If you have a budding electronics wiz, or if your kids just love their gadgets, and you want to harness that passion for learning without adding a lot more screen time a kids circuit board kit might be just what you’re looking for.
Gone are the days of the potato clock and crystal radio sets, modern kids circuit boards can end up producing some pretty amazing projects, like an infrared home security system or even their own robot pet.
Some kits can even be coded or integrated with platforms like Arduino for added technological sophistication and learning potential.
If this seems like something your kids might be interested in, or if hands-on electronics is something you’d like to add to your lesson plans, then read on. In this article we’ll look at the benefits of a circuit board for learning, what to look for when picking a circuit board kit and some cool options to get started.
What can circuit boards teach kids?
Forming the basis of all electronic gadgets we use today, circuit boards are a great way to introduce project-based electronics learning to kids.
Through real, hands-on experience they can give kids a greater understanding of various electronics components, including how and why they are used and how they can work together to produce various results.
Circuit boards can also teach kids about general electricity and the flow of electrons through a medium, which can help them better understand the tech-oriented world around them.
With more advanced kits, circuit boards can also impart more practical skills, such as soldering and how to read schematics and blueprints, as well as help promote various softer skills that will help in other aspects of their education and life, such as attention to detail, patience and sequential thinking and planning.
So, how can they fit into a science curriculum or lesson plan?
Circuit board kits can be pretty flexible and open-ended educational products.
Essentially blank slates, to get them working properly kids will have to make use of electronics components and learn a variety of STEM concepts in the process.
As a consequence of this open-ended nature, circuit boards can be easily integrated into a variety of science subjects and lesson plans, helping create more meaningful, hands-on learning for kids.
Some examples might be:
|Subject||Possible Topics to explore|
|Physical Science||Electricity, resistance, parallel/series circuits, magnetism, light, sound, signals|
|HS Chemistry||Materials and their conductive properties, electron flow, batteries|
|HS Physics||Current and electron flow, waves, electromagnetism and magnetic fields, sensors, thermal conductivity, infrared and light, Ohm’s law, alternating/direct currents|
|Coding||Practical applications of coding including variables, loops, if/then statements and other conditionals, gates, practicing coding syntax|
What Age can kids start learning with circuit boards?
Certainly, any kit that requires soldering should be reserved for older teens and have strong parental supervision.
But because many circuit board kits use breadboards (little plastic boards with pin-sized holes you can slide components into) or other solderless options, there’s really not a hard age requirement for getting started
As such It’s really up to parents and depends heavily on the child and their individual abilities, knowledge and skill.
That said, the real limitation for kids when it comes to circuit boards is their patience and ability to understand and absorb abstract information.
Building projects with circuit boards requires some degree of patience on the part of the child.
Kids will need to carefully plan out and then fit small, sometimes fiddly components into a board in a particular sequence, being careful not to break or damage components while they do so.
In addition, as things don’t always work out as planned and sometimes don’t work altogether for seemingly minor reasons, kids also need to be able to sit and troubleshoot the problem step by step without getting overly frustrated.
Electronics and electricity can sometimes be quite abstract as well, and circuit board kits are best given to kids when they have developed some comfort with abstract thought and reasoning.
While the results are often observable and concrete (lighting up an LED light bulb or making a buzzer sound), kids will be dealing with forces they can’t see and that are sometimes quite hard to picture, such as resistance, flow and electromagnetism.
Without being able to easily connect what they see on the board (concrete) with the scientific concepts behind them (abstract), kids may not fully understand what they’re doing or why, and therefore not be able to make the most out of their circuit board educationally speaking.
What to Look for in a Kids Circuit Board
Solder melts at approximately 185 °C (365 °F) and the iron itself has to get hotter than that, usually 200 to 480 °C (392 to 896 °F). A small lapse in concentration can cause severe burns, especially to small fingers.
While soldering as a skill isn’t that hard, it really isn’t too child friendly an endeavor. As such, kids under 12 tend to need intense parental supervision when using a soldering iron (if they should use them at all, which is questionable).
We prefer solderless circuit board kits where possible, as it allows kids to explore the world of electronics more freely, more safely and without the need for constant supervision.
If you’ve ever fiddled around with an electronics kit that has badly written instructions, you know how frustrating it can be.
Unless you are an electronics engineer or an experienced hobbyist, which most kids are not, instructions are critical in turning a circuit board into something interesting and/or useful.
