Fun experiments with an electronics kit for a 7 year old
March 7, 2014 3:18 PM   Subscribe

I would love some suggestions for science experiments with the Cambridge BrainBox electronics kit.

I was somewhat skeptical when my daughter (7 this month) asked for an electronics kit for Christmas, but it has proven to be her favourite gift and she plays with it regularly, shows it to all her friends who come to visit, has demonstrated it to her class at school, etc.

The BrainBox kit looks like this:

(I would've liked to have bought a LittleBits kit, but they're much more expensive.)

The problem I have with it is that the booklet is boring and badly written. It boasts "500 experiments" but as you can see from a typical page, it has 50 or so basic configurations, and each "experiment" is just altering one component for a different effect. Besides being boring, this makes it hard to get into because if you try to do one experiment at random, it's hard to see which diagram it refers to, and you often have to read back through the previous experiments to see which other changes you need to make first. It is also written in a dry style that seems to be aimed at teachers rather than children.

Most of the fun we've had are with experiments we made up, rather than those in the book. So I'm hoping you can suggest more.

To be clear: we don't care too much about the educational value at this point. What motivates her isn't learning how electricity works, just making things that do fun stuff. Here are some things we made up that she loved:

- inspired by a book she read, we made a "lie detector", which has a red LED and green LED. When the victim touches two wires together, it lights either green (truth), or both red and green (lie), depending on whether the secret switch under the questioner's hand is pressed. (I wasn't clever enough to make it either red or green.)

- we stick paper on top of the propeller, and draw on it while spinning, creating perfect circles or concentric splattering.

- we use the propeller as a "spin the wheel" type of fortune telling, moving an arrow around a circle we've decorated with different fortunes.

As you can see, most of these experiments aren't really about science or electricity, just having fun. I'm cool with that at this stage. The way I see it, if it keeps her interested, she'll learn more naturally.
posted by snarfois to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (7 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I came in here to recommend little bits. I think they are worth every penny, basically the coolest toy this 41 year old has ever played with. Given that you have ruled that out, and have something kinda little bits like, I would propose you go through the littlebits project pages for inspiration.
posted by ill3 at 4:39 PM on March 7, 2014

Circuit Board or circuit board jr.

We have the former and our five year old adores it. It's a great activity to for a kid and a grown up. You can experiment with what they give you or try your own thing.
posted by zizzle at 7:17 PM on March 7, 2014

So, these look like they are the same as the Snap Circuits kits we have here in the U.S. My son has a couple of Snap Circuits kits. They have a section on their website with kid-submitted project designs that might be of interest to you. And if you search for "Snap Circuits projects" just generally online, you'll find some homegrown instructional videos and such.
posted by BlueJae at 8:18 PM on March 7, 2014

What kinds of components are in the kit? Poking around on Cambridge's website doesn't seem to reveal a list, though there's a picture that seems to include:

--a push switch
--a toggle switch
--a motor
--a propeller
--100 ohm resistor
--470 uF capacitor (with some kind of indicator on it?)
--some kind of light-activated switch? (#16)
--something with a fluid channel on it? (#12)
--a speaker? (lower right)
--solenoid?? (upper left)

But then there's some stuff I don't recognize or that could be multiple things?
posted by kagredon at 8:52 PM on March 7, 2014

Getting started in electronics By Forrest Mims

It may be a bit advanced for her age/interest, but definitely approachable for kids interested in learning more about electronics.
posted by jpdoane at 9:48 PM on March 7, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks for the suggestions, guys. Yes, I believe this is marketed as Snap Circuits in the States, although the kits don't look entirely identical. Here's what's in our set:

The kid-submitted designs on may be useful, although the great majority I've looked at so far have parts that aren't in our kit.

I'll look through the Littlebits projects, although I suspect that'll mostly increase my desire for Littlebits. I'm waiting for them to get a UK distributor, that may make it more affordable. (Much better website and writing style! That's the kind of attitude I wish Brainbox/Snapcircuits had.)
posted by snarfois at 2:53 AM on March 8, 2014

I had a hard time finding a copy, and Amazon doesn't have any right now, but one of my kids and I really liked the Student Guide for Snap Circuits. It's serious learning about what circuits are illustrated with fun projects.

Wait, homesciencetools has it. This book really changed snap circuits from, "um, what?" for us to a really useful thing.

I hope this is helpful, given that you're not in the US.

This wiki also has a lot of Snap Circuits projects.
posted by not that girl at 7:21 AM on March 8, 2014

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