Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive


Forgot your password?
Hardware Hacking Build

A Home Lab/Shop For Kids? 291

sharp-bang writes "When I was growing up, my Dad let my brother and I have the run of his wood shop, and kept up a steady stream of Lego kits, Estes model rockets, chemistry sets, Heathkit projects, and other fun science stuff from the Edmund Scientific catalog, and the rest was history. I'd like to give my kids that kind of experience. If your kids were interested in science, computers, robots, and building stuff, how would you build and outfit a lab/shop for them (and you) to play in?"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

A Home Lab/Shop For Kids?

Comments Filter:
  • hmmm (Score:4, Funny)

    by gadabyte ( 1228808 ) on Sunday June 01, 2008 @08:51PM (#23621763)
    diesel fuel, fertilizer, and a copy of 'the turner diaries'?
    • Re:hmmm (Score:5, Funny)

      by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Sunday June 01, 2008 @09:17PM (#23621917)
      Also solves the question how to afford sending your kids to college.
    • Re:hmmm (Score:5, Insightful)

      by NewbieProgrammerMan ( 558327 ) on Sunday June 01, 2008 @09:18PM (#23621925)
      Might as know he'll already be on the DHS watch list just for the rockets and chemistry set.
    • Don't laugh (Score:5, Funny)

      by Ethanol-fueled ( 1125189 ) * on Sunday June 01, 2008 @09:19PM (#23621931) Homepage Journal
      Young boys(and, okay, maybe some young girls) like to burn stuff.

      It all starts with the magnifying glass and the ants, then it moves on to dousing G.I. Joes in lawnmower gasoline. Later, when they get older, firecrackers come into the mix.

      Lord help you if you hand-load your own ammo: gunpowder(a mix of fast-and-slow burning ^_^ ) and primers, with some match-heads all poured into a metal can creates a louder and much more exciting(read: dangerous) projectile than an Estes rocket. Speaking of Estes rockets, screw the rocket and put just the engine on the pole.

      Oh crap, I'm guilty of terrorism for posting that. Who's that knocking at my door?
      • Re:Don't laugh (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Sunday June 01, 2008 @09:31PM (#23622019)
        Can't do a lot anymore today. My dad used to build his own explosives. Even I got away with building a (working) flame thrower. Doing either of this today will at the very least land you on some governmental list (and not the nice kind), if not in jail.

        If you can get your hand on the substances needed at all anymore. Regulations of explosives has really gone berserk, they now argue whether to outlaw ASA (ya know, the aspirin) because it can be used to create TNP.
      • Re:Don't laugh (Score:5, Interesting)

        by 0100010001010011 ( 652467 ) on Sunday June 01, 2008 @11:44PM (#23622895)
        You don't need fancy explosives to have fun. Plenty of stuff that will keep you off the list too.

        1) Starter Fluid. [] It's designed to burn. No extra hair setting crap. Tossed directly into a fire is quite entertaining as well. I think I broke a height my model rockets didn't even break. Remember kids. When it comes to compressed cans, Bottoms Up. Otherwise the lid just melts and shoots out. Different effect but not as cool.

        2) Fire crackers. [] Sure in small doses they're "cool". But if you spend an hour un wrapping them and setting them in a drain pipe arranged in packs and then use a roll of paper towels + lighter fluid as a wick it's pretty entertaining.

        Entertaining enough for Campus Security to come over and ask "What was that, no, really. You're not in trouble. That was awesome?"

        3) Propane Tanks. No video (yet) but a 35 lb propane tank on a fire sounds like a jet taking off when the pressure reliefs are hit. Lights the area up like daylight and looks awesome. Next up is a .308 to release all the propane at once.
        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by onion_joe ( 625886 )

          Entertaining enough for Campus Security to come over and ask "What was that, no, really. You're not in trouble. That was awesome?"

          where did you go to school?
          nitrogen triiodide []? Not looked kindly upon by the RA's. Even at a nerd school.
          ps: easy to make, if you can find crystalline iodine: stick the iodine crystals in a coffee filter and slowly pour household ammonir through. let dry, verrrrry carefully. The resulting crystals are contact explosives,

    • Re:hmmm (Score:5, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 01, 2008 @10:17PM (#23622343)
      What's with all the explosives? Do something harmless, like make some boards with blinking lights and attach them to bridges. What could go wrong?
  • Most importantly (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Leibel ( 768832 ) on Sunday June 01, 2008 @08:52PM (#23621775) Homepage
    Kit it out with stuff that you're passionate about. Only then can they get your passions...
    • by jeiler ( 1106393 ) <> on Sunday June 01, 2008 @09:00PM (#23621821) Journal

      Hmmm ... I have to disagree. First find out what they're passionate about (if anything at this age). If they're young enough to be undecided, then you can go with what you like--but be prepared to completely change course if they discover something else.

