Price range: $20-$30
Suggested age range: 8-13 years
Needs batteries? Yes
I was a geeky kid and loved educational toys and kits. I had bug collecting bins, a junior microscope, and a gyroscope. But the electronics kits could frustrate even the geekiest kids!
There were lots of little bits and pieces, and the directions were on flimsy paper in minuscule print, and were hard to follow. When I could figure out the project and build it, about half the time it didn’t work. I decided early on that engineering was not my calling in life!
If only I had had something like the Snap Circuits Jr. Electronics Discovery Kits! No soldering, no wires, no fiddly bits. All the wiring and connections are embedded into sturdy plastic pieces that snap together and stand up to repeated use. The basic set, the Snap Circuits Jr. SC-100 Electronics Discovery Kit, comes with 100 projects to build.
You get off to a quick start, building a simple electric switch that lights a bulb and shows how circuits work. From there, each project builds on the previous ones, having kids make alarms that react to sound or water, lights that flash in different patterns, and a siren that can go up or down in volume.
For kids who just want to build neat stuff and watch it work, the project manual has easy-to-follow color diagrams. They can have a perfectly enjoyable time following the steps and getting satisfying results, without needing to understand exactly what happens.
Other children will want to know the details of how it all works , and for them, the project manual includes text explanations of each project. It lays out the scientific principles underneath the project, and describes real-world applications of the circuit the child has learned how to make.
Moreover, the fun doesn’t stop when the young engineers-in-training reach the end of the project book. Kids are encouraged to keep playing with the kit, making their own projects.
Since electricity is involved, it is possible to connect things in a way that drains the batteries or damages components, despite warnings in the project book. But even this is a learning opportunity! The project book contains a series of tests to work through to determine which components are damaged. Replacement pieces can be ordered from the company’s website, so even if a part gets damaged, the entire kit is not rendered useless.
Elenco also makes larger kits like the Snap Circuits SC-300 Electronics Discovery Kit and the Snap Circuits Pro SC-500 Electronics Discovery Kit. Each larger kit contains everything from the smaller kits that preceded it, plus additional pieces and projects. So the SC-300 contains all the parts and projects of the SC-100, plus 200 more projects. If you start with a smaller kit, though, you don’t have to buy the same pieces over and over as you get the larger kits. Instead, Elenco offers upgrade kits through their website that just provide the new pieces.
My suggestion: if you are looking for a STEM gift for a child who you know will enjoy this kind of toy, get one of the larger kits. If you are looking for a gift to introduce a child to electronics, and are not sure whether he or she will like it, get the SC-100 kit. They might find a large kit overwhelming or intimidating. If they love it, then you can purchase the upgrades as gifts for subsequent birthdays or holidays.
The kits are recommended for ages 8 and up, and will probably be interesting to kids up to age 13 or so. In addition, several of the customer reviews written by parents state that they bought the kit for children younger than age 8, some as young as 5. Younger kids will need to work together with a parent or older sibling, but can still enjoy the projects. It’s the kind of toy they can return to when they are a little older, and get more fun and deeper knowledge out of repeating the activities they did earlier.
The Snap Circuits Electronics Discovery Kits would also make great additions to school or homeschool classrooms, with the projects forming the basis for deeper lessons into the electrical functions that the various projects demonstrate.
On the whole, this is a fantastic learning toy for kids who love educational play, and a fun toy even for kids who are not usually into learning toys. The kits have the benefit of providing real results and satisfying outcomes without the mess and frustrations of the old-time electronics kits.
Were you a geeky kid? Would you have enjoyed a kit like this? Let me know in the comments!