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Mixing Kids and Electronics – Success Starts Young

Here is the dilemma:

I love my kids.  I enjoy tinkering with electronics.  I have one life to live.

Will I look back at the end of my days and say, “I should have spent more time playing with my kids.” Or will I say, “I should have spent more time playing with electronics.”

I don’t plan on saying either and here’s why…

I will teach my kids to tinker with electronics.

This way, I get to play with my kids and electronics – it’s win, win.

And here’s how I plan to do it.

Exploit my Children’s Natural Curiosity for Blinking Lights

Last year I had the pleasure of attending the Open Source Hardware Summit in New York City.  Among the schwag in the registration bag was a small plastic package full of 15 or so LEDs and a flat lithium battery – all complements of Sparkfun, one of the conference sponsors.

As soon as I got back to the hotel, Ellie and I broke them out, scattered them over the floor and were lighting up the colorful LEDs.  After about an hour of on off play, she was starting to grasp that the long leg and the short leg had to be a certain way for the light to shine.

We stayed for Maker Faire (I had a booth with my Phone Bot), and by the end of the weekend she could say “Emitt’en Light Diode” pretty well.  [“Ellie, It’s Light Emitting Diode” – “Emitt’en Light Diode Daddy”.  I was pleased.  My wife could tell I was happy.

This led to LEDs being part of her “toys” she would ask to play with.   So we scatter LEDs over the table and get some lithium batteries out.  I will get a potentiometer with some alligator clips and she makes the lights dim and brighten.

Then I started pulling out the breadboard and put some buttons on there. It’s a toddler dream to push buttons and watch LEDs blink on and off with a touch.  I give her a pile of wire connectors and she builds her own “circuits” in the breadboard.  I get my fix playing with POTs and making a mutlivibrator to blink LEDs all the while watching my daughter play.  Could life get better than this?

Monkey See Monkey Do

My kids watch me do everything.  They love to mimic me. If they see me working with electronics, they won’t be able to resist the draw.

So I keep my basement lab open to my children – even if it is a danger to their lives – just kidding!*  No, when I have my little one in the lab (mind you the eldest is 3 yrs old), I make sure that I am working with her.

Taking things apart in front of her; unscrewing, unfastening, banging electronics with hammers.  Look kiddo, we can take things apart if we want to – screws, glue and plastic shan’t stop us.**

Sometimes I go down to the lab with my daughter pretending I will get a project worked on.  I give her a bag of erasable makers and let her draw on my white board while I “work” on some stuff.   So she is not working with me, but she is playing around the lab and it will be more familiar to her then if I kept her locked out.

Really though, this is a myth – I can’t get any “work” done when my little one is in the lab – I end up drawing smiley faces and tracing fingers and picking things up off the shelf that get pulled down.

But its not about the work at this point, its about spending time with my kid, and slowly saturating her brain with the coolness of electronics.  Which leads me to my next tactic.

Brain Washing

If I am going to have my kid flip through endless pictures of apples, oranges and grey bunny rabbits, I might as well make resistors, capacitors and multi-meters part of her growing lexicon.  For this reason, I recently made a children’s iBook for my little people.  It is straight pictures and words – the kind of book an infant gnaws on – except its digital so I have to wipe drool off the iPad for my infant and protect it from fracture by the toddler.

If I am going to have the kids play with electronics, my hope is the book reinforces the words they learn.  If my kid can recognize some parts on a circuit board and know the names of a few common tools, than I have succeeded. And they will be further ahead than most adults I know.

I get to read to my kids while teaching them electronics – all is well.


Child Services – “Don’t you think electronics parts are too small for children to play with or that she might get shocked in your lab”

Me – “Yes and Yes, that is why I supervise my kid.”


** Naysayers – “You will regret showing her to take things apart when she disassembles your T.V.”

Me – “I don’t own a television. It would be the neighbors.”


  1. Avatar Grammie on April 9, 2012 at 5:50 am

    What a great article. I just love the picture of you and your daughter.

  2. Avatar Sharon Cheich on April 10, 2012 at 9:14 am

    Love this article.

  3. Avatar oshj on October 24, 2013 at 1:42 am

    I fixed the link Shawn, sorry about that. I think initially I was hosting the actual iBook file online, but have since listed it in the iTunes store as a free book. Thanks for taking the time to let me know.

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