Good instructions are particularly important for parents who want to let their kids explore and build on their own, as without them projects will probably end in failure, frustration and a very dusty kit sitting at the back of your child’s closet.
A Clear Connection To Learning
While projects can be really interesting when put together, the important thing here is that kids learn something.
Good circuit board kits explain the concepts behind electronics and engineering to kids in a way they can understand, letting them learn about currents, voltage, resistance, circuit elements and more, while they engage in hands-on activities.
Without this connection to learning, these kits become more of a toy and, as cool as they can be, there are more enjoyable toys out there for kids.
Working with circuits can often be precise and challenging, requiring sustained concentration, fiddling with small parts and delayed gratification.
None of these are exactly strengths for most kids. To keep kids motivated, projects need to spark a desire to see a multi-step project through to the end, which means that the end result needs to involve something a little more interesting to kids than lighting up a small LED bulb.
Where To Be Careful With Circuit Boards
Obviously it goes without saying, but parents of younger children need to be careful with small parts as they can present a choking hazard.
Even with older kids, however, smaller parts can be a concern. If the kits use standard components (resistors, transistors, etc), they tend to be small and easily lost.
This can cause a lot of upset if projects aren’t able to be completed due to a missing capacitor, or some pain if someone ends up stepping on a resistor’s prongs late at night.
Along the same lines, circuit boards can be delicate and there are a lot of points of failure if mishandled.
Some kits are more durably constructed than others, using thicker boards or specially designed components built for kids.
Less expensive kits may simply use regular circuit boards and parts that can bend, crack, break or scratch. These may be fine for responsible teens but can be short lived if roughly handled by younger kids.
Amount of oversight
Parents should consider the level of oversight required by certain circuit board kits when making a purchasing decision.
Some kits, especially those that require soldering or more complex circuitry, can require more intense supervision. While perhaps a great idea for a parent-child bonding project, these may not be something you would leave a child with alone.
Other kits have clear and understandable step-by-step instructions, and are built to be safe enough for kids to handle on their own for the most part, letting them explore and learn more or less on their own.
Single project kits vs multi-project kits
Another consideration for parents is how many different projects each circuit board is designed to carry out.
It’s true that with a bit of ingenuity and some fearless soldering, you can repurpose even the most strict circuit board for other projects.
Ad hoc engineering aside, some circuit board kits are designed around one, particular project.
Other kits are designed to be very modular and allow kids to easily tear them down and experiment with many different projects.
Generally speaking, single use kits can be centered around more complex projects, with their resources being dedicated to building one, single item that kids can use and show off to their friends.
Additionally, the associated learning material may go deeper into one concept rather than explore a few concepts.
Multi-project kits, on the other hand, usually contain more, but usually simpler, projects to build and often cover a greater variety of concepts in electronics and science but in less individual depth.
Creativity vs focused learning
Some circuit board kits can be very linear, directing kids through a series of steps to build a particular project that they can keep as a finished product – a very A-Z, directed approach to learning.
This has its pros and cons, of course, The main benefit being that these kits produce more directed and focused learning. They keep kids on track, so to speak, with the main drawback being a lack of creativity.
Other kits encourage kids to use the circuit boards and projects to bring their own ideas to life, giving them a great deal of freedom.
Obviously there needs to be some kind of balance between the two, as circuit boards are often limitless in their potential and too much freedom can cause uncertainty with kids, which can cause them to disengage altogether.
Some Cool Ideas
There is no shortage of kids circuit boards and kits out there.
From sophisticated DIY arduino kits to old school radioshack style multi-project boards, it can be hard to know where to start.
Here are some circuit board kits that we think are fun, educational and definitely worth a look.
Circuit board kits that make learning electronics…a snap
If you’re a fan of Lego and other brick toys and you’ve ever wondered if building circuits and electronics could be that easy, Snap Circuits might be for you.
Snap Circuits is probably one of the easiest and most scalable ways of helping kids build their own circuits and electronics.
The electronic components in these kits are encased in child-safe plastic and are designed to literally snap together (hence the name) with little metal snaps on each end. Everything from wires to resistors to even more esoteric components, like fiber optic trees, microphones and electromagnets, click together and form complete circuits without the need for soldering or even a dedicated circuit board.
There are a great variety of kits available, from simple exploration kits to full on robotics, coding and arduino kits. There are even kits designed to integrate with lego sets.
