Electronics kit for a ~10 year old child?
December 1, 2016 9:18 AM   Subscribe

My youngest has requested an electronics kit for Christmas. I’m struggling to find anything on Amazon in the UK that doesn’t look suspiciously like it’s been thrown together from a bucket list of parts in Shenzhen and shipped out in a box.

Bonus points if it comes with a decent total beginners guide to electronics with a decently explained progression of projects to build. Raspberry Pi integration optional, but may be looked on favourably. Soldering is out, bread board is probably ok. UK availability essential obviously.

Any and all suggestions appreciated!
posted by pharm to Education (23 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Would something like SnapCircuits work?

Is soldering out due to perceived danger? I know the kids of a few engineers who have managed to learn to solder successfully (I let my 8 year old niece help me solder something on my remote control with no problem). If there's any chance of it, I recommend the Circuit Classics kits a friend of mine made - they're designed based on Forrest Mims's beginner electronics guides and even have little comic strips in them that explain in layman's terms what the circuit is doing and why it behaves as it does. They're good parent/kid projects, if you're also interested.
posted by olinerd at 9:26 AM on December 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've not bought one, but something like https://www.quasarelectronics.co.uk/Item/75-in-1-electronic-projects-lab-kit-maxitronix-elenco-mx-905 looks very like the kits I had as a young @curious_yellow.
posted by curious_yellow at 9:26 AM on December 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Also, I'd argue that a Raspberry Pi-related thing is more about programming than it is about circuits. When you say "electronics kits", are you looking for something where he can learn to make things happen with a bit of code, or to learn about electrical engineering? (Or both?)
posted by olinerd at 9:27 AM on December 1, 2016

Snap Circuits are a popular brand with the kids I know, and various kits of theirs are available on Amazon.co.uk. Some of them will be too simple, but others look a bit more detailed.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:27 AM on December 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

As an adult I've enjoyed the littlebits (http://littlebits.cc/) kits I've been able to play around with. They're less useful if the goal is to come up with a project you'll leave assembled as a finished product, but the flexibility in being able to pop things apart and try different combinations is fun.

(As far as I know, the kits are also set up such that you're not going to blow any components on accident through wiring things wrong, always a bonus)
posted by mikeh at 9:29 AM on December 1, 2016 [3 favorites]

(Also, just generally, this may be a useful resource for you.)
posted by olinerd at 9:31 AM on December 1, 2016

Snap circuits are really great, but they might end up being a bit basic for a 10 year old. My 7 year old really loves them but they become a bit limited pretty quickly.

The currently produced Elenco 200-in-1 kit is what my son is getting for christmas. It's almost the exact kit I had as a kid (radio shack 200-in-1) that almost directly led to my becoming an EE as an adult (with help from Forrest Mims III).
posted by Dr. Twist at 9:52 AM on December 1, 2016 [5 favorites]

My kid LOOOOOOVES Snap Circuits. He got a set last year for christmas and he has asked for another this year. Definitely that.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 9:53 AM on December 1, 2016

Littlebits are super fun, and I bought the synth kit for an adult with existing electronics experience (soldering, arduinos, has built kit synthesizers from scratch, etc) and he had plenty of fun with it. Way more predictable than "real" electronics.
posted by pekala at 9:56 AM on December 1, 2016

Response by poster: To answer a few questions:

1) Soldering isn’t completely out, but I’d like to give my youngest at least the option of building stuff without having to have me on hand. I do have a bread board & a bunch of jumper wires already to hand...

2) I’m primarily after electronics stuff, not coding projects.

Thanks for all the suggestions so far! Keep them coming :)
posted by pharm at 10:07 AM on December 1, 2016

I had something very like that Elenco 200-in-1 springs-and-wires kit as a kid, and it was one of my favorite things ever. I ended up building neat soldered-together versions of many of the things I'd learned to make with the kit using separate parts bought specifically for those projects, and it kindled a lifelong interest in electronics. Thoroughly recommended.
posted by flabdablet at 10:29 AM on December 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Little Bits are fantastic, expandable, and have some pretty sophisticated modules. You can do so much with them, and they are easy for kids to grok and work with. Not cheap though.
posted by fimbulvetr at 10:33 AM on December 1, 2016

Even a kid can learn to solder easily enough, and it's even relatively free of burn risk if you get him/her one of those battery powered "instant" irons. There's something more satisfying about creating stuff that feels more permanent than breadboard projects, IMO.

