This article is part of our guide to Teaching Science at Home.
Most parents have never heard of Arduino, but is an absolutely excellent option to bring science concepts into your home in a way that will captivate the whole family.
If your child is fascinated by robots, computers and how things work, Arduino is a brilliant way to feed their curiosity. And don’t think they have to be high schoolers to take part–the kits we looked at are suitable for kids (and adults) of all ages.
What is Arduino?
Massimo Banzi, co-founder of Arduino, was kind enough to break down the basics for us in a special interview. Check out this great information and keep scrolling to find some awesome starter kits to get you going.
For parents who are not familiar with Arduino, can you explain what Arduino is and the benefits of bringing this technology to their kids?
Arduino is a small computer the size of a credit card. It’s the same kind of computer that powers everyday objects like microwave ovens, washing machines… It’s very simple to learn and program. It comes with great documentation and an amazing community. It’s very easy to build fun and useful projects with it. People have build airplanes and helicopters with it. There is an Arduino reading sensor data in the large hadron collider. there are 3d printers that use it as their “brain”. It has enabled hundreds of thousands of people to learn how to program and how to build amazing interactive objects without any background in electronics or computing.
Since Arduino can be confusing to the beginner–what is the best way to begin exploring it with children?
Recently we have launched a new Arduino board called Esplora. It’s more children friendly as it is shaped like a game controller and comes with a bunch of sensors ready to use already mounted on the board. There are quite a lot of projects that can be done with it without wiring anything up just by using the on board sensors. Out of the box it’s pre-configured to act as a controller for the free game Super Tux Cart, then it can be customised to control any software because the esplora can pretend to be a computer keyboard so, for example, when you tilt it on the left side it can simulate the pressure of a series of keys on the computer.
Anne Mahaffey, a mother and engineer from South Caronlina, recently ran a class for kids using the Esplora and the Scratch programming language from MIT. Kids learn to program by creating stories where characters on the screen are animated by the actions they do on their esplora boards.
Anne posted some background on the class here.
Can you point us to the best kid friendly resources online for grasping the fundamentals?
well what’s better than a kid herself teaching Arduino ? Super Awesome Sylvia publishes a few videos on how to learn electronics and Arduino. Make magazine is also a good resource to learn from. Geek Dad on Wired magazine is also a good starting point.
What youth initiatives involving Arduino are you most proud of? Are you working on/supporting any youth based programs for the near future?
A lot of schools are using Arduino to teach about programming and electronics because it’s simple and well documented. We sponsor some classes and workshop preferably in underprivileged places in the world. We have evidence from different countries that the introduction of Arduino and making in general has motivated kids to stay in school and learn useful skills (you can read an interesting story here in the comments Ms Auletta Sauer tells the story of her high school in northern california)
We would love to hear about your favorite Arduino based projects of all time.
they are here
Like with any other subject, the basics can seem confusing at first but the right kit can help you and your child dive into this exciting world and begin developing skills in programming, engineering, mechanics, electronics and robotics.
We were able to take a look at three different options for getting started with kids that will make learning Arduino easy and accessible. Get the basics below and then head over to their respective websites to read more and grab your own Arduino kit.
This kit walks you through the basics of using the Arduino in a hands-on way. You’ll learn through building several creative projects. The kit includes a selection of the most common and useful electronic components with a book of 15 projects. Starting the basics of electronics, to more complex projects, the kit will help you control the physical world with sensor and actuators.
The projects in the kit are:
- 01 GET TO KNOW YOUR TOOLS an introduction to the concepts you’ll need to use this kit
- 02 SPACESHIP INTERFACE design to control panel for your startship
- 03 LOVE-O-METER measure how hot-blooded you are
- 04 COLOR MIXING LAMP produce any color with a lamp that uses light as an input
- 05 MOOD CUE clue people in to how you’re doing
- 06 LIGHT THEREMIN create a musical instrument you play by waving your hands
- 07 KEYBOARD INSTRUMENT play music and make some noise with this keyboard
- 08 DIGITAL HOURGLASS a light-up hourglass that can stop you from working too much
- 09 MOTORIZED PINWHEEL a color wheel that will have your head spinning
- 10 ZOETROPE create a mechanical animation you can play forward or reverse
- 11 CRYSTAL BALL a mystical tour to answer all your tough question
- 12 KNOCK LOCK tap out the secret code to open the door
- 13 TOUCHY-FEEL LAMP a lamp that responds to your touch
- 14 TWEAK THE ARDUINO LOGO control your personal computer from your Arduino
- 15 HACKING BUTTONS create a master control for all your devices!
We were really shocked by how easy it was to get started with this kit. The book, online resources and included supplies meant completing projects was straight forward. Rather than buying a board and all of the needed components necessary, which can be down right confusing for a newbie, this kit will take you from complete novice to intermediate expert in 15 fun projects–many of which are specially targeted to kids (like the much loved starship interface!).
The Esplora differs from all preceding Arduino boards in that it provides a number of built-in, ready-to-use set of onboard sensors for interaction. It’s designed for people who want to get up and running with Arduino without having to learn about the electronics first.
The Esplora has the following on-board inputs and outputs:
- Analog joystick with central push-button two axis (X and Y) and a center pushbutton.
- 4 push-buttons laid out in a diamond pattern.
- Linear potentiometer slider near the bottom of the board.
- Microphone for getting the loudness (amplitude) of the surrounding environment.
- Light sensor for getting the brightness.
- Temperature sensor reads the ambient temperature
- Three-axis accelerometer measures the board’s relation to gravity on three axes (X, Y, and Z)
- Buzzer can produce square-waves.
- RGB led bright LED with Red Green and Blue elements for color mixing.
- 2 TinkerKit Inputs to connect the TinkerKit sensor modules with the 3-pin connectors.
- 2 TinkerKit Outputs to connect the TinkerKit actuator modules with the 3-pin connectors.
- TFT display connector connector for an optional color LCD screen, SD card, or other devices that use the SPI protocol.
This board can be used right out of the box without any other components and is perfect for kids to tinker with–only a computer is required for programming the board.
Another great option for right out of the box fun is the Arno Kit from Olympia Circuits. Once again, the only thing you need to get started is your computer.
Learning the basics of electronics and programming is challenging. Learning them while juggling piles of tiny parts, jumper wires, and breadboards is even more difficult. With the Arno, we’ve gotten rid of the piles of parts. Everything you need to learn Arduino and complete interesting projects in already built in. The board comes fully assembled, ready to plug in with the included USB cable. You can focus on learning how the circuits work and learning the Arduino language. You can tackle the piles of parts once you’re ready.
One of the best aspects of the Arno Kit is that is comes with the Learn Arduino with Arno book that makes understanding the whole process super simple and provides a ton of great experiments that can be done with the Arno and provided USB cable.
The book that accompanies the Arno board as part of the Arno Kit is much more than an instruction manual for connecting a board. We’ve grown to expect hardware without a good reference on how to use it. You can spend hours searching the internet for simple answers. This isn’t a way to start your journey into Arduino. We know you’ll have a great time with Arduino if you get over the learning “hump”. This book gives intros into electronics and programming, then it explains how to program and understand over 40 sketches. You’ll start with things like blinking and fading an LED. Then advance through more interesting ways to program outputs. There are sketches that take advantage of the USB capabilities of the Arno. And lots of sound, you’ll have blast with the piezo as an output (and input).
Read more about the Arno Kit here.