Tuesday, June 5, 2012

100 Things to Learn Before Adulthood: Circuits

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects. -Robert Heinlein

When Zach and I started having kids we started making a list of 100 things we wanted our kids to know before they left our house. The list ranged from common, practical things like cooking a meal, writing a letter and washing laundry to fun things like playing Euchre, programming a computer and paddling a canoe.

I am a big fan of skills. I have vague, but fond memories of time spent with my great-aunts as a little girl making Swedish sausage and canning raspberry jam, and happy memories of creating big, extravagent feasts with my parents. I admire people like my father-in-law, who can build houses and cabinets and bunk beds and people like my Grandpa Frank who, when their prosthetic thumb proves inadequate for banjo picking, can fashion themselves a new one that is equal to the task. I don't expect my kids will leave here able to build a house or a body part, but I would like them to have the basic knowledge necessary to be resourceful, contributing members of the community.

There is nothing Zach enjoys more than playing with electricity, so naturally it is high on his list of things he wants our kids to learn about. In service of that goal, I ordered us a set of Snap Circuits. Basically, snap circuits are like electronic legos. They snap into place without any messy soldering (a skill the kids are learning separately) and engage them in hundreds of projects including creating an AM radio, wiring a burglar alarm and voice activated lights.

We started out with the smallest kit, the Snap Circuits Jr, but will be moving on to the larger kits, which include a computer interface that works as an oscilloscope and spectrum analyzer.

Even James was a fan. So far they have done three of the 100 projects, so it's something we'll get a lot of fun out of.

Another project we have on the docket for the summer is Squishy Circuits.  We learned about this project from the big kids' favourite podcast, Make Magazine's Sylvia's Super Awesome Mini Maker Show.

Squishy circuits are basically electrically conductive playdough developed here in the Twin Cities at the University of St Thomas.  Cheyenne is excited to have a chance to use the pink LEDs she got as a gift from the manager she has befriended at Ax-Man.

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