When I was 13 years old, I blew up the family VCR. I took a screwdriver and opened up the case thinking that I could somehow get it to unscramble the pay cable channels. I still I have no idea why I thought this was possible. After a few minutes of tinkering, there was a crackle of electricity and a puff of smoke ⏤ the VCR was no more. That story always remains at the forefront of my mind, but never more so then when my son’s seventh birthday approached. I could already see a similar, um, spark, of curiosity in his eyes when it came to electronics. Rather than wait for him blow up the Roku or perform an autopsy on Alexa, I vowed to steer fate (and him) in a safer direction.
That direction turned out to be his birthday gift, the Elenco’s Snap Circuits Jr. Discover Kit. Only $18 on Amazon ⏤ where it has over 5,500 glowing reviews and lists a handful of best toy awards ⏤ the small box of 30 electrical components promises “over 100 exciting projects” on a journey to learn all about electricity. It’s targeted to kids age eight to 108, and naturally, I was immediately drawn to it. Thankfully, so was my son.
After skimming through the manual’s first few pages of warnings and directions, we popped in the two provided AA batteries and were off. The first project, the Electric Light & Switch, was remarkable in its simplicity. It was also accurately named, as the project consisted of a basic circuit with a switch that turned a little light on and off. My son got a big kick out of it mostly because it was his first building project that involved power. I loved it because we were learning the fundamental principles behind the wiring for the lights in our house.
Both my son and I were already sold on Snap Circuits by the time we reached project 11, but that one sealed the deal. We replaced the light with a DC motor and added a three-bladed fan propeller. We flipped the switch, the motor spun the fan, and we had flight. In my mind, I had just helped lay the groundwork for a future aerospace engineer. In twenty or so years, my kid could develop the propulsion system responsible for the future of space travel ⏤ you’re welcome, mankind.
That said, it’s not completely without drawbacks. I’ll admit that at first, my son did seem intimidated. Staring at a box of parts and wires was probably like trying to read Egyptian hieroglyphics. He may also have been thinking that he just got gypped on his birthday gift, I’m not entirely sure, but he did warm up pretty quickly. Just know that it’s definitely a toy that goes by the book rather than allows for a lot of free play.
There’s also the slightest possibility that someone could get hurt, hence the litany of warnings in the first few pages of the manual. We didn’t, so that’s good. But adult supervision is helpful for younger kids. We also worked our way to project 11 pretty quickly. If we didn’t pace ourselves, we probably could have gone full Netflix binge and burned through those first hundred experiments in a single weekend. Of course, Elenco Electronics sells plenty of additional upgrade kits that offer more experiments and/or focus on specific areas like building an FM radio or a disc launcher. So it shouldn’t find its way into the closet a week after you open it.
Long and short, if you’re looking to foster a budding engineer (and/or channel the inner one within), you can’t go wrong spending $18 on the Snap Circuit Jr. You can actually see the wheels turn and the ideas click as your child begins to understand not only what’s going on in each experiment, but what’s possible beyond those projects. Best of all, you might even save yourself an expensive DVR repair.