturday, September 14, 2013 7:46:08 PM UTC
My 4 & 5 year old got one of these kits for Christmas and they love it. Having learnt about electricity going around in a circuit and making the motor run, they managed to see the same circuit in their scalextric and even managed to find a way to see the same circuit in a real train powered by overhead lines.
Rob
Sunday, September 15, 2013 12:41:56 PM UTC
Looks really good. Thought about it for my Grandson. Unfortunately over here in the UK the Snap Circuits Extreme SC-750 seems only to be available from two Amazon suppliers, one asking GB179 ($285) with local shipment, another asking GB151 plus GB43 for international shipment (total approx $308).

The manufacturer really needs a European distributor...

Linda
Monday, September 16, 2013 1:39:19 AM UTC
Linda - Why not in Amazon UK? http://www.amazon.co.uk/Snap-Circuits-SC-100-Jr-Sc-100/dp/B00008BFZH
Monday, September 16, 2013 2:41:30 AM UTC
I got these for my kids two Christmas's back. Their ages ranged from 5 to 8. They esp liked the one where the "fan" could be launched up in the air like a whirly-bird. I'm just biding my time until one of them takes enough interest to splurge on something like the Lego Mindstorm kits.

Takes me back to the day of my 150-in-1 Electronic kit: pic on Flickr

We rigged the "electric shock machine" up to some old metal hangers and hid the unit in the closet with the hangers sticking out from under the door. When my little brother came by and wanted to see what was making noise in the closet he grabbed both hangers to move them and completed the circuit. 9v of shocking goodness. Good times.
sig
Monday, September 16, 2013 6:40:18 AM UTC
I bought one of these for my 6 year old last summer. More than the basic concept of electricity, I wanted him to learn about logical thinking along with how things work together and how to "debug" things that didn't work. It worked a treat and gave him days of entertainment, especially when trying to snap together parts from other kits i'd bought for him.

My favourite moment was integrating an old PC fan I had laying around into the circuit in the summer time to show him how it could be used for real world uses. Worth every penny.
Monday, September 16, 2013 9:27:11 AM UTC
Aw, cool! Pity these toys aren't available here in Italy....
MaxL
Monday, September 16, 2013 11:36:06 AM UTC
Bought this same kit for my kids a couple years ago and we have so much fun with it. I look the excitement they get when they flip the switch and the fan or light comes on with their own designs.
Sunday, September 22, 2013 5:24:36 PM UTC
Thanks for sharing Scott.
Aaron
Monday, September 23, 2013 8:39:09 AM UTC
About toys: this kit is amazing too. I also see great fun playing with Lego Mindstorms and programming with Scratch.
Igor
Tuesday, September 24, 2013 9:08:31 AM UTC
Very Very Best....... Nice
Pardeshi Bharatsinh Shivsinh
Thursday, September 26, 2013 3:44:18 AM UTC
Scott, as always great post. I know what I'll be doing with my 6 year old this weekend :)
Per
Saturday, September 28, 2013 1:13:25 PM UTC
Really Nice. I didn't think that my 5 yr old son Can so something with electronic staff.
I saw your article, buy it, and he really loves to build some circuits.

THX
Jens Buermann
Saturday, September 28, 2013 2:54:24 PM UTC
Sigh. $20 in the US, EUR 50 in Germany. The big one is 140€. That sucks.
Thursday, November 21, 2013 9:44:04 PM UTC
Just picked up the Snap Circuits Sound kit. My son is going to love it.

Thanks Scott!
Erik Howard
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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.