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I have a 5-year-old boy who's very into electronics and Ghostbusters in particular. So far, I've had pretty good luck with snap circuits.

We started to build a homemade Ghostbuster Proton Pack but it only sounds exciting to him in theory, he'd rather play with the wire cutters then work on the project.

Any recommendations on projects or kits that might be more compelling, holding the attention of a 5-year-old for longer?

  • For programming get Logo. Let him draw in code. – Namphibian Mar 27 '17 at 13:20
  • Maybe one of those snap in circuit boards? – Bradman175 May 14 '17 at 13:16
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I've found myself in very similar situations with my 4 year old son. He's also fascinated by electronics, and anything mechanical.

We'll start projects together, but invariably after a while I'm working on it on my own, and he's gone off to play some other game.

I've concluded that it's not particularly helpful at that age to try to hold their attention longer. They just get frustrated and bored. Just try to adjust the project complexity according to his attention span. Perhaps you could hold off on the Proton Pack project for a few years. Keep his interest up with simple, quick projects, where he can see results quickly.

Assuming he remains interested, in a few years you can get back to the bigger projects, when he has a big more patience, and understands that to build something really cool takes a bit of time and effort.

  • Yes, good point, his initial over-the-top enthusiasm makes fools me into thinking we're going to work on a project together. I think quick, simple projects are the way go! – Neil Anuskiewicz Mar 26 '17 at 20:47
  • The other answers have given me some ideas as well. A 5 year old might really enjoy snipping different colored wires into appropriate lengths, or bending all the legs of the resistors ready to put into the board etc. He probably can't manage the soldering iron, but if he feels like he's actively contributing, that will help. – user1751825 Mar 27 '17 at 1:36
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Snipping and bending wires is a fun game in and of itself. :) If you want to find projects where he can actually build and modify simple electronics himself (with some help from you), your best bet may be to move toward materials that are easier for little hands and short attention spans.

There are lots of options for playing with circuits that don't require the precision and commitment of working with metal and plastic. Try making graphite circuits on paper! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BwKQ9Idq9FM

You can also build electronics on fabric with products like adafruit: https://www.adafruit.com/circuitplayground Not only is fabric easier to work with than other materials (and conducting thread is pretty easy to buy and work with, with adult supervision for the needle and scissors, of course), he can quickly build things to wear and play with. Just imagine the superhero/alien/megaman costumes that could come out of this!

If you have the resources (i.e. access to a 3D printer), you can even build and program a robot together: https://www.poppy-project.org/en/education/ Although that will probably be a better project for him in a year or two.

Have fun!

  • 1
    I'll add, there's plenty of wire art out there -- maybe that could work! LINK craftwire – WRX Mar 26 '17 at 17:22
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    So true, @Willow! I saw this episode of reading rainbow at an impressionable age and played with wire for YEARS afterward. – Rose Hartman Mar 26 '17 at 17:30
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    @RoseHartman, I'll take a look at those projects. Willow, thanks for the suggestion on art as that would be a fun way to do things beyond drawing. – Neil Anuskiewicz Mar 26 '17 at 20:52
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Use iterations.

Gage his attention span and ability. Try to make smaller projects that achieve a usable product at the end of a session. Then next session either adds a feature to an existing project or creates a new minimally functional thing.

A dimmable LED on a bread board can take 2 minutes to make which should be well inside the limit of a 5 year who likes electronics. Mount it inside a housing. Add a chip to make it blink. Add a button to turn it on. Now you are reasonably close to a toy raygun. Not in one session, but maybe with mostly his handiwork.

Or whatever progression to whatever finished product you want. Talk to him about what he wants added and the steps it will take to get that to work. The key is finish a session before he loses focus and have a usable thing at every stopping point.

Showing off a simple project is a lot more rewarding than dreaming of a complex one.

  • I agree very much with this. The attention span of the child may just not stretch to anything one could call a "project". – Weckar E. Mar 30 '17 at 13:47
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I highly recommend LINK - Meccano, though I imagine a trip to your local toy store will offer you many options. Why not take your little guy along and see what captures his interest? My husband loved building radios and clocks from kits and did them with his dad. He isn't sure how young he was, but he thinks 5 or 6.

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