Tech & Media
10 Ways Kids Can Learn About Robotics
By Caitlin Davey, Kids' CBC
Photo by Patrizio Martorana/iStockPhoto
Jan 13, 2016
From coding to stop-motion animation videos to sewing, the maker movement is becoming more and more popular with kids and adults.
Maker culture is a movement that embraces do-it-yourself tinkering with electronics and physical objects—it focuses on learning and trying out new practical skills, building a community of resources and experimenting.
Robotics and electronics are two hallmarks of the maker movement (electronics explores using electronic circuits, while robotics combines circuits, movement and sometimes software to create a machine or robot). Projects can be as simple as a making a light blink, or as involved as building an entire robot.
“Light switches, electronics [and] toys seem very closed off...The average person doesn't realize they can make or impact them,” says Jennifer Turliuk of MakerKids in Toronto. MakerKids is the world’s first and largest makerspace that’s just for kids; it offers many different maker programs for children.
“In [robotics] programs, kids start to understand how these simple machines work. They can even make their own light switch,” Turliuk says.
Experimenting with robotics and electronics helps kids develop problem solving skills and creativity.
In addition to helping kids understand how things work, experimenting with robotics and electronics helps kids develop problem solving skills and creativity. Turliuk says that when kids participate in workshops at MakerKids, they “start having so much fun, they don’t realize how much they're learning.”
Kids who learn how to plan and build structures and projects when they’re young can continue to apply these concepts as they’re exposed to more complex ideas.
Robotics projects can also reinforce literacy skills, as kids research and record their robotics experiments.
While robotics projects can sometimes seem overwhelming and intimidating, there are many ways to teach kids everything they need to know to create their own robotics and electronics inventions.
In Your Community
If your kids want to learn more about electronics, but you’re not ready to buy supplies just yet, try a course or workshop in your community. More and more organizations are offering easy ways for kids to learn, play and create.
Many libraries now offer robotics and electronics workshops and courses for kids and adults. Check your local library's website or ask a librarian for more details.
Your kids’ school may have a robotics club, or may be willing to bring in an outside organization to run programs for students. Talk to a teacher, principal or other parents to see what’s available.
Is there a makerspace or hacklab in your community? Makerspaces are community-oriented workspaces where people who are interested in making stuff can gather, socialize and collaborate.
Try searching for one and see if it offers any kid-specific workshops (you may even be able to find a kids-only makerspace, like MakerKids in Toronto).
Join A Challenge
FIRST Robotics Canada holds challenges across the country where teams of kids as young as 6 can research a real-world problem and build a motorized model using LEGO parts to explain what they’ve discovered.
Joining a team challenge can help kids “recognize that all team members have different strengths and [do] different things to contribute” says Peggy Scott, a coordinator at FIRST.
LEGO is often thought of as a static toy, but over the years, LEGO has developed kits that include gears and motors so kids can build simple machines.
Kids say, "I never knew I could build this myself.”
“When you start putting blocks together and getting movement with your LEGO—that excites children. Instead of something static, you can get the pieces moving...Kids say, ‘I never knew that LEGO could move and I never knew I could build this myself',” says Scott.
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Find Inspiration Online
If you and your kids are ready to tackle some robotics projects on your own, you can search for inspiration online! There are hundreds of free and paid tutorials, many of which cater to kids and families.
Makezine.com offers hundreds of maker projects with photos and instructions. You can sort the projects by type (like robotics or wearables) and difficulty level.
DIY.org is an online community for kids to connect with each other and to learn lots of new skills. DIY.org organizes projects under skill patches (like astronaut, printmaker and toy maker).
Robotics And Electronics Kits
From simplified toys that let kids build introductory robots with ready-made parts (and little to no assistance from a parent or adult), to tiny computers that can power impressive projects, these kits allow you and your family to play around with robotics at home.
Toys like littleBits allow kids to make simple circuits that can be built into more elaborate projects that do cool things, like shoot confetti or draw. littleBits and similar toys can be great for creating introductory projects since they don’t require any loose parts or complicated tools, but they can be expensive.
For older kids who are curious about how things work or want to combine coding and hardware, Arduino is an small open-sourced microcontroller (basically, a computer) that can be programmed into all sorts of inventions.
Raspberry Pi is a small and affordable computer that's great for kids (it costs about $60). This capable little device plugs into a computer or TV and allows kids to explore computing with languages like Python and Scratch. This device can also be used in digital maker projects, like robots or music machines.
RaspberryPi.org has lots of great resources to help kids get started.
For kids interested in combining a love of music with a love of science, there's even a specialized electronics kit called Ototo that turns everyday objects into musical instruments.
The maker community has lots of great physical spaces and online tutorials for experimenting with robotics and electronics. With all kinds of projects, at various scales of difficulty, it’s easy to find a project that you and your kids can try together.