Press stud circuits

You may have noticed that my blog has moved, and you're now reading it at rather than the old blogspot address.  Old links you have saved, or which I've posted on social media, should continue to redirect, but if you find something that doesn't work, please do let me know.  Anyway, this is my first post on the new site, but aside from the location, not a lot has changed.

Having seen my son really enjoying experimenting with electricity, LEDs and play dough, I thought it would be nice to introduce a wider range of electronic components to see what he made of them. I didn't think these would be very successful with the high resistance of play dough 'wires' so I looked for an alternative.

There are a number of electronics kits for children available which all use a similar press stud fitting to join components into circuits which I thought could work nicely for little hands. Our choice of brand was driven by what I found second hand on eBay, and I bought an incomplete Cambridge Brainbox kit very inexpensively (it looks like John Adams Hot Wires and Snap Circuits are very similar though). I decided we could try it out under the guise of it being "Mummy's electronics kit" and see how we got on as the manufacturers all recommend the sets for age 8 and above, and my son is only 3 (I definitely wouldn't give it to a child that puts things in their mouths though, even with supervision, as there are some very small parts).

I need not have worried. He absolutely loved it, followed instructions carefully and we have built lots of circuits. I'm not joking when I say he asks to play with electronics several times a week.  We have followed some of the ideas in the booklet that came with it, and have created some variations of our own. He's quite capable of connecting things together, and after playing with it a few times a week for a couple of months with supervision and help from me, he's clearly learnt a lot and mostly knows how to assemble simple working circuits without assistance (but I wouldn't let him do this unsupervised given the potential for short circuits).

One of his many circuits with a motor

Some of the things we have explored together are:

- the difference between light bulbs and LEDs. One can be in a circuit either way around, and the other needs to have the diode in the correct orientation to let the current flow.

- different types of switches - those with sliders and push switches. He's also assembled them into complex arrangements of switches and had to work out which ones need to be switched to make current flow through particular components i.e. he's made simple logic gates and we've talked about whether two switches need to be on to make a bulb light (an AND gate) or whether either switch can be on to turn a bulb on (an OR gate).  This is something we will come back to once he's more confident in putting series and parallel circuits together.

- motors, and how they use electricity to produce movement.  A few switches and a motor with a fan or propeller can occupy a 3 year old for a surprisingly long time!

- speakers/buzzers and how electricity can be used to make sound

- how series and parallel circuits are different, by playing with the effect of moving components around and seeing how the brightness of lights/LEDs changes or the speed of motors changes

- variable resistors and how you can use them to control the speed of motor or use them as a dimmer switch. This was initially a bit of a test of his fine motor skills but he's very able to use it now and explain what he's doing in simple terms.

Variable resistor controlling a fan

He's got a good idea about a circuit needing to be completed (which he initially learnt from our electric play dough), knows what components are called and can assemble his own simple circuits based on things he has done before. I wouldn't totally trust him not to build a short circuit so it's definitely a supervised activity but he's enjoyed the freedom (within limits!) to experiment with his own circuit designs and to explain what he wants to make and have a bit of assistance to get it right. We've made traffic lights, a train signal, a variable speed fan, used an integrated circuit to play a song and make the sound of emergency vehicles. He's literally had hours of fun and only a small amount of frustration when things haven't worked the way he envisaged. He's also far better at listening carefully and following instructions when it is something he really likes playing with.

Happily experimenting with putting a light in parallel with a motor

I have to admit that I bought a bigger set recently to expand the circuits we can make over the coming months so he can continue to learn new things and follow his interests as electronic circuits seem to be something he enjoys exploring.