Not to mention that it's nice to be able to cram everything in a USB connector or similar, and you definitely aren't going to be able to do that with a breadboard.
posted by wierdo at 10:55 AM on December 1, 2016

I've had decent success with my nephew and a much older version of SparkFun's Inventor's Kit (link goes to which has an ok manual that is tremendously improved by the ideas you can get from the tutorials page on their site. The development environment is the Arduino IDE so there's a bit of adult setup and hand holding on the first few projects, but it snowballs once the kid starts understanding it. It's soldering free and they have several UK distributors listed on their site.
posted by mattamatic at 11:06 AM on December 1, 2016

My 8-year-old had a lot of fun with the Piper build-a-computer kit. There was a lot of adult help putting it together so I think it would probably be perfect for a solo project for a 10-year-old. It works off of a Raspberry Pi and you basically build a computer and then there are different projects you can do with it after that. It is supposed to be open source enough that a bright kid can really get creative on ways to experiment and mess with the tools given.
posted by LKWorking at 11:53 AM on December 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Man this is bringing back memories - I had one of those springy wire your components together from a big board of things sets when I was a kid. Had completely forgotten about it.
posted by pharm at 12:43 PM on December 1, 2016

We love Snap Circuits too, but we also have an intact vintage kit with the springy wire things and that's pretty awesome, too. EBay has loads of vintage ones in good shape.

I had one as a kid and moved on to knowing what I wanted at the one electronics shop in town -- electronics geekery was a relatively durable hobby for me -- so there was apparently some decent educational value despite the springy wire things.

I resisted Snap Circuits for a while because I thought it was too simple and wanted to sell my kid on the springy wire things. This was a mistake. The snaps are just easier springy wire things; you still learn, and you learn quickly and without frustration. (My kid is 9 and hasn't outgrown it, though we do need to upgrade and get her some more sophisticated sets.) If he is a total beginner I'm pretty sure he's not too old for Snap Circuits as long as it's not the simplest sort of set.

Bonus: we had a piece break on us -- this was a surprise as it's pretty well-made stuff -- and the company was super-nice and shipped out a replacement, free, no questions asked. So I thought that was a pretty big value add; I loathe supporting dirtball companies, but love finding out when people making stuff for kids stand behind it. Our e-mail was answered quickly and politely, and the new part showed up in no time (unusual in Canada!). This is in really sharp contrast to Melissa & Doug and Mattel, where communiqués about problems we had with toys went ignored, or worse.

(M&D, amazingly dishonestly, will not post a sub-4-star review on their site; I encourage my kid to write/help me write to companies she has something to say to. Our experiences with that have been all over the map, and Elenco really stood out as top-rate there. No fun explaining to a kid why her review isn't going to get posted. Lots of goodness in getting a 'we're so sorry! We'll fix that' reply, and going to the PO and finding the new part. So this really factors heavily into who I buy toys [etc] from a second time.)
posted by kmennie at 1:13 PM on December 1, 2016

Seconding the spring and wire based models, I had one when I was young and they tended to make things pretty easy to understand and there wasn't really much room to fuck things up.
posted by Ferreous at 2:30 PM on December 1, 2016

Seconding snap circuits! Very easy to get an understanding of electronics and e/m. Lots of good projects.
posted by JawnBigboote at 5:22 PM on December 1, 2016

Response by poster: Might go for one of the bigger snap circuits sets then & once he’s exhausted that let him loose with the bread board & soldering iron.

Thanks for all the suggestions everyone!
posted by pharm at 3:43 AM on December 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

I had a Radio Shack 28-280 as a kid, with the two excellent accompanying books by Forrest M. Mims III, and would recommend it to anyone.
posted by sibilatorix at 9:31 PM on December 3, 2016

Response by poster: The Radio shack kits look interesting, but are outrageously expensive in the UK sibilatorix!
posted by pharm at 10:48 AM on December 5, 2016

The Purdue Engineering gift guide (posted to the blue) suggests the Thames & Kosmos Electronics Learning Circuits kit, which is available on amazon.co.uk (as usual, amazon.com has more reviews).
posted by James Scott-Brown at 3:58 PM on December 6, 2016

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