Reviewed by Louise Totton
There are an awful lot of coding toys around at the moment but when I was growing up, the really cool, state of the art toys were electronics sets. One of the toys that I remember most fondly was my electronics set that I got for Christmas when I was around ten. My friend and I spent hours playing with it, making circuits and moving one to slightly more complicated products like burglar alarms and FM radios, and it’s a type of toy that I have always encouraged my girls towards.
We do already have a small electronics kit which my eldest in particular loves to play with but it’s not particularly big and she’s more or less exhausted the limits of the kit given the limited number of parts that it has. So when we were asked to try out Hot Wire from John Adams, she was absolutely delighted to accept the challenge and help out!
The main update compared to the set that I had when I was a child is the connection method. With mine, the component parts were on a fixed circuit board, and to connect them I had to cut wire to size, strip the ends and attach via conductive springs. This one is far easier to use and less fiddly to connect as it uses an ingenious ‘snap together’ type of connector – no wire cutting or stripping required and far easier for young hands to do independently.
I was delighted when we first opened the box to see just how big the set was and how comprehensive the collection of electrical components is. The inside of the box is laid out fantastically well and it allows you so clearly see all of the component parts you have at a glance. It’s one of those ‘a place for everything and everything in its place’ kind of trays, which should help to keep the pieces safe from damage as well as reduce the chance of bits going missing. The set includes 67 electronic parts plus a comprehensive and easy to follow instruction book. Amongst the parts included are battery units (you insert your own AA batteries, 4 required), a base board, plastic spinner and various ‘snap on’ components such as capacitors, resistors, LED lights, transistors, an FM unit, switches and connectors or various lengths. All of the parts are colour coded and have component numbers printed clearly on them which correspond clearly to the circuit diagrams shown in the book.
We decided to start at the beginning of the book where the circuits are at their most simple; the first one is just a rudimentary circuit demonstrating lighting a bulb and a simple on/off switch, but the principles soon get more involved and the second experiment will delight the kids as it has a motor sending a fan shooting up to the ceiling or remaining anchored to the motor, depending on which way round in the circuit it is connected.
My 7-year-old was able to grasp these experiments very easily and quickly understood the concept of a circuit having to be complete to get a ‘reaction’ out of the component. She also found the snap together parts quite simple to put together and certainly managed it with a lot more ease that she would have managed traditional wire circuits. There are some great experiments in the book, and we had a great time with experiment 3 which tests electrical conductivity, again demonstrating how circuits need to be complete as well as the concept of conductivity.
The set contains resistors of varying strengths as well as different types of switches and most excitingly, different sensors. This means that we were able to create alarms that went off when it got too dark or too light as well as an alarm that was sensitive to noise. We thought that the experiments were grouped together in the book very well, and I was really impressed with how they went up so steadily in terms of difficultly. Some of them were a little tricky for my 7-year-old to but together herself, but as it’s aimed at kids aged 8+ that’s no great surprise and I like toys that will challenge her and keep her engaged for a longer time period. My 10-year-old still found a lot of the experiments challenging, even though she had experience of a similar but smaller kit, and she thought the experiments in this one were more interesting. Both of the girls loved making the Morse Code machine and subsequently spelling out their names and even taking it in turns to tap out words for the other one to decode.
As well as the obvious electronics side of the set, it also really encourages critical thinking and evaluation (the LED doesn’t light up – why could that be? What should we change), patience and meticulousness in terms of following the diagrams precisely, and extrapolation of thought processes and ideas (if I could get it to do this, how can I change it so it’ll do that?). We have had a fantastic time with the set, and both kids are following the book through at different paces. My youngest is starting from the beginning and cementing her understanding of basic circuits, whereas my eldest already has some confidence with the theories so has dived in further on through the book and is making some really interesting experiments.
The snap together connectors are great and really do make accessing the ideas and concepts of circuits much easier for younger kids. The components all feel to be of high quality and I have no concerns about the durability or longevity of the set, either in terms of the quality of the parts or the educational value or playability. The set genuinely makes learning about circuits feel like playing a game and we absolutely love it! My partner and I have even got it out a few times whilst the kids have been in bed to try out some of the experiments and to see what we can make it do!