      My dad is an industrial engineer, so I got the whole math/science schtick, with a Heathkit computer and lots of stuff to build. However, when I turned 10, I turned on to music. Music is still a passion of mine ... but unfortunately, Dad didn't understand how I felt about it, so he was still pushing for the hard sciences. I never even learned to read standard notation, much less the music theory I wanted to take in high school.

      Needless to say, this caused some friction, and to this day my passion for music is a lot greater than my knowledge for music.

      • That's pretty sad. Standard music notation was part of the standard school curriculum for us.
        • by jeiler ( 1106393 )
          AC was trolling, but in one sense he's right--I could have still gone ahead and gone after what I wanted. But it's cool--I've got some songs out on the internet, and I still have fun with the tech stuff.
      • +1. Let them try everything you and they want, and let them go to things that they like. It's disappointing when you go out of your way to set up something cool for your kid and they're not interested, but that's life. Your kid has to find their own way - you can expose them to things, but that's about all.
      • by DerekLyons ( 302214 ) <> on Monday June 02, 2008 @02:19AM (#23623713) Homepage

        Needless to say, this caused some friction, and to this day my passion for music is a lot greater than my knowledge for music.

        It can hardly be described as a passion if it lacks the strength to motivate you to educate yourself.
    • Ha, that's rich. It's like the proverbial parent who tries to live out their OWN dreams through their quite-possibly unwilling children. That being said, would you feel bad if your kid eschewed everything educational and became a star athlete? Not much geek cred, but they'd be better-able to support you in your old age ;)
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Leibel ( 768832 )
        Well, I presume since they asked Slashdot, it was because his kids didn't answer. Young kids needs guidance, and the obvious thing for parents to do is to give them their values and let the kids work out what is right and wrong in their own time. A kid doesn't know what's out there until they've seen it. As a parent I have the benefit of experience that my kids don't have. I should share those experiences with my kids. As they get older and learn, they can then choose whether or not they want to accept my v
    • by Brother Fade ( 860480 ) on Sunday June 01, 2008 @09:19PM (#23621935)
      Since my mother took us in the divorce (age 13), I did my hobby stuff on my own, on my school desk on weekends and in cold weather, and out on a balcony during warmer weather. She encouraged it, but couldn't really add much. When I later had two rooms, I kitted out the second room with a 'workbench' (old door on two saw horses) and some of my father's old tools that he had left behind.

      Give them some catalogs (Edmund, Estes, Allelectronics, Smarthome, etc.) and see what floats their boats. I think I'd try and start them with something that sparked their interest, and in the course of exploring with them and 'guiding' their early efforts, I'd answer their questions about the hobbies I was passionate about. I joined a local model rocketry club in 9th grade, and attended meetings a few times a month. We were involved in regional competitions - parents took turns schlepping us around to weekend meets a few times a year.

      At a minimum, you need a hobbyist (clean) jawvise, flat and sturdy cutting surface, setting gluding surface(s), someplace to sand stuff, good lighting. Basic tools, like X-Acto handles and blades, steel rule, smallish drivers. Over time, I added a Dremel and specialty tools I saw others using. For electronics tools, a low-wattage soldering iron, a DVM, needlenose pliers, hand tools, desoldering tools, and some fun kits to start. Even before the kits, something simple to practice soldering and desoldering, to learn how not to fry components (always my gumption trap).

    • Re:Most importantly (Score:5, Interesting)

      by John3 ( 85454 ) <john3.cornells@com> on Sunday June 01, 2008 @09:46PM (#23622091) Homepage Journal
      Tough to tell if that will work or not. Sometimes kids avoid what their parents are passionate about. I know this definitely happened with music.

      My daughter liked K'Nex and Lego, so I bought Mindstorms and she loved it. However, I let her work on it herself and only jumped in when she needed help. This year she designed a robot for a competition and asked for some help. I own a hardware store and I'm pretty handy with tools and building "stuff" and we actually put together a cool robot. Came in sixth out of ten, but she did most of the design and testing with me helping with the construction (especially the cutting and drilling).
    • Re:Most importantly (Score:4, Interesting)

      by zappepcs ( 820751 ) on Monday June 02, 2008 @12:34AM (#23623163) Journal
      While that is probably good advice, the one thing that I would advise is the one thing that got me on the track that I'm still on some 35+ years later. There is nothing so fascinating to young boys IMO, than blowing stuff up and on the more docile side, taking things apart. Even if the taking apart is destructive, it is often critically educational. Once you build a flame thrower, the next step is to burn something.

      Once you take a lawnmower apart, the next step is to build something, errr, put it back together with some new parts, and cleaning of some old parts. The same can be said for VCRs and old cake mixers. If you can take it apart without explosives, you can learn from it.

