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Design kit helps find the engineer in your child

10 May 2016  | Max Maxfield

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Engineering design, contrary to what most of you believe, does not know any age. The Squishy Circuits Deluxe Kit could keep children captivated for months, which makes this a good buy for most parents.

When I was a kid, I tried to build all sorts of things. For example, I remember attempting to create a man-sized robot out of Meccano (the old metal sort). I'm sure I would have succeeded if I hadn't run out of parts after constructing only one leg. I'm also sure I would have thought I'd died and gone to heaven if there had been such a thing as the Meccano MeccaNoid G15 back in those days of yore.

One of the things I'm passionate about these days is introducing kids to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). I know that not all kids have an interest in these subjects and I have no desire to force square pegs into round holes, but I think it's really important to at least awaken them to the fact that these subjects are out there.

Furthermore, I think it's incredibly important that, when a kid is first exposed to these topics, it's in the context of being fun and interesting; something that grabs their attention and makes them say "Wow! Let me get my hands on that!" For example, one of my friends is Bubblz the Bubbly Maths Clown, the chief mathematical clown at Bubbly Maths in the UK, and that's not something many people can say without laughing.

Now, teaching kids how to visualise 1m in length using a balloon is one thing, but how do you get kids as young as six, for example, to become enthused by electronics? Well, one thing kids like is Play-Doh; another is flashing lights (I should know. I can spend hours playing with either of these things). How about if we could combine Play-Doh and flashing lights? This would have to be a winner.

All of which leads us to the Squishy Circuits Kickstarter project. As you can see in this video, the idea is to use two different sorts of dough, white acts as an insulator while all of the other colours are conductors. Combine this with one or more LEDs and a battery pack and you have kids (and yours truly) saying "Ooh, Shiny!" and "I got to get me some of that!"

For only $8 you can get the Squishy Circuits Lite Kit, but my eyes are firmly fixed on the Squishy Circuits Deluxe Kit for $50. In addition to white insulating dough and red, blue, and green conductive dough, plus a rolling pin and a set of dough sculpting tools, you also get 45 LEDs, a mechanical switch, a mechanical buzzer, a piezoelectric buzzer, a motor with fan, and a deluxe battery holder (I love the "deluxe" qualifier on the battery holder, I never want to use an ordinary one again).

Of course, you could easily go out and buy all of these parts and make the conductive-insulating dough yourself, but if you are an elementary school teacher, you might well decide that it's a whole lot easier to simply pledge to this Kickstarter project. Speaking of which, at the time of this writing, the little scamps running this project have already raised $26,528 of their $30,000 goal and they still have 18 days to go.

I keep on thinking of myself at six years old. If I'd had access to the Squishy Circuits Deluxe Kit, I think it would have kept me enthralled for months, which, when you come to think about it, makes this little beauty worth its weight in gold for most parents.

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