Gift idea for kids who aren't stupid: Snap Circuits

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strantor

Joined Oct 3, 2010
5,291
Credit for this discovery goes to my wife. She bought this for the kids for Christmas and put my name on the "from" line. She knows just how to flip that nerd switch in me and my kids. It says "For ages 8 to 108" but I'm using it to lead a 4 y/o and a 6 y/o down the path of electro-discovery and it's pretty awesome.

My 4 y/o pretty much just robs parts from the circuit that me and the 6 y/o are trying to build, to assemble some off-the-grid modern art structures as she impatiently awaits the conclusion of each guided experiment, when we wire the DC motor backward so the propeller flies off and does battle with the ceiling fan. But my 6 y/o is actually learning. She can predict the results of simple circuit modifications with about 70% accuracy.

We've been doing a few of the guided experiments each day and we're up around #20 (of 101) I believe. It's taking us probably a lot longer than it would take most people, because we don't just assemble the circuit, flip the switch, watch the LED come on or the buzzer buzz, and move on to the next experiment. If we did it that way we would have been done the day after Christmas. No, we do it in a way that better suits our attention deficits. We build the illustrated circuit (or something close to it) without reading the description, talk it over, predict what it will do, then flip the switch. We then compare expectations with the description, talk about how/why (if) we missed the mark, and then start adding/subtracting components, modifying the circuit further and further until it turns into something absolutely silly and then call it quits, launch the propeller, and move on to the next exercise.

I've wanted to get the kids into the wonderful world of electronics since before they were born, but I didn't think they were old enough and I have always felt pretty critical of my teaching skills. I pictured myself sitting them down at age 10 with a breadboard and a box of random components, trying to explain BJTs to someone who doesn't understand why current won't flow through a toothpick. This kit gives me all the talking points and conversation starters. It makes it easy for me to teach.

That being said, I feel it stops just short of "teaching," itself. Like if I gave the kit to my cosmetologist sister to train her kids, they wouldn't get the full experience. Or if you just handed it to a reading-age kid to go work through on their own, it wouldn't be much different than building Lego castles; maybe a bit more boring. Most of the explanation of what's going on in the circuits, comes from me. The explanations in the book are a bit lacking IMO. But I suppose it's a scenario where you can't please everyone; if each exercise had two pages of printed background information and suggested "choose your own adventure" circuit modifications and alternate endings to explore, other people would probably complain that it's too wordy and kids lose interest. I guess they've done their homework and empirically discovered the optimal ratio of words to brightly colored pictures to keep the ball rolling when dealing with kids. The overwhelmingly positive product reviews seem to be an indicator that they're doing something right.

And I suppose the review wouldn't be complete without a few nitpicks. My nitpick list will surely grow as we get further along, but here's what I've got so far:
1. They don't label the terminals of the IC blocks (I labeled them myself with an engraver). Nor do they give any explanation whatsoever within the IC experiments of what function these connections you're making to the IC are serving. There is a terminal description in the front of the book though.
2. They rightly drew our attention to the fact you can't utilize an LED without a current-limiting resistor in early experiments, but then later on instructed us to put an LED directly across the battery (sole resistor in the kit being utilized for other purpose) and didn't even hint at why this didn't result in a blown LED (because there's an internal resistor in the LED block)

Those nitpicks and preceding paragraph aside, I must say this is a really awesome tool and I can definitely see more money being thrown Elenco's way once we've exhausted all 101 exercises. I was very pleased to find that there is lots more where this came from. More and more advanced snap kits as they get older. Or maybe age is irrelevant and after a few kits, by summer break, we'll graduate to breadboards and be designing products for market by this time next year.
 

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jgessling

Joined Jul 31, 2009
82
Good for you, I hope it keeps going. I have a couple Radio Shack trainers new in box with manuals. The ones with the springs for connections. I had them for sale at my daughters sidewalk sale and nobody wanted them. The one guy told me his kid could just learn from the app on his phone. I guess he didn’t understand that actual touching matters. I hope his kid doesn’t design anything I buy!
 

nsaspook

Joined Aug 27, 2009
7,356
I bought one for my youngest a few years ago when she was 10. She really enjoyed building the circuits even without a full understanding of what each part did and I think it helps her today to relate some of her more abstract school lessons about the types of waves (transverse, longitudinal, acoustic,electromagnetic) and energy into physical objects that can manipulate energy into those waves instead of just numbers on paper with mathematical relationships.
https://forum.allaboutcircuits.com/threads/holiday-spirit-in-the-forum.104251/page-2#post-797309
 

wayneh

Joined Sep 9, 2010
16,398
My 5-yr grandson has a snap kit like that. I think his mom and dad have enjoyed it more so far but he's growing into it and should have the patience in the next year. I can't wait to help him branch out of the kit.
 

Sam Spastic

Joined Dec 20, 2018
4
My 12 year old hasen't touched her deluxe Snap Circuits kit with the carrying case.

My first kit had a resistive element in the power cord for the filament supply.:eek:
 
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