      The world, it seems, is just one giant erector set with some pretty cool pieces.

      Read some Heinlein. He has a theory about how a man should know enough about everything to do at least a half decent job. Not many people will pay for a broken model airplane, but they make a great way for young kids to learn how the various parts of an airplane work, then you can move on to that $500 christmas present if he wants to fly.

      In summary, I'd have to say that bringing in new 'junk' every now and then to play with and examine would be healthy. As for the one that did it for me? I cut every part out of a 1967-ish color console television, then stared at the box and wondered for days how in the hell that box of stupid parts ever made a picture? Finding out took quite awhile but then I started off at the age of 9.
    • No No NO (Score:2, Interesting)

      Cloning doesn't work.

      Step 1: Foster curiosity from age 1 month. Really work at it. Remember a dog on a lead can't be pushed and if you pull it it will get resentful. Some people find they need to develop patience and put up with small disapointments in order to get this right.

      Step 2: Reward study because if you don't you'll end up with a child with the attention span of a gnat.

      Step 3: Expose to lots of different stimulii. This is a 'horse to water' situation. With any luck they'll be drinking at

  • Capsela (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 01, 2008 @09:06PM (#23621843)
    Depending on the ages in question, these are great toys: []

    They have little plastic spheres containing motors, reduction gears, worm gears, etc. You can build stuff from their designs, but it's even more fun just to build things of your own imagining.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by CastrTroy ( 595695 )
      I had a set of those as a kid. I seem to remember it being a lot of fun. The problem was that I only had a small set, and it was quite limited what I could do with it. I find that to be the biggest problem with any of these construction toys. They get really expensive. I was just at Toys 'R us this weekend, looking at legos for the kids, and it was $20 for a (roughly) 10 inch x 10 inch flat floor-type piece. I think that's kind of the reason I got into computers. Once you had the initial computer (w
  • by rbochan ( 827946 ) on Sunday June 01, 2008 @09:09PM (#23621865) Homepage
    Are you interested in adopting a 38 year old?
  • Egads Man (Score:5, Funny)

    by Cylix ( 55374 ) on Sunday June 01, 2008 @09:12PM (#23621887) Homepage Journal
    Buy em anything. Anything except from that catalogue. The prices are rather horrid.

    Me, I say give em a can of coke and some pop rocks.

    Now that is entertainment for hours.

    Follow it up with a bowl of rice crispies.

    Each time they ask why these things do what they do... lie... lie a lot and change it each time.
    • Re:Egads Man (Score:4, Interesting)

      by plantman-the-womb-st ( 776722 ) on Sunday June 01, 2008 @10:05PM (#23622237)
      You hit it on the head. When I was a kid no one would tell me why the vinegar made the baking soda go all foamy, so I had to find out myself (used to love the library trips when I was a kid). Oddly, I just mentioned the coke and poprocks thing to my wife, she knew *what* they did but not *why*. I think I know what my toddler is getting for his second birthday now.

      "A long time a ago son, the poprocks ambushed the coke tribe at the Valley of the Overflowing Beaker, since then..."
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by fermion ( 181285 )
      Speaking of the edmunds catalog, bookmark his sm-14 website [] on their computer. It's like, give a man fish he eats for a day, teach him the process of fishing, he eats for a lifetime. Give a kid an answer, they have an answer. Teach them how to pose good questions and the process of answering those questions, the kid will grow up to an adult that thrives for a lifetime.
  • by QuantumG ( 50515 ) * <> on Sunday June 01, 2008 @09:12PM (#23621891) Homepage Journal
    Not to put too fine a point on it, but there was a time where the majority of workers were involved in actually using these tools, and so it was normal to have an old set of them around the house. Nowadays, with globalization pushing most manual labor out of first world countries, high school kids who take metal shop are more likely to be familiar with manufacturing than their parents.

    We live in the kind of world that Isaac Asimov and Philip K. Dick used to write about, where kids think meat comes "from the supermarket" cause they've never been on a farm and think cars are made by robots with no human hands involved.

    Many young inventors are shocked to discover that you can't just design a part using CAD-CAM and email the design off to a factory in China to be mass produced.. that often even the most sophisticated computer controlled milling machine produces parts that you have to get out a file to finish.

