Have you ever asked yourself: when is the right time to get started with electronics? It might be a simple question, but the answer is very complicated. But what offering some electronic kits as Christmas gifts? Are you making the right choice?
I received these questions a few days ago on my contact form, and while I initially thought this is a simple thing, it proved to be difficult to pinpoint the “right” age for someone to make the first steps in electronics.
The big issue is that many of manufacturers of development boards are assuming the user is experienced in electronics, and, beyond the “what you do, you do it on your risk,” they don’t offer any safety sheets, least to say they indicate an age limit to use their products.
In the end, to answer those questions I started to gather as much information as possible regarding the intended age use, and here are the results so far:
The only starter kit recommended for children ages 5 and older is the Snap Circuit Beginner Electronic Discovery Kit from Elenco.
From the age of 8 years, there are multiple options available.
Designed and maintained by the Lifelong Kindergarten group at the MIT Media Lab, Scratch is a good option to make the first steps in programming. As opposed to the traditional, text-based programming, Scratch uses a block-based coding. All one has to do is drag blocks of instructions and combine them to create complex applications. It’s worth mentioning here that Block Based Coding is the de facto way to teach kids introductory programming in the US.
The little CodeBug did also receive an extensive review here. Its quick start guide says “For ages 8+ under adult supervision”. CodeBug also relies on a Block-Based Coding approach, quite similar to Scratch. Several extensions are available; such is the ColourStar and the GlowBugs.
A bit more complex, the littleBits Electronics Arduino Coding Kit may be used at a parent or educator’s discretion for ages 8 and up. While initially designed to work with Arduino IDE, there’s a nice, Scratch-like option available named Ardublock. It might get things a little simpler for the young ones.
The range of Elenco products rated age 8 and up includes the Snap Circuits SC-100, the Snap Circuits SC-300, and Snap Circuits Extreme SC-750. There are also upgrade kits available, so one can buy only the upgrade kit to go from SC100 to SC-300, and so on.
The range of possible options increases. Notably, the SparkFun Inventors Kit v4.0 does not require any soldering and is recommended for beginners ages 10 and up. While the official Arduino Uno kit doesn’t specify an age limit, it has the same complexity as the SIK kit, so it’s safe to assume the same 10-year age limit.
Somewhere on a forum, I found that “the original target for the RPi was (secondary) school-age children coming up to University entrance.” That is, from age 11 and to age 99+. Scratch runs on the Raspberry PI, as well as some other nice development tools. There’s also Python, and the wonderful Pi Sense Hat (Hardware Attached on Top) requires no soldering, so it’s safe to use.
If you already have some of the Snap Circuit products, you can benefit from Snapino, which adds one Arduino Uno to the Snap Circuit projects.
In the user manual of my Weller WXD2 soldering station I found the following safety warning: “for safety reasons, children and youths under the age of 16, as well as persons who are not familiar with these operating instructions, may not use the device.”
So, is 16 years a safe limit to grab a soldering iron? Maybe it is.
Plenty electronics kits require some soldering; the number of those kits is just too big to mention them all.