Reviewed by Louise Totton
Kids are getting more and more tech-savvy these days – three-year-olds seem to have a full working knowledge of iPhones, five-year-olds often have their own tablet devices and the school curriculum includes coding, computer aided design, and there is a whiteboard in every classroom. Toys have screens, RAM, hard drives and internet connectivity. It’s all very exciting and can often be educational. Sometimes it’s just fun and engaging, but that’s fine too. I don’t want to sound like a miserable, middle-aged grump, but it was never like that when I was growing up, and I’m not exactly ancient.
The closest I got to a toy with a screen was my Sega Megadrive, and I was around 14 that Christmas. We had Walkmans, 35mm cameras and Scalextrics. As much as we loved playing with them, half of the fun was taking little screwdrivers to them, taking them apart and trying to rebuild them. I’m not entirely sure if my mum and dad got so fed up of me taking things apart, or they just saw that it was something that I had an interest in, but one Christmas, an Electronics in Action set arrived under the tree. I think it’s fair to say that my best friend and I played with this little circuit board solidly for months, rigging up door buzzers, little burglar alarms for my bedroom and lots of other things. Along the way, we learnt about parallel vs serial circuits, LEDs, resistors, fuses and lots more.
It was one of those presents that stayed in my head for years and years, and I always looked forward to buying a set when my children were old enough to enjoy it. I started my search for a toy like this last November, hoping to get my eldest daughter one for Christmas. I was disappointed that the original Electronics in Action product had vanished, and I couldn’t seem to locate anything similar for her to try. Christmas came and went without a circuit board toy.
I’m sure you can imagine how delighted I was when I was asked to try out the Cambridge BrainBox Primary 2 Electronics Kit. The premise appeared pretty similar to the kit that I used to love so much, although the execution slightly different. My old kit was a fixed circuit board, with colour coded springs and high resistance wire, along with switches, LEDs and buzzers. This kit works differently, and I must say, I think it’s ingenious.
The kit is all laid out in a single layered clear plastic tray, with a sheet of paper underneath so all the component parts have their own specific ‘home’, making it easier to keep the kit together. As well as the plastic base board and 31 components, the kit includes an instruction book with over 100 experiments to complete. The book really impressed me – as well as simple instructions for using the kit, it also talks about how circuits work, what electricity actually is and has little practical examples and experiments to demonstrate, because we all know that kids learn best by doing rather than reading.
The book is linked to National Curriculum units and each experiment has learning objectives and outcomes, as well as a New Words note at the bottom of the page. I found that discussing these objectives with my daughter both before and after the experiment consolidated her understanding of what she had just learned.
This kit is suitable for ages 8-11. My daughter is not quite 8, but has a real interest in STEM toys, hence trying it out with her. My old kit would possibly have been a little fiddly for younger kids, with the springs and wires, but the way that circuits are made in this kit made it very accessible. Each component part has two metal press-stud type fastenings, and the parts simply press-stud together. We found that the connections it made were robust and reliable, and it made it easy to swap components in and out of the circuits to allow her to experiment beyond the prescribed lesson. I think one of the markers of toy that is supposed to be educational and challenge the mind is whether the ‘I wonder what would happen if…’ question pops into the child’s head. It certainly did with this toy, and I felt she was really engaged and challenged by it.
In just a few hours, she has learned to draw some very basic circuit diagrams, using the proper format and symbols, knows that circuits must be complete to allow power to flow and learned based on that knowledge, how a switch actually works. We made a light, a door bell, learned that paper and wood aren’t conductive, but that mental is, learned that two bulbs sharing one cell would be dimmer than a single bulb, and completed the helicopter experiment depicted on the box, which she was really excited to do and set going again and again.
The only slight negative was that the set comes with two cells, and lots of the experiments do require those two cells. One of ours didn’t work, so there were certain experiments in the book that we haven’t been able to attempt but on contacting BrainBox they quicky recified the problem – great customer support. The set itself is fantastic, and we have thoroughly enjoyed playing with it. It truly is a great educational toy, and fantastic fun to boot.
Whilst £39.99 isn’t cheap, it’s a good quality product with excellent educational value, and one I would buy for a special birthday.
Available to buy from BrightMinds here.