    • by Idiomatick ( 976696 ) on Sunday June 01, 2008 @09:54PM (#23622151)
      the only reason cars arent 100% robot made is because in some steps humans are cheaper than building more robots. And that just refers to assembly, pretty much all the fabrication has no humans involved. Though so you know people wouldnt do any milling in most places... They run a laser across all products to check for deformity... if there is any they just get rejected and recycled. So no humans involved there. And to be honest you should be able to email cadcam designs and get the product back.... i worked in a place that milled wood products and you could put your own designs in after hours so long as they matched the capabilities of the machine.... and boss didnt catch you.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by kaizokuace ( 1082079 )
        well, not only because its cheaper that to get some robots for certain tasks but for some car companies the customer pays a premium to have a hand made car. Ferrari has a lot of people involved in the process of manufacturing. The honda NSX was hand made throughout its lifetime.
    • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Sunday June 01, 2008 @10:03PM (#23622227) Homepage

      Many young inventors are shocked to discover that you can't just design a part using CAD-CAM and email the design off to a factory in China to be mass produced.

      Sure you can. []

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by JaWiB ( 963739 )
      I wished I'd learned how to solder, put together circuits, weld, use machinery, etc. as a kid. Those things would come in handy now that I'm an undergraduate physics student (especially since I'm considering an engineering degree as well) It's hard to work on a reasearch project when you have no idea how to build the experimental setup you need! Not to mention that the university doesn't have the budget for us to have any part we need ordered/machined
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by yomegaman ( 516565 )
        When I was an undergraduate physics major our department had a few-weeks class in the summer on machining. We learned how to grind our own lathe tools and turn things on the lathe, how to use a milling machine to make all kinds of stuff out of aluminum, how to cut screw threads, etc. It was a blast, and when I went on to grad school I made all kinds of parts for the experiment I worked on in the shop. If your department has a machine shop you should ask if they have a class like this, it's pretty fun.
    • Astrophysics professor, now retired.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by s4m7 ( 519684 )

      you can't just design a part using CAD-CAM and email the design off to a factory in China
      You can, just expect 95% more lead than the specs call for.
  • by syousef ( 465911 ) on Sunday June 01, 2008 @09:13PM (#23621895) Journal
    Get them into remote control aircraft when they're old enough. It's not a cheap hobby, a few hundred dollars to get into it, but you get to learn about:

    - Combustion engines
    - Mixing fuel (some chemistry)
    - Radio gear
    - Flight dynamics
    - Assembling and building, where care is needed to avoid major mistakes that would render the model unflyable
    - Woodwork and metal work (and you'll aquire the tools for these if you don't already have them)
    - The importance of measurement in the real world
    - Importance of safety and developing good practice and procedure to make things safe

    If you go with the above, make sure you join a club and practice on a simulator as it does take quite some time for most people to get the hang of controlling a plane and nothing will cause a child to lose interest quicker than a toy that takes a month to build and breaks (crashes) in under a minute. It's definitely harder than r/c cars which don't fall out of the sky if you slow down too much, aren't affected by the wind etc. (In fact petrol engine cars - not the $10 toys - are a simpler alternative with less of a learning curve BUT there isn't as much reward either).

    Also when they're old enough, you could get them to build a dobsonian telescope. It's not particularly difficult, and you can choose to do it from components. Again you learn about woodwork and metal work, but also add optics and astronomy to the mix.

    The point is that while the above are in a sense toys, in another they are not. You have to be rigid and disciplined because you are creating a real working piece of equipment where tolerances are important. Kids unfortunately grow up in a schooling environment today where they are taught whatever they do will be just fine. Great for the child's confidence, but the trouble is that's not how the real world works.

    These hobbies aren't something they can't be left to do unsupervised - you'll actually have to learn yourself and help teach them. You might even end up doing classes together (telescope making), or taking tution together (learning to fly r/c). It does require that the child can follow direction, has some patience and doesn't just lose interest in a week. They also have to be interested in the end product or they won't want to do it.

    The other thing that should be obvious to people here if you like the idea of building things together is to teach them to build a computer from scratch. That's actually a practical skill they can use whether or not they wind up in IT.
    • You should probably mention that the initial investment can reach the 1000 bucks easily. Unless you want some equipment that gives you more troubles than fun.

      Don't get me wrong, I like RC planes and it's a great hobby, my dad's the prez of the local club and we spend a good deal of my (and his) spare time there together. It's basically the only thing we have in common (him being a die hard conservative non-technical bureaucrat, me being a liberal computer geek... there ain't much we agree on but model plane
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by syousef ( 465911 )
        I agree that it can get very expensive very quickly.

        I don't agree that a trainer certainly isn't much fun to fly. I had a Worldstar 40 ARF. Large plane, very stable. Been in the hobby for a couple of years and only just recently crashed it for the first time - unfortunately a total loss of the airframe. (Crashed doing inverted spins, almost recovered but stalled coming out and fell right back into a spin). I was definitely pushing the limits with that plane, but basic IMAC was certainly doable, and it was a
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by syousef ( 465911 )
        Other things to note are that:
        - Because it's expensive, the time and money are both spread out over time
        - As another poster noted, no need to start with R/C. Rubber band power and gliders are a gentler, cheaper entry into the hobby.

