13 votes

Good basic electronics toys for twelve year olds?

Back when I was a kid, I had a radioshack 200-in-1 science fair electronics kit this one

I loved that thing, and it sparked an interest in tech that ultimately led me to a CS degree.

Id like to buy something similar for my much younger sister, but nowdays everything I can find is arduino or raspi based. Id love to get something like that eventually, but I think it might be better to get a kit that more focuses on individual components first... Does anyone know of one sold these days?

Alternatively, if anyone has one of these and would be willing to scan the book, Id love to build one of these as a breadboard-based system.

15 comments

  1. [2]
    Pistos
    Link
    I haven't tried it myself, but I've heard about https://microbit.org/ .

    I haven't tried it myself, but I've heard about https://microbit.org/ .

    6 votes
    1. piedpiper
      Link Parent
      I was going to suggest this. While you can do more with a raspberry pi or arduino, the trade off is its super easy to get started and much cheaper. Tons of tutorials and resources. Probably the...

      I was going to suggest this.

      While you can do more with a raspberry pi or arduino, the trade off is its super easy to get started and much cheaper. Tons of tutorials and resources. Probably the nicest block-based code editor I've used and you can switch between blocks and python/javascript which makes it easier to transition towards higher level stuff.

      If we are talking microbit I would also mention MakeCode Arcade, which adopted the same code editor, but for making retro arcade games in your browser. It's super fun.

      3 votes
  2. [6]
    Akir
    Link
    Seeedstudio actually sells an arduino starter kit based on their grove ecosystem (which is basically sensors and peripherals sold on tiny boards with a four-pin connector on all of them) that...

    Seeedstudio actually sells an arduino starter kit based on their grove ecosystem (which is basically sensors and peripherals sold on tiny boards with a four-pin connector on all of them) that might be a good beginner option. best of all, it comes on a single board, which you can snap off each part if you'd like, but if you leave it as it is everything's already connected to the arduino. And if you do snap off the parts, it includes the cables so you can still do all the projects without any soldering or tools. It even comes with the USB cable, so you literally don't need to buy anything else assuming she already has access to a computer. It also has the benefit of being pretty cheap, and it's shipped with the demonstration program already programmed into it so that she can get an idea of what everything does. If she's really young, you can have her start programming it with S4A, which is basically Scratch For Arduino; it should work on this board.

    That being said, I'm not actually a fan of making kids do these kinds of things; I don't think they're terribly good at sparking the imagination, which I think is the best way to get people into STEM. Personally, the thing that got me most interested in the field was actually Capsela, and later, Hypercard. So if you really want to push them into the field, I think you'd have better luck with Lego NXT, or simply showing her a bunch of other tools that she can use to make her own programs; maybe something like Kano's Harry Potter wand kit or even just Swift Playground.

    5 votes
    1. [5]
      nukeman
      Link Parent
      @Toric, I’d definitely agree with @Akir on this. Legos are probably one of the best ways to get your sister interested in tech. Does she like Legos already? More broadly, what does she like?

      @Toric, I’d definitely agree with @Akir on this. Legos are probably one of the best ways to get your sister interested in tech. Does she like Legos already? More broadly, what does she like?

      2 votes
      1. [4]
        Toric
        Link Parent
        She LOVES legos. my last 4 or 5 gifts to her have been various lego sets. I am looking to introduce her to something a little more complex, as shes expressed an intrest in learning about computers...

        She LOVES legos. my last 4 or 5 gifts to her have been various lego sets. I am looking to introduce her to something a little more complex, as shes expressed an intrest in learning about computers and robotics. I was considering mindstorms, but unfortunately, my family doesn't actually have any windows computer... (other than work computers, they just use their mobile devices, and my sister has an old laptop with linux on it I got her for lockdown school.)

        5 votes
        1. Akir
          Link Parent
          I just looked up what you need for it and it would seem the preferred way is with either an iPad or Android tablet, so it sounds like she should be good to go.

          I just looked up what you need for it and it would seem the preferred way is with either an iPad or Android tablet, so it sounds like she should be good to go.

