"Great-O!" is how my nine-year-old son described Electronic Snap Circuits by Elenco Electronics ( www.elenco.com ). While this word may not be in the dictionary, it is one of Josiah's terms of very high praise. He loves science in any form, but especially when he gets to make things that light up, or make noise, or fly around the room. All I heard for hours was: "snap, snap, snap", followed by "Wow!" and "Mama, come look!", and another high praise - "Cool-O"! And to protect his dignity I won't tell you what shouts of joy my husband uttered. Suffice it to say that they had a marvelous time and learned much about electronics in the process.
We have tried electronics kits in the past. I'm sure you know the ones - lots of little parts, bare wires attached precariously to equipment, instructions that must be written in Greek, wire cutters that seem to break the wire more than cut it, and the almost overwhelming sense that you will have to call the fire department at any moment. Sorry, but you won't have any of those joys with this set! Electronic Snap Circuits are a set of modules that literally snap together to form different projects. They range from an inch or so in length, up to several inches long, with a variety of snaps that easily fit together with the other pieces. All pieces are carefully labeled and color-coded to match the color instructions in the excellent manuals. The 300-experiment set that I reviewed includes two instruction books to illustrate all of the great projects. The instructions are very clear and have wonderful illustrations. It only takes a few minutes to build each project. Each experiment builds on earlier projects and includes a short lesson on the topic at hand, making this a very educational as well as fun kit. We were able to quickly learn about resistors, integrated circuits, photosensitive resistors, conductors, etc. And it hardly seems like work when you can build things like burglar alarms, flashlights, radios, a quiet zone game, an ambulance symphony, a water detector, a lie detector, a radio music alarm, a human space war, and an old-style typewriter sound, etc., etc. Using only 60 or so parts, this kit provides all of the needed parts and instructions to build 300 projects. Some are simple variations of another project, allowing you to see what a small change can do, but most are completely different projects.
I think the Electronic Snap Circuits would be excellent for homeschooling families who want to add an electronics study to their schoolwork, or just want the kids to "play" while learning. The age range is from 8 to 108! You could use the projects as a systematic unit study, or allow the kids to play randomly and learn on their own. I think it will also be very helpful for my special needs kids who would have difficulty manipulating traditional electronics parts and understanding the difficult concepts. This kit allows them to use visual, auditory and kinesthetic skills to make safe projects that are easy to understand and provide immediate results.
The prices are reasonable for such an excellent product (Snap Circuits, Jr. kit with 100 projects is $29.95 retail; Snap Circuits kit with 300 projects is $59.95 retail; and there will soon be a 500 project kit released). The pieces are tough enough to take years of play, and can also be used to make your own creative projects. Did I mention that the Electronic Snap Circuits were awarded the "Dr. Toy's 100 Best Children's Products for 2002" and 'Dr. Toy's 10 Best Educational Products for 2002"? Elenco also makes hundreds of other wonderful scientific products and parts. Electronic Snap Circuits are a great way to get some safe, educational, hands-on electronics practice, all without blowing up the house!