        Still some parents will spend that $1000 on toys without giving it a thought.
      • You can purchase (and sometimes download) paper models of various different planes. Just print, cut, and glue. A very inexpensive way to get introduced to building. If a child shows enough interest then they will likely be able to handle building one out of balsa. Only after all of this should you get the radio gear and a motor.

        Remember that it is the building that is important to a child. ARFs are just expensive toys and should be avoided.

        Most of the paper models appear to be from eastern Europe - not
    • Yep, sounds a lot like my childhood!

      Need not dive in to the expensive airplanes right away... I built a rubber-band powered, balsa wood and tissue paper Spitfire (~$20 + ~$40 of basic wood tools, baseboards, and paints) and then a 2 channel R/C glider (~$60 + ~$100 for the radio) as practice for the 4 channel gas powered trainer (~$100 kit, ~$100 engine, and shared the same radio as the glider). It was very educational, gave me a lot of time to work on my woodworking skills, and was quite motivational and
  • Give them... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by rakzor ( 1198165 ) on Sunday June 01, 2008 @09:19PM (#23621929)
    ...a computer running Linux to experiment on.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by colmore ( 56499 )
      Nah, Minix, and simple reference implementations of things like compilers and shells.

      The linux kernel is a lot for anyone to take in. It would fill a hefty shelf with technical docs. Minix can (and is) be explained in one book.

      Better something they can pick apart.
    • They have two XOs between the three of them, and I have a pile of Thinkpads of various types, with Knoppix and other distros, that they can use. They also can talk to the Mindstorms through my wife's OS X box.
  • by lena_10326 ( 1100441 ) on Sunday June 01, 2008 @09:20PM (#23621945) Homepage
    I would reserve a place in the basement (assuming it's dry) or attic and build a configuration of work benches along the wall. If the walls are unfinished, I'd put up drywall to make it more homey, and make sure it's well lit and maybe buy one of those magnifying glasses with the light. Place power outlets on the back edge or nearby so you could have a computer lab section, a model building section, and an art section. Whichever you're into. If you have a computer lab, I might consider not hooking it up to the net so your kid won't be surfing YouTube or IMing friends on chat all day. You could also get into model train building or more artistic stuff. Buy some metal shelving to store the project kits and supplies.

    Try to add some design elements to the area by painting with colors or maybe a mural. You could paint the mural with your kids for more fun. You can add wall hangings, tapestries, medieval collectables, gel lamps, electronic knick knacks, and mood lighting to make it cool. Buy a nice radio and speakers so you can have music playing, but keep the TV and Wii/Xbox out of that room.

    I would also consider putting in a sofa and nice cushy chairs so you can have a reading section. Place that near a window to let the light in.

  • FIRST Robotics (Score:3, Interesting)

    by rczik ( 254081 ) on Sunday June 01, 2008 @09:21PM (#23621951)
    As the coach of a FIRST FTC (FIRST Tech Challenge - for high school kids) team I can say that FIRST is a FANTASTIC way to help your kids "Geek Out". As for building out a lab, that's the beauty of FTC. You don't need the big equipment (or money) that you do for FRC. Just some hand tools, maybe a drill and some room to design, build program and test. A large room, 15x15 is more than enough. For the 2008-2009 season FIRST is going to a new kit. Total expected cost should be about $1k.

    For younger kids FIRST Lego robotics is the way to go.

    Either way it's great to see the kids get involved, geek out in a social way and have lots of fun.

    I highly recommend it.

  • my 2 cents (Score:5, Informative)

    by squarefish ( 561836 ) * on Sunday June 01, 2008 @09:23PM (#23621961)
    interesting new book about home science labs" []

    american science and surplus near Chicago []- I would highly recommend a visit to the real store, if you are nearby.
    • I highly recommend teaching your kid safety first. Cooking chemistry is fun, and teaches you the basic principles of chemistry. 1. Being safe around hot stuff. 2. The importance of measuring (volume, weight, time) accurately.

      Other than that, give your kid some space to take stuff apart and don't micro-manage his life. And give them something that will keep them active and exercising outside also. And give them lots of books and a subscription to Popular Science.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    breadboards, chucks of wires, gears, any old bits of junk and spend time *together* deciding what improbable circuit on the internet you will build

    If anything this will teach them that just 'cause its in "print" in aint 100%...

