Book Review: ‘Electronics for Kids’ by Øyvind Nydal Dahl

I would call myself an intermediate level electronics hobbyist–I can read a schematic and get the components inserted properly into a breadboard, and occasionally I can even create my own circuits. I wouldn’t have attempted this 10 years ago, but a few years ago I challenged myself to work through all 36 projects of Charles Platt’s Make: Electronics book. I documented my work through a series of writeup and videos and photos at handsonelectronics.blogspot.com. Not only did I gain a solid understanding of electronics, but that book provided me with the confidence and knowledge to move on to more complex books and projects.

The Make: Electronics book is still an outstanding resource, but I would probably steer kids age 12 and under away from it unless they planned on working closely with a parent or teacher. I have no doubt that there are plenty of examples of kids under age 12 working through the book, but, in my opinion, the language level and complexity of some of the topics is probably best for ages 12 and up. The problem is… there are a LOT of younger kids who are discovering the love of making, whether it be homemade drones or robots or other gadgets and gizmos. These are smart kids, too… so is there a book for them that doesn’t dumb down the topic or provide projects that are too simplistic to gain any true mastery of basic electronics?

YUP!

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It’s called Electronics for Kids, and it’s written by Øyvind Nydal Dahl, who studied electronics at the University of Oslo, started a robot sensor company, and now teaches electronics workshops in person and online. Dahl has written a 287-page full-color book that teaches electronics through twelve hands-on, project-filled chapters. Here’s a breakdown of the chapters along with my commentary on what really jumped out at me in each chapter:

ElectronicsForKids

PART 1: Playing with Electricity
Chapter 1: What Is Electricity? – A simple but amazingly solid explanation of the basics of electron flow that includes discussion of voltage and resistance. The chapter closes with a fun little project–an intruder alarm that uses aluminum foil, a battery, and a buzzer.

Chapter 2: Making Things Move with Electricity and Magnets – Two great projects here: creating your own electromagnet to pick up small metal objects AND an actual motor using a tight coil of wire and a magnet.

Chapter 3: How to Generate Electricity – A couple of projects here, but what I really enjoyed reading was Dahl’s explanation for using a multimeter. He also tosses in an old favorite–making a battery with lemons.

PART 2: Building Circuits
Chapter 4: Creating Light with LEDs – Now the book is getting into some good, detailed stuff–resistors and Ohm’s Law. The chapter also has readers learning how to use a breadboard.

Chapter 5: Blinking a Light for the First Time – Capacitors and relays are covered here, and the reader puts everything he or she has learned so far into practice by examining a schematic of a relay-controlled LED and then building it out on a breadboard.

Chapter 6: Let’s Solder! – One of the most important of skills, soldering, is covered here… as well as desoldering! Two types of circuit boards are covered, too.

Chapter 7: Controlling Things with Circuits – Transistors and potentiometers! Seriously! This book is not messing around. Voltage division is covered so clearly that I still learned something new! And the project creates a little sound board that can be tweaked with a potentiometer.

Chapter 8: Building a Musical Instrument – I really thought the book would probably avoid integrated circuits (ICs) but I was wrong! The 555 timer is introduced here (a good choice) and the math for calculating frequency using capacitor and resistor values is well done. The project is actually quite advanced, and young readers should be quite proud of how far they’ve come when they complete it.

PART 3: Digital Electronics
Chapter 9: How Circuits Understand Ones and Zeros – Binary is covered and a special project involving a DIP switch and LEDs that light up to display binary values is fun.

Chapter 10: Circuits That Make Choices – Logic Gates. Logic Gates! Where was this book when I was in 3rd grade? AND and OR logic is discussed and the project is a Secret Code Checker that lets you set a code with a DIP switch and then allow others to try and guess the code… an LED alerts to success or failure.

Chapter 11: Circuits That Remember Information – NOR gates are used to create simple SR latches to store bits of data. Things start to get a little more complex, but if the reader has made it this far, it shouldn’t be too difficult to finish up. The  project will be to create a Coin Tosser.

Chapter 12: Let’s Make a Game! – One final project will test the reader by calling on all the skills learned in the previous chapters. A 555 chip, decade counter, LEDs, capacitors, resistors, and wire… lots of wire. When done, the final circuit is really something to look at!

Appendix: Handy Resources – reviews of Ohm’s Law, resistors and capacitors reading, and some online resources to boot.

There’a 3-page downloadable spreadsheet that contains all the components needed to do all the projects–you can get that here. You can also download a sample chapter (Ch. 3) here if you’d like to see the style of writing and level of reading.

I’ve been looking for a book to use for a Beginner Electronics summer camp… and Electronics for Kids is the one. There’s just the right mix of reading and hands-on projects that I’m confident the kids won’t get bored. Even better, the projects won’t insult their intelligence… they feature real components, a real breadboard, and actual schematics. I have no doubt that young readers will finish this book with a solid understanding of the basics of electronics and maybe even a desire to go further and learn more… a win for a parent or a teacher!

Note: Electronics for Kids is now out in print. I read the digital version that was provided to me by No Starch Press.

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James Floyd Kelly is a full-time writer. His latest three books are Digital Engineering with Minecraft, Tinkercad for Beginners and The Ultimate iPad. Learn more by visiting his website http://jamesfloydkelly.com