The Startup
Published in

The Startup

Snap Circuits from a 7 Year Old

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away… Or so it seemed, a work friend of my Dad’s gave me a strange gift for Christmas. I’m going to date myself now — but it was a circa 1980’s Electronic Project Kit. I had many, many hours of building with that Kit — really enjoyed it.

You can see the way it was connected — you would run a wire from a little spring to another component, all over the board. In some ways, it was quite ingenious — no having to deal with solder, breadboards, or other things that would cause little hands to trip up.

However, it still took some muscle coordination to build this. Time was a factor, especially for a hyperactive child like myself — sitting still was definitely something I had trouble doing.

Whatever the challenges, my dad and I had many hours together building the projects.

Benefits of a kit like this:

  • It opened my eyes to building things at an age when it would have been difficult to fully grasp all the intricacies of electricity.
  • I could “make” my own projects w\o having to worry about soldering or other small components. (Trust me, giving me a hot solder iron at 7 would have been a disaster.)
  • The projects had lots of lights and other things to catch the eye of a small child — FM circuits, LED counters, speakers….
  • My dad could voice over some of the way electricity worked to me
  • Began to teach the basics of debugging an electronic circuit and general trouble shooting
  • Used big words and bigger numbers — lots of things I had to learn to read and look at. :)

Drawbacks:

  • Still required hand eye coordination
  • Did not really help you visualize the electronic pathways
  • Required an adult to work with you to step through directions — Dad wasn’t always available.

Fast forward to 2020, and while we may wish to forget the entire year, an interesting thing happened. An anonymous Amazon package arrived at my house with a box inside called Snap Circuits.

This one, specifically:

A week or so later, we opened it up, and I began showing my daughter what we could make…

And BOOM — did that 7 year old set of Eyes light up, when the circuit turned the light on for the first time.

“More Papa, More!!!” she demanded, after we had completed the first circuit…. and the second, and the third….

And we’ve continued to build more at every opportunity since.

What are Snap Circuits?

Snap Circuits are essentially that old Radio Shack Project Board — but broken down into components. Each component snaps to other components, forming a circuit. A project is composed of a series of circuits placed on a grid board. The grid board has rows and columns identified on it — and little snaps as well. Each component goes at a certain level on the board, and is identified by a number next to it. You build the circuit from the bottom up.

Here’s a shot of the simple Music IC — explanations for operation.

Here’s the first two circuits you can build

The student handbooks, available separately, have more information on each circuit and part.

Lastly, the typical connector — snapping things together.

There are a wide variety of components — all of them designed to catch a child’s eye — something that is probably the most important thing. (Note to other parents — you may wish to not use some of them all the time. :) )

  • Speakers — very important for making NOISE!
  • Switches — push, slide, photo, sound — all the magic of switches, including ones that are voice or light activated.
  • Glowing objects
  • LEDs and other Lights — who doesn’t love making simple arcade game with lights?
  • Circuits you can reprogram — some of the circuits include the capability to program your own sequences and actions
  • Engines, Motors, and other important Robotic tool.
  • And more every day!

This layout has some extreme benefits, compared to the old Radio Shack setup.

For starters, my daughter has learned what a grid is, and how to layout components — an essential tool for later in life, especially if you become a pro Battleship player.

Secondly, and most importantly, it allows her to place all components by hand. Sure, I helped her the first few times, showing her how to push harder on a snap, or how to read the grid. But now? She’s a pro. Does it by herself.

Lastly, and most importantly, it allows her to experiment. “What happens if I do XXX or YYY?” is a question that she has asked recently, replacing one switch for another, or a direct wire for a resistor.

And that last question, is probably the most important in life.

At this point, there’s no need for me to be there at all — I’ve seen her pull down the kit and build a circuit by herself. So I’ll just sit with her and talk when I have the time — explaining some of the electronic concepts

I’ve seen her learn to debug — oh — this isn’t a complete circuit, this isn’t snapped in, etc. She’ll carefully double check all the components, ensure they’re tight, and walk back through the instructions.

I’ve explained basic concepts like resistance, power, wave forms. She gets some of it. Each component has the electronic symbol on it — so she’s becoming familiar with the signs and symbols of “adult” electronics.

I don’t know where this will lead — but for now, I’m happy to spend time with my kids, doing something that meant so much to me when I was a child.

The components themselves are extremely well made, and seem very rugged.

There’s also a wide variety of them!

A full listing of just the Snap Circuits can be found at:

Here’s the real kicker — and another reason I recommend these:

The kits don’t stop with Snap Circuits — you can progress the same kit, with the same parts…. all the way through their other kits, including basic coding, robotics, energy, etc.

So there’s no need to throw a kit out and start over — you just keep adding on.

2 questions need to be asked though —

  1. What if I’m not familiar with Electronics? Don’t worry — each kit includes an overview of what each component is and what it does. In addition, each project includes an overview of what’s going on. It might take some extra work and a bit of googling, but you’ll be able to understand. If not, let your kid read the book, and they’ll explain to you. ;) Elenco also makes a series of Home Learning kits that offer extra explanations and help. (TODO — insert picture)
  2. What if I’m very familiar with Electronics? Great! Each kit includes the circuit layout of each component — and YOU can build your own!!!

Lastly, as every parent has to ask … How do I replace components?

I’m assuming of course, that the dog ate them, because we all know that kids never lose anything… :)

Don’t worry — Elenco sells components BY THE PIECE. That’s right — there’s no need to buy the ENTIRE kit again — just repurchase the small piece that went missing — and while you’re at it, get 4!

Or, take the advantage to add some extra parts to your kit to build bigger things.

Overall, I highly recommend Elenco Snap Circuits as a very worthy upgrade over the old Radio Shack kits I had as a kid.

Watching my daughter learn to debug, ask questions, and most importantly … build was an experience I did not realize would be so awesome.

The kits are well made, well explained, and easily maintained and upgraded, all for a very reasonable price.

It’s a different focus than other STEM tools, which usually focus more on the coding aspect of things (I’m looking at you Legos!), but this is also a wonderful way to see your kids get creative.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go turn off the Alien alarm circuit that is playing at high volumes. :)

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store