Hacks for kids

I hope this is an okay place for my question. My kids are still little (3 & 2), but I’m excited for the days when we can hack on things together (fingers crossed they want to). Do you have any favorite projects for kids and how old were they when they got started?


I used the arduino inventor kit with my kids but they were older…maybe 14. It was really easy but 3 & 2 are way to young for that. Cory Doctorow mentioned that he and his little girl print out doll furniture with the makerbot. As she gets older he plans to show her how to modify the designs (with sketchup or something) to create her own unique doll furniture. I think that is a fantastic way to get your kids thinking without boundaries.

My 2+5 year old girls think the hive is the greatest place EVAR. They run around and scare the living shit out of me. Ella (the older one) has already expressed a lot of interest in the electronics work I do, but I’m holding off on teaching her how to solder till she is a little older because of the lead exposure risks. Alice (the younger one) is very interested in cars and trucks. She likes to “help” but again I try to keep her at a distance for the most part for safety concerns.

Both of my girls are really artistic. Ella has done some simple art on her computer already. I’m thinking the first thing I’m going to attempt to get them to hack on is making some kind of ornament, craft, etc. on the laser cutter. I think 2D will be easier to approach than 3D modelling.

2+3 is hard. My 2 year old has such impulse control and anger management issues when she gets even a little bit tired that I have to be very, very, very careful.

For now I mostly try to show them and explain and indulge their curiosity.


I’d have to think legos/bulding blocks or anything that promotes personal, quiet, creative time. Something that yeah, can be done as a group but everybody has ‘their own.’ Even peanut-butter pine cone bird feeders this spring could be cool - just, ‘hey it’s fun to make stuff’ and never school related. In case you forgot - school sucks and it’s probably now even worse than we had it.

A good “lead by example” never hurt too! Obviously keep 'em away from the solder iron, but the more they see you hack stuff, the more interested they’re sure to be - small kids are nothing but great imitators! My (grand)kids are conviced I can fix anything (was also a good opp to teach dealing with disappointment :). The boy’s almost 7 now, but I catch him trying to fix his toys every once and a while, while his younger sister (3) just likes trying to “fix” things (quotes for sure).

Oh - just saw it - Craig’s makerbot idea sounds awesome. Could be airplanes and boats and stuff too!

Remember - there’s more to hacking than high tech toys - it’s the curiosity and accomplishment that count (the toys are just a cool bonus :slight_smile:

Trayler hit it on the head for me. As a 28 year-old guy working on our first child, I can tell you the biggest influences on me were LEGO and watching my Dad fix stuff and make things he didn’t feel like buying.

Ian M.


I don’t know if they still make these , but:
When I was a kid, I really enjoyed ‘Capsela’.
(similar to Meccano or Lego Technic)

All the snap-together simplicity of Legos, but with the added advantage that you can actually build working machines.
Does wonders for mechanical aptitude and gets kids thinking about how things actually ‘work’.



Making pine cone bird feeders (some other bird feeders too) is a great idea. We do a lot of Lego stuff now. The 2yo likes to throw freshly built lego planes/cars/etc down and smash them. It upsets the 3yo, but I’ve taken to saying “What do we do when something breaks? Fix it!” to keep her from beating up her brother.

I realize they’re young, but I want to create a better environment than I had when I was a kid. Not that I had it bad, but I want to better encourage curiosity. Something that I think about when I think about encouraging curiosity is the interview with Richard Feynman, “The Pleasure of Finding Things Out.” The bit about birds (http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=FXiOg5-l3fk#t=374s) reminds me to teach how things work, not just memorizing what things are.

So I’m all ears when it comes to how to encourage kids to learn (without being overbearing and making it seem like school).


I had Capsela, too! It was pretty great. Thanks for reminding me about it. :slight_smile:


Feed their brains whenever possible. Read to them, show them how things work, build stuff, wood blocks to legos and beyond. 20 or 30 years from now they will come back and fix your transporter, hovercraft, turboencabulator, or the latest high tech stuff that is over your head! Steve

definitely one of my favorite Feynman insights that I found during my late HS/early college years was also one of my own.

Tearing down the invisible barriers to what we think is possible in ourselves is perhaps one of the biggest challenges I think kids face today. It might even be more pronounced in adults resigned to being “the old dog that can’t learn new tricks”. Given the prevalence of those 2 factors + democratization of technology and the access to information that allows, what adults think children can (or should) do is also a barrier; the child may have broken that barrier but is still inhibited by the adult who cannot understand.

also this: [TED] Cameron Herold: Let’s raise kids to be entrepreneurs http://j.mp/cSBJBe
and this: [TED] Clifford Stoll: The call to learn http://j.mp/aHyNlL
and this: [TED] Simon Sinek: How great leaders inspire action (aka, the power of WHY) http://j.mp/acodbN
and finally, this: [TED] Adora Svitak: What adults can learn from kids http://j.mp/W4pjC4


Capsella was like the new-age Erector set meets tinker toys + legos & robotics. My brother and I used to build water versions and ‘fight’ them ‘autonomously’ in a small pool. (aka, turn them on and watch them collide … no touching … winner was first to knock the opponents propellers off haha)

But the darn remote and receiver unit never worked right and my 8-year-old microelectronics skills were seriously sub-par :frowning:
(not to mention if the parents caught me taking apart something that was not meant to be … and was costly … they’d have had my head)

sorry about those shortened links. habits…

[TED] Cameron Herold: Let’s raise kids to be entrepreneurs http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nx3GuO41Jyg
[TED] Clifford Stoll: The call to learn http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gj8IA6xOpSk
[TED] Simon Sinek: How great leaders inspire action (aka, the power of WHY, not just the endless game of why why why) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qp0HIF3SfI4
[TED] Adora Svitak: What adults can learn from kids http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V-bjOJzB7LY

We got a bunch of packages of these “PBS Kids” blocks from our local discount store. One pack has some interesting irregularly shaped blocks which add an extra challenge. “building cities with daddy” is one of our 3yr old’s favorite games.