    At best it might just get them modifying other peoples circuits changing bits of code etc...
  • by Gertlex ( 722812 ) on Sunday June 01, 2008 @09:25PM (#23621977)
    Make sure they know how to use the basic tools... (basics include soldering iron, dremel, exactoknife, glue, drill) Make sure they know how to improvise with what tools they have (witness me stripping wire with teeth or exacto-knife)

    The type I think you're thinking of is me. And It seems to be rare outside of /. ... Though the two guys like me that come to mind also have the same first name x_x

    As for furnishings? Maybe that's something the kid will know themselves. I'm 20, and it's really only in the past few years that I've started salvaging stuff from broken stuff (saving that stuff from being thrown out, of course) and building cool stuff...

    So *give your kid the broken stuff in the basement for his birthday*... cd player/radio boombox, VCR, electric blender, broken plastic containers for raw material...
  • Ted (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    • At 20 months old, one of my kid's favorite things to do was to drive screws with my cordless drill. I'd hold the drill, he'd drive them in and out.

      Now, at almost three, he LOOOOOOVES to help run the nail gun. He walks around the house pretending that various objects are his "compressor".

      And soldering? He talks about it non-stop. He looooooves to solder.

      But model rockets? Doesn't care about them. That surprised me, since he LOVES to look at my 7' high-power rocket. But launching them? He'll watch a l
  • by Weaselmancer ( 533834 ) on Sunday June 01, 2008 @09:25PM (#23621985)

    Thank you kdawson for all those links. I didn't even know most of those companies were even in business today. And seriously - I loved every single one of those when I was a kid.

    I've bookmarked them all for my son for when he's ready. Can't wait to launch rockets, or look at stuff under microscopes, or look at the moon with a telescope with him.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by scsirob ( 246572 )
      Be prepared to be disappointed. If you have to wait another few years for your son then you will most likely find that each and every one of those kits will be declared "Verboten" because they "aide the terrorists"... If you learn to launch a rocket you might point it somewhere that doesn't please your government.. If you get smart about electronics you might "circumvent" the 24x7 surveillance you are under.
  • Gawd.. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by moogied ( 1175879 ) on Sunday June 01, 2008 @09:29PM (#23622003)
    This is a fundamental flaw in today's science fields. I see it time and time again. People become so caught up in the "high" tech. Never bothering to learn the roots of it.. don't get them a lab. Don't get them a kit. Get them a damn book. Then get some resistors, IC's, diodes, ETC. Let them learn eletronics that way. Chemistry?? Same approach. Let them learn how to do everything, I gaurentee that the kid who knows the roots of everything will forever be better then the guy can write the Java code for a robot.
    • Yeah, see how long that lasts, particularly with young kids.

      Get them interested first, and give them a reason to WANT to learn, then you won't be able to stop them.
  • by Ellis D. Tripp ( 755736 ) on Sunday June 01, 2008 @09:29PM (#23622007) Homepage
    Legos, model rockets, heathkits, and chemistry sets were all big influences (and my son and I STILL launch model rockets).

    A good low-cost way to develop mechanical skills and encourage curiosity about how things work is a basic set of hand tools and a pile of discarded appliances/electronics. Let the kids tear them apart, and maybe even find out what failed. If you are lucky enough to get hold of older electronics (before VLSI/ASICs took over), you can even scrounge enough useful parts to build your own circuits.

    I trashpicked TV's for years as a kid, and eventually taught myself enough about electronics to fix and resell most of them, earning enough money to buy my first real set of electronic test gear (mostly Heathkits),and land a summer job as a bench tech at a local TV repair shop while most of my peers were flipping burgers or delivering pizzas.
  • Fischertechnik kicks butt on all other kinds of building sets. Engineering professors use it at universities to built robot prototypes. Until you actually get your hands on some Fischertechnik kits and start building things, you won't appreciate the difference... but it is a huge difference.
  • Lego Mindstorms (Score:4, Informative)

    by lightversusdark ( 922292 ) * on Sunday June 01, 2008 @09:38PM (#23622047) Journal
    Computers are central to our future, the next generation should view programming skills as like the ability to use a screwdriver or drill. Sites like MySpace are already establishing basic (mis)understanding of HTML and JavaScript across non-programmer types.
    I have always thought that Lego was the best toy for children. The Lego Mindstorms [] kit includes USB and Bluetooth capabilities, amongst a hell of a lot of other cool stuff.
    I think it would be a great thing for a young kid to have. That and a fabricator.
  • by CharlieG ( 34950 ) on Sunday June 01, 2008 @09:41PM (#23622063) Homepage
    I have a bunch of my old 150 in 1 and 300 in 1 kits (have to get my kids a bit more interested)

    I also have a bunch of prototype boards, OScopes etc

    That and a Full sized lathe and Mill. We will be doing a "rebuild my 8" Dobsonian scope into a truss tube dob" this summer (probably)
  • by NotQuiteReal ( 608241 ) on Sunday June 01, 2008 @09:44PM (#23622081) Journal
    Is probably illegal now.

