Teaching Kids Electronics, Computers, and Programming Fundamentals with Snap Circuits
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.
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.
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.
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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Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.
Really neat stuff.
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.
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.
The chemistry set we had also got a lot of use and I think my dad enjoyed it more than us kids did.
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!
"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."
The manufacturer really needs a European distributor...
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.
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.
I saw your article, buy it, and he really loves to build some circuits.
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Bythe way looks like I am ready for arduino stuff