View Full Version : Advice please--electronic kit for middle-schooler

John Stevens
12-04-2014, 6:33 AM
Hi folks. For the last two years, my son's been playing with electronic kits made by Elenco--"Snap Circuits" and "Electronic Playground." The limitation of these kits is that they don't really explain to the user what part of a given circuit performs a given task, and how it does so. He's ready to step up to that level now. Do any of you know of electronic kits that teach the basics of engineering for a middle-school student?


Jim Matthews
12-04-2014, 6:56 AM

At this stage of the game, basic safety components like a grounding strap,
and an ESD mat where he's assembling are in order.

I also recommend good magnification in a task light.

When he progresses beyond "bread boarding" a small
soldering station with a vacuum hood will keep the house
smelling fresh.


John Coloccia
12-04-2014, 7:02 AM
Honestly, I can't think of one. There's the Radio Shack Electronics learning lab, but that's basically just one project after another. About the best I could recommend is to get a couple of beginner electronics books, and just source things like a breadboard and parts separately. What kind of budget are you looking at? Perhaps I could make some recommendations.

Rich Engelhardt
12-04-2014, 7:31 AM
Find a local Ham radio club for him to go to/join.

One problem w/the DIY method of electronics is the huge amount of math involved. The components don't make any sense by themselves, they only make sense when they are used together & the way they interact with each other is explained.
This is the type of math they don't teach in school.
Things like gain, impedance, half power point, maximum power transfer, etc. You can say a capacitor is placed at this point in a circuit - and still not have a clue as to why.
If you say the capacitor is a bypass cap, then it begins to have meaning.
If the math behind and theory behind what a bypass cap is and what it does is understood, then the whole picture becomes clear.

Even if the eventual path taken is digital, a good solid understanding of both components and analog devices provides some solid footing.

Tom M King
12-04-2014, 8:00 AM
It's a shame HeathKit is not still in business.

Scott Shepherd
12-04-2014, 8:18 AM
Buy him and Arduino and a book about projects for Arduino, or even a Raspberry Pi and a book to go with that. It's really where it's all happening in that world right now. Both are simple to use and incredibly powerful. He will have a blast with either. The Arduino is probably a little more user friendly for someone like that to start with.

Prashun Patel
12-04-2014, 8:45 AM
I highly recommend these two books:

Getting Started in Electronics (Mims),

Make: Electronics (Learning by Discovery).

Especially the Make book. It's a book for hackers. The first describes the theory and what all the components do, but I can tell you from anecdotal experience (my own and my sons) that electrical concepts are extremely non-intuitive unless they're coupled with hands-on learning. I mean, non-intuitive to the point of discouragement in my and my son's case.

Anyway, check these two out.

Tony Zona
12-04-2014, 9:35 AM
Start him on Arduino learning.

Buy an Arduino and a couple LEDs and resistors and help him connect to a PC or laptop. Watch the blinky lights.

Next, keep him reading the tutorials.

Go to Sparkfun tutorials

At sparkfun, he will be able to spend more of your money on kits and especially cheap parts. Cheap parts are at Radio Shack also.

Have him work on home automation and alarm circuitry.

Let him wonder around the web for other Arduino tutorials.

At some point, this guy


provides some of the clearest explanations of electronic and ham radio topics I have seen. Maybe a bit advanced to start with, but who know what a kid will settle on to really take off.

Ted Calver
12-04-2014, 9:56 AM
Have you checked out Little Bits?

Tony Zona
12-04-2014, 10:05 AM
And I forgot this guy's videos.

Extreme top quality instruction.


Myk Rian
12-04-2014, 12:26 PM
Buy him and Arduino and a book about projects for Arduino,
I've been considering getting some components for myself.
You can make everything from a flashing light board, with sound, to a robot controlled with a smart phone.
Really cool stuff, and works with LittleBits.

I learned electronics with help from the "Radio Amateurs Handbook" by ARRL.

Does his school have a robotics competition team?

Matt Meiser
12-04-2014, 12:35 PM
This is the type of math they don't teach in school.

Sure they do--its Circuits I and II for sophomore EE majors, at least back in the early-mid 90's.

Rich Engelhardt
12-04-2014, 1:00 PM
Wow! I didn't realize they offered electronics in regular schools.

Chuck Wintle
12-04-2014, 3:53 PM
i would recommend one of the project books previously mentioned, buying a breadboard, and shopping for components on-line. Start with one of the simpler projects and its a great learning tool. One of the facts of life in electronic projects is the need to substitute for components that are not readily available. This is a very good learning experience in itself.

Jim Koepke
12-04-2014, 4:11 PM
I learned a lot from a book called 'The Art of Electronics."

I also learned a lot making projects on circuit bread boards. These were plastic covers over rows of pins that would take most standard electronics parts so they could be interconnected with jumpers. They could be snapped together for bigger projects.

I also used to get a lot of old circuit boards that were scrap and would cut the traces and run jumpers as needed to build a project. I used to have a lot of old wire wrap prototype boards and components for making various projects.

I still have a some of it in storage. Most of it is obsolete TTL and other stuff from the late '70s and early '80s.

Probably still have my old galena crystal and cat whiskers set from back in the '50s.


Charles McKinley
12-06-2014, 2:56 PM
I will look up the kit I have at home and post it for you.

John Stevens
12-10-2014, 6:34 AM
I want to thank all of you who took the time and effort to reply. I appreciate that you'd share the benefit of your experience, and I'm grateful to have some good info to begin to make decisions.

Just to answer one question--no, my son's school doesn't have a robotics club or any club of that nature. But we might be able to find a robotics day camp this summer, and maybe that'll be a doorway to similar opportunities during the school year. So thanks for asking that question.


Gordon Eyre
12-10-2014, 11:36 AM
As a youth, I learned on Heathkit and went on to work in the White House and then to AT&T where I became a General Manager. The value of kits to peak and hold a youths interest can not be underestimated. When just 13 years of age I built my first crystal set out of scavenged parts and it brought in stations from over a thousand miles away. I would listen to it late at night with my earphones. Keep finding ways to to feed his interest, who knows where it may lead.

Larry Frank
12-10-2014, 7:51 PM
I like the idea of a breadboard and a book to start making simple circuits.

My son started on electronics in Junior high by interfacing a robot car to the old Apple IIe computer. This started him on an amazing path where before he graduated high school he was designing his own circuit boards, making the boards and into programming in C++. He won a lot of honors with this through the science fair including 4 trips to the International Science Fair.

I would spend all the time and help that you can to encourage him even though you may not know much about electronics. I found that I had to learn a lot and eventually just gave up and supported his projects which included a remote a controlled surveying vehicle that he build and programmed.

Good Luck

Jessica Pierce-LaRose
12-12-2014, 5:21 PM
What helped me get into electronics was having a project in mind and working backwards from there to accomplish it; in my case it was guitar stuff. I started building pedals, amps and such, and that got me interested in electronics, and got me to expand my knowledge. It worked better for me than doing little projects and then trying to apply it, and was similar to the approach I took with woodworking.