Elementary Electronics – Toy Take Apart

I’ve been facilitating an elementary electronics class with our local homeschool co-op and this week we took apart an electronic toy. The toy take apart was messy, chaotic and hopefully, a lot of fun.

The idea of a toy take apart came from the Tinkering Studio; it was one of the suggested activities in their course that I took two years ago. We’ve taken apart a lot of things at our house, but this was the first time I had the kids draw out their thoughts ahead of time. Since we’ve been studying circuits and playing with batteries and bulbs, I felt they would have a better understanding of how their electronic toy might work.

C, age 7, takes apart an old kid-friendly walkie-talkie.

Making Thinking Visible – Toy Take Apart

I was really hoping for a detailed drawing of how they thought the circuits would be connected to the sensors, however, I didn’t plan for the pure excitement (and impatience) of a group of 8-11 year-olds. They were itching to take their old toys apart. Their hands were filled with screwdrivers and hammers (eek!) and exacto knives (for those with plush toys). Since we are a small group, each kid had his own toy to take apart.

R has been wanting to take this doll apart since we found her at Goodwill last year.

Initially, I was going to do a toy take apart as the first class. I thought it would be a fun activity that would get the kids excited about electronics. The timing didn’t work out and I had to postpone it, but I’m glad I did. The Tinkering Studio had it right – the kids had a better understanding of what they were looking at since they had done some experimenting beforehand.

There were still a lot of things that they didn’t recognize (and I didn’t either), but I think it gave them the same sense of power that I get every time I discover the mystery behind a product:  this isn’t nearly as complicated as it looks and there’s no reason to be frightened of it.

Lessons Learned – Toy Take Apart

Since we are a homeschool co-op, most of the parents are around, if needed. For the younger kids, they definitely needed a parent. I was busy helping another child when my youngest son, age 7, cut himself with a screwdriver. He was trying to pry open a piece of plastic and had watched some older kids use a screwdriver with much success. Sadly, the piece he was trying to crack open was still screwed shut. He didn’t look around to see if there was anything he could undo first. He ended up being fine – it just sliced the surface of his hand – but it gave me something to think about. I think it would have been helpful to pair the kids up – an older kid with a younger one, and add a parent to watch over the group.

That would be tough to do in a large classroom – unless you had parent volunteers. You could probably get around that problem if everyone had the same thing to take apart, such as a simple push flashlight. That’s how I solved the problem in my Bring the Maker Mindset to Kids class, but I was hoping for a little more creative license for this one. Oh well – lessons learned. Safety first.