We recently got a Snap Circuits Extreme kit for our son on his eighth birthday and I decided to do a review. It's an electronics learning kit that is designed to appeal to children, but it can be used by anyone trying to learn how electricity works. Best of all it's safe as all the projects can be performed with AA batteries.
Opening the box we find two compartments of various electronic components. Here is one of the compartments where the project manuals can be found.
Here is the second compartment with the remaining components, everything is included in the kit as shown except for the batteries. According to the box there are over 80 total parts.
There are 5 manuals with projects progressing in increased complexity. The first has 101 experiments on its own with the entire kit detailing a total of 750, that is plenty to keep anyone occupied for a while.
And to make things even more interesting the projects in the last manual, with the help of some downloaded software, use any computer with a microphone input as an oscilloscope.
Each manual starts off with a list of components that are used for the projects in that individual booklet. Each subsequent booklet will introduce new components and also provide a brief description of what they do and how they operate.
The first project is a simple introduction with a switch turning a light bulb on. It may not seem that impressive, however after my son put the circuit together himself and flipped the switch he was astonished at what he just accomplished. He was excited at moving on to the next project to discover what other magic he could perform with electricity.
The components are assembled on a plastic grid where they snap into pegs that are identified by numbers along the top of the grid and letters along the left side. The project diagram clearly outlines where each component is placed on the grid making it easy to put the circuit together and knowing everything will fit together nicely without readjustment.
The components fit together with snap buttons like you would find on clothing. This might not be the most obvious solution for designing a product such as this one, but in reality the system works quite well. The electrical connections are reliable and it's easy to snap pieces together or take them apart. The parts themselves feel durable and should last through many hours of project building.
So the big question is do you get value for the money? The kit retails for about $100 USD but there are occasional deals on Amazon for less than that. We bought our kit for less than $100 CAD, which is about $80 USD.
If you where to source the raw components that are included in the kit at a local electronics store you probably would be paying less overall, for example a pack of 10 resistors for $0.25, or a transistor for $0.75.
However you would end up with something like this, which is neither kid friendly or appealing in any way if you want to get your child interested in a hobby.
So there is definite value in the presentation and packaging of components, each one marked clearly with symbols and values that make it easy to identify. Each component is harnessed in its own base that protects it from damage, and it won't get lost nearly as easily.
And of course it looks like a toy which will capture your child's attention. It's hard enough to motivate a child to learn, the best way is to do it while they don't realize it during play.
A good analogy would be Lego blocks, a toy that any parent would agree can spur a child's imagination. Each Lego kit has a manual with a specific design it was meant for, but as soon as it's built the model is almost as quickly taken apart the child starts building their own designs.
After building a couple of project with Snap Circuits my son was already trying to build his own variations, trying to see how the function of the circuit changes with parts moved around. It's clear that even though the kit has only 750 predefine projects, the potential is really limitless.
And that brings up another value add in the project manuals themselves. A lot of effort was put into defining all these different circuits, I couldn't imagine having to compile something like this on my own.
I do recommend this product just on pure entertainment value alone. Even as a toy, with no expectations of developing a future electrical engineer, it will pull a child away from the TV for a few hours. Have them build some project with their siblings or friends during play dates.
And as a learning tool, it will introduce your child to electrical fundamentals and teach something about the world around them that is generally taken for granted these days.
Here is the kit I reviewed:
Snap Circuits Extreme SC-750 Electronics Discovery Kit
Here are some smaller kits:
Snap Circuits PRO SC-500 Electronics Discovery Kit
Snap Circuits SC-300 Electronics Discovery Kit
Snap Circuits 203 Electronics Discovery Kit
Snap Circuits Fundamentals: An Introduction to Electronics Circuits
Here is my video review of the Snap Circuits kit.