    I doubt you can even buy the same science kits anymore.

    My brother and I had hours of fun doing all sorts of "science", but it usually ended it burning or blowing up something.We probably took years off our lives hacking out great clouds of purple smoke from god knows what... but it usually involved sulpher and potasium chloride, and magnesium (gotta let the retinas get some fun too - no use ruining just your lungs.)

    We did eventually develop an appreciation for goggles, ventilation and gloves.

    Back then, the cops would just say "don't launch rockets in your yard anymore" and that was it.

    I also remember carrying .22 rifles thru suburban San Diego, on the way to a gravel pit for plinking. Only once were we stopped by a sheriff, who admonished us to make sure those weapons were unloaded and to go home.

    This was all just a couple of years before Brenda Spencer of "I Don't Like Mondays" fame. Talk about ruining it for the rest of us.

    I think we even had some Jarts.

    If we did that now, we'd be surrounded by SWAT and branded terrorists. Same stuff, different perceptions.

    Oh yeah, Get off my lawn!

  • by the_rajah ( 749499 ) * on Sunday June 01, 2008 @09:52PM (#23622131) Homepage
    They were both dead by the time I was three in 1949, but between them they left a few boxes of electronics parts, a Hallicrafters shortwave receiver and a nice pair of WW2 headphones. My dad was a radio operator in the Air Corps who opened a radio repair shop after the war, but passed away from cancer almost before getting it started. My grandfather was a tinkerer in his spare time with a variety of interests.

    By the time I was ten, I was listening to the shortwave radio and learning about ham radio by reading about it. The librarian noticed that I was checking out books about radio and introduced me to her brother, who was a ham. I passed my first FCC test the next year and have now been a ham 50 years. Because of this early influence, I also pursued an electrical engineering career that has been very good to me.

    My point is that it only takes a nudge to see where interests lie. I was very lucky that my family went with the flow and encouraged me. The times are different now, but the principle applies.
  • Make Magazine (Score:5, Informative)

    by wildzeke ( 191754 ) on Sunday June 01, 2008 @09:55PM (#23622163)
    Get a subscription to Make magazine. Also, check out some of their kits. []
  • by Pvt_Waldo ( 459439 ) on Sunday June 01, 2008 @10:01PM (#23622211)
    Too bad there's not a sort of MMO that lets people do this kind of stuff. It could be pretty fun.
  • Get this book. It comes with a pre-filled order form for a complete chemistry lab kit and it has dozen of experiments. So it's basically a chemistry kit manual. []

    And remember, a good experiment is an experiment that leaves a crater. A great experiment is an experiment that leaves a crater from which you can walk away.
    • by mdfst13 ( 664665 )
      I think that you meant []

      You need the dp/0596514921 -- I think that it actually ignores the Illustrated-Guide-Home-Chemistry-Experiments part. That's just for search engine optimization purposes.
    • A great experiment is an experiment that leaves a crater from which you can walk...

      ...straight into Jail.
      With our current fear mongering, the overzealous FBI who look to burnish their badges with reflected glory, i bet if you try to repeat the chemistry experiments of 1950s at home, you would be hauled to Jail, sued by EPA, OSHA and not to mention blacken your name forever with DHS and never allowed to fly again (or allowed only after a thorough all-orifices-examination with gloves).
      Yes, i like to provide my son with the same wonderful carefree environment i had in 1980s...However that i

  • ... on how old they are and what they are interested in.

    Something like this []?

  • VEX Kits. (Score:3, Informative)

    by Junkyboy55 ( 1183037 ) <> on Sunday June 01, 2008 @10:25PM (#23622405) Homepage
    I highly recommend a VEX kit. [] The starter kit doesn't require machining, just bending metal and cutting it with some good scissors. With it they can also learn to program. With the different wheels you can teach them about friction etc. I love the kit and it taught me how to program. If you don't want to program get the EasyC add on and you will be able to use pictures to program your robot and with the provided instructions it will be VERY easy. AND if you want you can even enter VEX competitions and stuff all for under a few hundred dollars and come away with even MORE VEX goodies as they hand out kits and stuff as prizes. You can do anything with VEX with very little knowledge and in the end you will think in a different manner and it teaches you a new way of solving problems. Have your kids try to move a soda can one day, and then purchase some bigger motors and have your kids try to mechanize your lawn mower for even more fun. (I'm doing this right now.) Also if you have any problems the Innovation First Inc. (IFI) staff is great. I have had problems and IFI helped me out. Their forums are top notch and their service is very hard to beat! Try it out, your kids will LOVE it. -Junx
  • In addition to erector sets and Heathkit labs and other such that I enjoyed as a kid, one of the things I loved to do was to take apart the store-bought toys, see how they work, and then reassemble them. My dad exploited this by bringing home surplus electronics, printers, fax & copy machines and all kinds of gizmo's rescued from the dumpster at work that I could disassemble.