Each kit comes with a full color instruction manual with not only detailed explanations of how to put different projects together, but with decent and straightforward explanations of the electronics concepts as well as, in many cases, the science behind it.
But one of the great strengths of Snap Circuits is the fact that their kits are modular and scalable.
All parts from the various Snap Circuits kits out there are designed to work with each other, meaning that kids can add on to what they have either with new kits or with Snap Circuit accessories and parts they can buy online.
Although the component designs are proprietary to Snap Circuits, meaning you can’t just add in the odd resistor from a store here and there, spare parts are relatively affordable, widely available at electronics retailers online (and Amazon) and the company is constantly designing and adding new and more sophisticated snap together components all the time.
All this really makes potential projects you can build with Snap circuits almost limitless, and makes Snap Circuits a very flexible option when it comes to being integrated into lesson plans and homeschool STEM projects.
Plus there is just a lot of satisfaction in snapping the pieces together.
For more information, check out our in-depth review of Snap Circuits
Or visit their manufacturer, Elenco
Piper Computer Kit
Build your own computer, explore circuits and learn to code…all in one
The piper computer kit is not only an electronics kit that lets kids build their own portable computer with the help of Minecraft, but it’s also a great way for kids to learn electronics with its customizable and programmable circuit board.
Aside from letting kids build their own Raspberry Pi-powered computer, the Piper Computer kit contains a program called Pipercode that lets kids explore a variety of projects using the included breadboard circuit board.
Essentially, with the help of very visual, step-by-step onscreen instructions, kids can wire up the Piper’s circuit board with LEDs, buttons, buzzers, sensors and more with very minimal parental involvement.
Taking electronics learning one stop further, with the help of a visual coding program kids can also program the Piper to light up, buzz or even use it to build their own interactive video games using the breadboard and included software, deftly weaving the worlds of electronics engineering and coding and potentially providing one of the most flexible, comprehensive and useful electronics learning experience out there.
If kids have a little more coding skill, Piper allows them to code their circuit boards in Python, which opens up a whole new world of electronics exploration and sophistication that will extend the usefulness of the piper quite a bit.
While it’s not exactly cheap at nearly $300, the Piper Computer Kit comes with a variety of suggested projects to explore circuits, the ability to program their projects with both visual and text based code, as well as the ability to add expansion packs with more parts or add their own parts (due to it being a solderless breadboard).
This means the Piper has huge learning potential and nearly infinite projects. Plus, when kids are all done with it, they can always use it as their very own computer.
For more information, check out our in-depth review of the Piper computer Kit
A electronics subscription box with projects that are anything but ordinary
If your kids are getting into electronics and circuits and you’d like a cool electronics project to arrive at your door every month, Creation Crate is an interesting subscription box to consider.
Unusually for a subscription STEM box, Creation Crate focuses less on general science and more on the Engineering component of STEM.
As a result, each month kids receive an arduino powered breadboard circuit and a variety of components designed to create different, unique projects.
While each box is designed for one project, the projects themselves are actually far cooler and more complex than most other kits out there. Instead of creating a crystal clock or a countdown timer, for example, kids will build things like infrared security systems, laser tripwires, audio visualizers and even code some of them with Arduino C.
The integration of learning is unusually in-depth and a strong point with Creation Crate.
With every box kids get access to the Creation Crate online classroom where they are given access to tutorials, step by step instructions, learning exercises and quizzes.
They also can watch helpful videos by the founder that not only provide step by step instructions on building projects but delve into the science behind each project, explaining components and how they work ni far more detail than most other STEM kits or even circuit board kits out there.
Interestingly, despite being a breadboard circuit Creation Crate projects can be soldered for permanence and the company even throws in a soldering kit with annual subscriptions.
And considering how cool some of these projects turn out, it might just be something to consider.
For more information, check out our in-depth review of Creation Crate
Circuit boards are a great way to teach kids the principles of electronics and electricity in a hands-on, project based manner.
They can not only teach kids important scientific and engineering principles, but can give them a better appreciation of the various components that power and control their favorite devices and gadgets.
There are a number of fun and exciting kits out there that can get kids into circuits in a safe and entertaining way. Many of these offer strong educational resources, too, making them an interesting and useful way of adding hands-on learning into your science lesson plans.
About the Author
David Belenky is a freelance writer, former science and math tutor and a tech enthusiast. When he’s not writing about educational tech, he likes to chill out with his family and dog at home.