If you’d like to promote creativity, curiosity, language, small motor skills, and scientific problem-solving in your young children, you don’t need to buy something new. In fact, you need something old.
Children love to see inside of things, particularly electronics! All the wires and mysterious circuit boards. Seeing levers and knobs connect with the movement of previously unseen parts. Give them that opportunity by handing them a few simple tools and an old gadget. Then set them loose! They can’t break what’s already broken, but they just might learn something from it!
Find an old electronic item in your home, or (if you’re the one person in America who really did get all the spring cleaning done this year and you really have nothing you should part with) go to a garage sale or thrift store. I most recently used an old stereo that had been through a few too many remodeling projects, was covered in drywall mud, and the knobs and tuners were starting to go out. (Though I think the cassette player was still in top condition, so we could still listen to my college mix tape.) Radios are great for this project, but so are phones, toasters —almost anything!
Cut the power cord off and/or remove any batteries before opening the item or setting the kiddos loose on it. Be a little familiar with the item you are using and be aware of any special safety considerations. Obviously, you also want to be aware of any children who may be “mouthers” with this activity. There are a lot of small parts involved, so if that’s going to cause a concern, adapt or postpone this activity.
Have Some Fun
I like to put the object on a table or inside my sensory bin (that way, all the tools, screws, and disconnected pieces stay in one place). Open the item ahead of time, just to be sure you know you can get it open quickly. Sometimes there are some well-hidden screws or connective plastic. You don’t want the children to get too antsy waiting for 10 minutes while you figure it all out. (It would be like Christmas morning with the billions of twisty ties and kids ready to play!)
Inspect the inside for potential problems, and then put it back together, loosely inserting just a few screws to speed up the process for the little ones. Provide the children with screwdrivers, pliers, safety goggles, tweezers, magnifiers, even Q-tips. Let them explore the “innards” of some spectacular gizmo.
They may simply examine all the treasures inside. They may experiment and hypothesize as to how the parts work together. They may pretend to “fix” the item or to build something new from it. Dramatic play may come into the mix as they talk about creating a robot, fixing their spaceship, or any number of exciting storylines.
Kids could spend all day with their fingers and brains going to task on this activity. And it doesn’t even have to cost you a penny. Now that’s got to feel good!
Photo by Bartek Ambrozik.