I am often asked for advice on introducing electronics to children who are too young to safely use a soldering iron. The kits shown below are ideal for children aged 8 to 12 years. The large parts are easy to handle and no previous experience is required. The layout of parts is usually similar to a circuit diagram and this can help in understanding how the circuit works. Most kits require AA batteries.
Younger children aged 5 to 7 years should be able to use the simpler kits with help and supervision but take care if younger children or babies are around because the kits are unsuitable for children under 36 months.
An alternative for older children is to build circuits on breadboard but it may be difficult to find projects with suitable diagrams - the breadboard layout is quite different from stripboard or PCB layouts. It is best to work from a circuit diagram.
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I recommend Electronics for Kids as a good introduction to electricity and electronics. Printed in full colour with many illustrations, it introduces common components with simple but interesting projects to build at each stage. The book starts by assuming no previous knowledge then carefully builds up straightforward explanations of how components work, plus practical techniques including wire-stripping, soldering and using a multimeter.
Highlights include lighting an LED with lemons, using a relay to flash an LED, building a musical instrument, making a sunrise alarm, a colour-guessing game, a secret code checker and the final project uses three ICs to make a great game.
The author, Øyvind Nydal Dahl, has done a great job in providing clear step-by-step instructions with breadboard (or stripboard) layouts as well as circuit diagrams for projects. As Technical Reviewer for the book I've built all the projects myself and I'm very happy to recommend it to anyone looking for a fun and educational introduction to electronics.