    Turns out that sort of industrial waste is a gold mine of miscellaneous sensors, servo's, motors, gear sets, mirrors, lenses, la
  • by pmadden ( 209229 ) on Sunday June 01, 2008 @10:38PM (#23622469) Homepage Journal
    Gotta put in a plug for Make magazine [], which is a fun read, and full of good projects that anyone can do.

    I teach an undergrad course in computer organization (basically beginner architecture), and I've gotten lots of ideas from Lady Ada [] and Evil Mad Scientist []. We use AVR [] microcontrollers, and the cheap-o USB programmers from Lady Ada, to do a bunch of fun and easy projects.

    My kids are 8 and 5, and are playing around a lot with LEDs and magnets. I probably won't let them solder until they're teen-agers (lead in solder sucks, but solder without lead also sucks), but they are getting to breadboard some stuff.

    And of course, mentos and coke is always a good idea.

  • by JoeCommodore ( 567479 ) <> on Sunday June 01, 2008 @10:41PM (#23622497) Homepage
    The owner of the TinkerSchool site - [] spoke at the last Maker Faire [] this year in San Mateo(something you should look into attending with your kids, theres also another one in October in Texas)

    Anyway, he did a talk on "Make Your Own School" which was about his tinkering school he runs for kids, as well as "the Five Dangerous Things You Should Have Your Kids Do" Both were very informative and common sense. Write him and see if he has any publications you can read.

    On his site he had a link to his five dangerous things talk at ted: []
  • get on the mailing list for []
    It's a science surplus store, lotsa fun stuff for kids and big kids. I found it while riding a bike in Milwaukee when I was bored because my boyfriend wouldn't stop playing World of Elfquest or whatever it was. Decent anime shop next door.
  • Seriously, what could be a more practical lab than the kitchen?
  • Shop tools (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Onnimikki ( 63071 ) on Monday June 02, 2008 @12:39AM (#23623185) Homepage

    In Europe there are some great bench-top and hand-held tools available from Proxxon []. In North America Sherline [] tools are a little more expensive. Alternatives include: MicroMark [] and Mini-Mate [] tools (the Mini-Mate is especially designed for hobbyists and older kids. We've got one.

  • by steveha ( 103154 ) on Monday June 02, 2008 @02:07AM (#23623661) Homepage []

    This web site is full of cool stuff you can build. Available in dead-trees versions [] if you prefer. Seriously, check this out; this site makes me want to start building things.

    Example: build a home-made radio []. He starts with a trivial radio with only two parts, then adds another part to improve it, then improves it again... eventually he has you rolling your own capacitors! Each step illustrates something cool. By the end you are building a crystal radio like the ones soldiers used to build during World War I.

  • by hyades1 ( 1149581 ) <> on Monday June 02, 2008 @02:50AM (#23623873)

    You start with a concrete floor, impact-proof walls and a "No Housekeeping Allowed" sign. My buddy couldn't get something like this to work until he had flat-out banned his wife from the garage.

    In order to do that, he had to pretty much cede control of every room in the house. That included the rec room, where suddenly the bar had to be spotless, lest a (female) guest lay fault-finding eyes upon water rings and make sniffy comments.

    He and his sons own the garage, and it is nerd heaven.

  • It's a bit of shameless self-promotion, but what about an Open Source 3D fabricator? Google for RepRap. They get to put it together themselves (non-profit kits from, learn about electronics and programming, and then get to make cool stuff with it for pennies.

    What's more, they can use it to print the parts for later models, and to give sets of parts to their friends who can then join in the fun by building their own RepRaps.

    Vik :v)
  • by PhotoGuy ( 189467 ) on Monday June 02, 2008 @06:38AM (#23624961) Homepage
    I remember as a kid spending hundreds of hours with Edmunds stuff that my dad bought us.

    A three stage water rocket, that was so cool; each stage would use up it's water/fuel, separate, and the next one would blast off. I think the final stage even deployed a parachute for effect. Nowadays, I think they might have a boring one-stage water rocket (I can make one of those out of a coke bottle, big deal.)

    But the coolest kit was an optics kid with hundreds of parts; lenses, tubes, housings, photosensitive paper, and so on. It had plans for telescopes, microscopes, periscopes, and the final project was a full functioning SLR camera with zoom lens that worked! Truly amazing. I'd love to find a kit like that again for my kids (okay, okay, and me), but they don't seem to offer much like this any more. Sigh.

    Even anticipating and reading their catalogue brought many hours of enjoyment each year.

The primary function of the design engineer is to make things difficult for the fabricator and impossible for the serviceman.