Introducing Kids to Electronics

Electronics is one of the key foundational skills to teach kids since a basic understanding of electronics is essential to move on to many great computing and robotics projects. However, it is challenging to teach this to kids in an intuitive way and there are many robotics products like Lego Mindstorms where the electronic components are very modular and allow kids to piece components together without understanding the electronics behind them.

As our kids get older, I would like to start doing projects with some of the single-board computer kits that are very popular right now such as the Beagleboard, Raspberry Pi, or Arduino. But first, we need to teach them electronics.

Traditionally electronics classes are a great way to start building simple circuits with batteries, light bulbs, and motors. The biggest challenge to hold kids’ attention is it is difficult to experiment quickly. What happens if we change the value of a resistor? Depending on whether you are soldering, wrapping wires, or using a breadboard, it can be difficult to make changes like this quickly in a way that is easy for kids to understand.

A couple of years ago, a good friend at work who also happens to be an analog circuit designer highly recommended a product called Snap Circuits to me. I had seen a small demo of the product at our annual Bring Kids to Work event, and I decided it would be an interesting Christmas present that year for our kids.

The circuit components snap together very easily like Legos which makes assembling the circuits a snap (pun intended). The great thing about Snap Circuits is that kids can understand and carry out the instructions. The projects progress slowly from very simple (Project #1 is an Electric Light with a Switch) to pretty advanced. The early projects go very quickly, so it is pretty normal to run through several of them in one sitting.

SnapCircuitsProject1 SnapCircuitsProject288

I do highly recommend doing these projects together with your kids. If you already have a basic understanding of electronics, there are plenty of opportunities to pause and talk about why the circuit works the way it does and to try simple modifications. If you do not feel comfortable with electronics, this is a great way to learn along with the kids and you will be able to catch some mistakes (like plugging in a component backwards or shorting the batteries) as kids are usually in a bit of a rush and will need some help to avoid destructive missteps.

Snap Circuits is a fantastic tool and I was surprised how it does solve so many of the challenges that make tinkering with electronics difficult. This is a staple part of our engineering learning. The complex projects are something to look forward to once our kids are ready to start playing with more advanced circuits. There are several different kits available and we are currently using the SC-300 which comes with 300 projects.


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