          2 votes
        2. Tardigrade
          Link Parent
          A step up from lego but still mechanical is meccano but that doesn't fit the bill for digital. Just another idea for the mix though.

          A step up from lego but still mechanical is meccano but that doesn't fit the bill for digital. Just another idea for the mix though.

          2 votes
        3. petrichor
          Link Parent
          If she already loves Legos, I second a Mindstorms kit. But also, depending on where you live, you might consider getting her involved in a FIRST Robotics team. There's different levels based on...

          If she already loves Legos, I second a Mindstorms kit.

          But also, depending on where you live, you might consider getting her involved in a FIRST Robotics team. There's different levels based on age, ranging from FIRST Lego League (FLL) for elementary and middle school kids to FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) in high school. If you're in the US, chances are that there's an FRC, FTC, or FLL team near you (that map is only of FRC teams, but should give you an idea of their distribution).

          That's how I got involved in STEM. In my opinion, it's probably the best way to keep and grow an interest.

          1 vote
  3. PapaNachos
    (edited )
    Link
    I haven't used it myself, but this NYT article recommends this smart circuit kit which sounds like what you're looking for The article goes into more depth on several different options if you want...

    I haven't used it myself, but this NYT article recommends this smart circuit kit which sounds like what you're looking for

    The article goes into more depth on several different options if you want to make a more informed decision

    4 votes
  4. daltonlp
    Link
    I too have nostalgia for those spring-connector science kits! snap circuits are the modern version. Surprisingly similar experience. For my daughter, I found the Circuit Playground Express to be...

    I too have nostalgia for those spring-connector science kits!

    snap circuits are the modern version. Surprisingly similar experience.

    For my daughter, I found the Circuit Playground Express to be the modern entry point. As you referenced, it's arduino-based, not focused on individual components.

    But it has the advantage of being programmable with no dev environment fiddling. Write code on the website, plug in the USB cable, and click run.

    3 votes
  5. [2]
    precise
    Link
    Take a look at these! I got the Snap Circuit Basic kit as a gift when I was a kid and worked my way through the entire series. I think you'll like these because you have to manually assemble each...

    Take a look at these! I got the Snap Circuit Basic kit as a gift when I was a kid and worked my way through the entire series. I think you'll like these because you have to manually assemble each circuit, and there are also ICs to interface with. The more advanced kits actually include a computer interface which provides an oscilloscope experience. The manuals are free to download (because, ya know, kids) so you can look at all the projects before purchase. I've never used the Coding sets, can't testify to those. This was probably the best gift I ever got as a kid and I'd highly recommend it to anybody looking for anything similar.

    https://shop.elenco.com/consumers/brands/snap-circuits.html

    3 votes
    1. petrichor
      Link Parent
      Yeah, I'd second this. Another cool thing is that the kits in the main series build on each other - the SC300 contains the SC100, the SC500 contains the SC300, and so on - so you could purchase...

      Yeah, I'd second this. Another cool thing is that the kits in the main series build on each other - the SC300 contains the SC100, the SC500 contains the SC300, and so on - so you could purchase standalone upgrades if she ends up liking it.

      2 votes
  6. Buck_Rogers
    Link
    I see lots of the vintage 200 in 1 or 300 in 1 Radio Shack kits on ebay. 40 to 70$

    I see lots of the vintage 200 in 1 or 300 in 1 Radio Shack kits on ebay.

    40 to 70$

    3 votes
  7. Adys
    Link
    The two things that inspired me as a kid were my gameboy color and my tamagotchi. Not saying those are it, but if you're looking for simplicity, there might be something to these old school handhelds.

    The two things that inspired me as a kid were my gameboy color and my tamagotchi. Not saying those are it, but if you're looking for simplicity, there might be something to these old school handhelds.

  8. HoolaBoola
    Link
    The most approachable one would be the LEGOs, and similar toys, though they tend to be quite expensive compared to some less child-friendly solutions

    The most approachable one would be the LEGOs, and similar toys, though they tend to be quite expensive compared to some less child-friendly solutions