I love the idea of open-ended learning. It’s fun to do projects with my kids like our homemade wobblebot or propeller car, but I truly believe that kids learn best by messing around and seeing what works and what doesn’t. There’s nothing like hands-on experience. I first made an “inventor’s box” (also known as a “tinker kit”), for my good friend’s son’s 8th birthday and I think it went over pretty well.
However, for literally MONTHS after the neighbor boy’s birthday, my own 6 year old son was asking, “When are you going to make ME an inventor’s box?” When summer began, I finally decided to put one together for him. Of course, from the moment I started buying supplies for my son’s box, my 4 year old daughter started with, “Why does HE get one and I don’t?” so I made one for her too. She’s too young to do much with hers yet, but I figure she’s not going to hurt anything by playing around. (I felt so bad leaving out my 2 year old, that I even made him his own little kid version with material more appropriate for him.)
My kids have enjoyed pulling out their inventor’s boxes periodically over the summer. My son has made some really “interesting” circuits. Honestly, it’s crazy to me that some of them even work at all, but he messes around until he gets lights to turn on and propellers to spin. I think it’s awesome. I love seeing him try things that don’t work and persevere until he’s satisfied.
Also, I’m amazed at how much my daughter loves her inventor’s box. She actually uses hers more often than my son, sometimes even on a daily basis (maybe because she knows that I’ll clean up her mess). Although she doesn’t actually make circuits on her own yet, she uses her imagination to invent all sorts of crazy gadgets with her supplies, like an ice cream scoop for a mouse. I love to see her concentrating and working really hard on her projects.
Recommended Age Range: Kindergarten, Elementary, Middle School
Time Required: ~30 minutes
Cost: Hard to say…you probably want to spend at least $30 to have enough material to make a fun box for one child. I probably spent close to $100 total for my 2 kids’ boxes, but I bought supplies in bulk and am storing the extra pieces to replace components that get lost or broken, so my initial investment should last a long time. A lot of the cost is for the box itself, the needlenose pliers, and the wire strippers. These may be cheaper in-store, but I live in a somewhat remote area, so I ordered them online.
Materials, Supplies, and Tools:
(Really, these are just some ideas. I encourage my kids to find other outside items as well to see what they can make, like sticks, yarn, and empty food containers.)
- A box to keep everything in. I used a tackle box. (blue/grey and pink/purple)
- Mini needle nose pliers
- Mini wire strippers
- Hookup wire (I used 22 gauge wire from Radio Shack, but this 18 gauge wire would also work)
- Alligator clips
- Battery holders and batteries
- Solar panels (optional, we took them off of solar garden lights from the 99 cent store)
- DC hobby motors
- On/Off switches
- Toggle switches
- Propellers (I ordered these and these.)
- Electrical Tape
- Craft sticks
- Paper clips
- Scotch Tape
- Pipe cleaners
- Glue (I used a glue stick, but when they’re older, I’ll replace with a hot glue gun)
- Mini composition book
- Cut up the tackle box dividers (if using) and place them into the slots.
- Add all your items!
- If you’d like, you’re welcome to use the label I made for my kids’ boxes. Just cut it out and glue or tape it onto the lid.
The other day we were at Walmart and my son saw the aisle with tackle boxes. “Look, Mom! They have inventor’s boxes here!” It made me laugh.
Click here for more Electrical Engineering activities for kids.
Robotics Activities for Kids
Science Activities for Kids
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We have one large box we cal our great big box of science. Springs, craft sticks, all sorts of salvaged items go into the box. You never know what you’ll find or what will solve your challenge!
That’s sounds like a great resource for kids to use their creativity. :)
This is an absolutely FANTASTIC idea. Such a quick and simple project to assemble for gifts. Thank you!
I’m so glad you like it!
Great ideas! What kind of store could I find the engineering materials from? Very foreign to me. Thanks
Hi Russ. I used to be able to buy most of my supplies from Radio Shack, but they closed down a few years ago. Now I just order my replacement parts off Amazon.
Woaaaah, this is amazing! I’m making one for my son, he just has all his loose parts lying around in boxes. Great activity for a tinkerhead! My son has had busyboards since when he was one year old: https://easybusyboards.com/busy-boards/aviator-busyboard-baby-activity-toy/
and he is the biggest tinkerhead ever, so he’ll love it. Thanks for sharing the idea!
That busyboard looks like a ton of fun! I hope your son enjoys the Inventor’s Box!