An Introduction to Electronics for Kids
Just trying to document the process I went through while building this for kids aged 5-8 years old.
Too young? Perhaps. But I’d rather they surprise me than find the kit to be too lame for their age.
Deciding what to put in and how to build the circuit along with the container so it wouldn’t be complicated was tough! I selected these parts after a long process of looking around online at ebay, adafruit, sparkfun, Tinkersphere (in downtown manhattan) and Amazon. 3 kits cost a total of $40-50USD but the parts come in large quantities so it’s really cheap to do a couple more.
In the end, I decided that a kit for kids should have a few guidelines:
- Everything needed to be as direct as possible. No switches, no jumpers on the breadboard, basically no logical jumps that require “if this then that, then that”. Power just goes to different components directly.
- The effects of applying power to the component should be obvious and hopefully attractive to kids. I chose a 5V piezo buzzer, a Green LED, a Flashing Multi-colored LED and a vibrating motor. Light, Sound, Motion.
- 3V might be more suitable than 5V via USB or 9V here so that we won’t need to deal with resistors in series with the LEDs. I think the LEDs are over-powered but they are not burning out so I’ll hope my luck doesn’t run out.
What can they learn?
- Batteries have +ve and -ve poles
- Components have polarity as well, sometimes connecting it backwards works (like with motors) sometimes it doesn’t (like with LEDs and buzzers)
- When you add jumper cables into the mix to simultaneously power components, you can learn about connecting stuff in series and in parallel. A bit too advanced for younger ones though!
- Metal in the wires conduct electricity
- The symbols for the components as well as the RED/BLACK for + and – convention.
There are a few risks I’ve identified here actually:
- Short circuits can get very hot, even at 3V. This is probably because the wire is so thin. The hot glue I used to insulate the wire temporarily melted right off when I accidentally shorted it for about 5-10 seconds. The only way around this would be to permanently power the breadboard and short all the rows so that each side of the board is either +ve or -ve but then you’d have to leave the child to insert components which would surely result in breaking them.
- Small, small parts. To get around this I decided to just glue all the components to the board and mark out the rows of the breadboard that need to be connected. I decided not to hot glue all the unused rows in the breadboard so that perhaps in future there might be a bit more flexibility.
- The altoid tin itself conducts electricity which means the loose power cables could short out inside the tin. It doesn’t happen actually in real life but to be safe I just taped up the inside surface so it wouldn’t happen.
So that’s it! It’s really simple to build but it really requires a lot of thinking about what you want to achieve as well as what is manageable and safe from a child’s perspective.