Four projects for parents to teach their kids about open hardware and electronics

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Kids are quick learners and have great imaginations. When pursuing an electronic or hardware project with a kid, the most important thing to keep in mind is: keep things playful. As long as their hands are in gunk and they are taking things apart, or there's the possibility of blowing something up, kids will stay interested. As soon as the activity starts to seem like work, they switch off.

Here are four fun and easy projects for teaching kids more about electronics and hardware in a couple hours or an afternoon. Then, they may be on to the Arduino board or Raspberry Pi before you know it! Note: For kids between 4 - 8 years old, more adult supervision may be required.

First, I'll share with you three excellent businesses where you can purchase open hardware tools, kits, and electronics for these projects and more.

Open hardware retailers

  • littleBits has an open source library of electronic modules that snap together with tiny magnets.

  • SparkFun Eletronics has the bits and pieces to make your electronics projects possible; they also offer classes and online tutorials.

  • Adafruit Industries has tools, equipment, and electronics for makers of all ages and skill levels.

Four fun and easy projects for kids

1. Broken toy day

Activity: Take old toys apart, poke at them, and scavenge electronic components. Try to figure out what is broken and see if you can fix it.

What you need: A screwdriver, some batteries, a few wires to test and play with components, and a soldering iron (initial adult supervision advised) to repair parts.

Read: Unleash your children's desire to take things apart

2. Learn to solder

Activity: Almost every electronics project requires you to know how to solder. Solder wires and pieces of coat hangers together to make wire sculptures, or solder basic electronic circuits.

What you need: A soldering iron, wires, coat hangers, other metal parts lying around

Watch: How to solder video

3. Make conductive and non-conductive putty

Activity: Make batches of conductive and non-conductive putty for teaching kids learn the basics of eletrical concepts, like the difference between "in series" and "in sequence" for circuits. Putty is great for smaller fingers too!

What you need: A few LEDs, maybe a Piezzo buzzer, some switches, a battery pack, and some pieces of wire.

Recipe: for conductive silly putty

4. Write a video game

Activity: Write a simple video game where you have to guide a hand-drawn character through a hand-drawn maze. For older kids, add a monster that roves through the maze or other obstacles to avoid.  

What you need: Scratch: a kid-focused program for coding. Though this activity may not deal directly with electronics or hardware, this drag and drop programming technique will teach kids how circuit boards and systems rely on code at that next stage of functionality.

Find more: Scratch starter projects




See the full list of Youth in Open Source Week articles.

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Dave Neary is a member of the Open Source and Standards team at Red Hat, helping make Open Source projects important to Red Hat be successful. Dave has been around the free and open source software world, wearing many different hats, since sending his first patch to the GIMP in 1999.


I see a pattern iwth the Raspberry Pi usage with kids and that's the demographics havent really changed, it doesnt seem to have brought in a new kind of person. There are many kids who have parents who are geeks and who are tinkerers and do electronics and stuff, there are the usual kids who would be doing the same thing even without the Pi on on sub 100 tower or laptop. What I was hoping the Pi would do is bring a whole class of smart students who might not have any interest or knowledge of computer innner working and who dont have a teacher and or a parent to guide them.
There are ways to build self taught curriculum where students from 5-9 and 10-14yrs can follow online guides, video tutorials, games and projects that teaches them coding, etc.
The idea was that some kid in some 3rd world country could plug the Pi into their TV, add jkeyboard/mouse and have them learn.
it sounds fun but the 'learn' part is kind of hazy when the child is on their own.

The KANO OS kickstarter success story seems to be heading in that way.

To reach more and more kids, we have to be targetting outside the usual suspects.

Great article sir Dave! I want to teach my nephews how to create and share the beauty of engineering and tinkering. First I want to study a simple approach for kids to learn the basics because it is hard when kids get intimidated. Well, your article is really amazing, I learn a lot.

Our daily lives are full of modern technology,they are all packed with the most high tech electronics and technologies such as computer and cell phones.So its a most helpful article which may be the help us to teach the children.

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