Saturday, March 16, 2013

the inventor's supply kit

I was recently looking for a couple of birthday presents for two sweet kids in my family. One, a girl turning eight, is very artistic. Arts & crafts kits for kids her age (especially those targeted at girls) are pretty easy to find, and I'm told she loves these things. I found two (onetwo) I thought she'd adore and wrapped them up in a pretty fabric sack I'd made (tutorial coming soon).

The other, a boy turning eleven, was harder to shop for. He's also creative, and has a particularly curious mind when it comes to engineering gadgets and finding out how stuff works. This always impresses me about him.

It's somewhat difficult to find a ready-made kit for someone like him. A lot of science-y kits (even the more expensive ones) cheap out on the supplies, or only provide enough for a limited number of experiments one time through. I don't think that's the best way to encourage the kind of experimentation that engineering and inventing require. Obvious answer: to make an Inventor's Supply Kit of my own invention.

As a pre-internet kid, books were where I always found my answers when I was little. So I found a couple of books I thought would inspire a ton of ideas in his mad-scientist head, and collected a bunch of stuff he'd need to do most, if not all, of the projects in the books. Ta-da! Instant kit.

Well, I mean, not totally instant. You know me. I had to make it look "legit". I also reused one of those nice shipping boxes with the red interior that came with a photo book from MyPublisher, and made some graphics and wrapped everything up in brown paper (reused packing from a box someone shipped me) with stickers and striped tape. But mostly instant.

The first book, Kinetic Contraptions, requires hobby motors, which are pretty cheap from on-line retailers until you add in shipping costs. I headed to the thrift store and bought a couple of cheap motorized cars someone had donated. Then I disassembled them and salvaged the motors (full disclosure: the Mister helped loosen some crazy-tight tiny screws). As a bonus, this also yielded a supply of tiny screws, several wheels and axels, gears, and an LED lighting and speaker assembly, all of which are harder to come by than hobby motors.

Some kids would appreciate the opportunity to do the disassembly themselves, but I didn't want to leave any obstacles between the recipient of our gift and the projects in the book. Better, I decided, to give him raw materials to build with from the ground up. He can always pull apart old toys later to salvage more parts if he wants to.

Most of the other supplies came from the dollar store or were pretty inexpensive elsewhere. Here's a list of what I put in the kit (also printed on the graphic inside the box lid):

• 2 hobby motors (from RC cars)
• 1 speaker/light assembly (from an old RC car)

• assorted tiny screws
• straws
• bamboo skewers (with the sharp points cut off; I'm creative, not crazy)
• 4 film canisters (from a bunch of rolls of camera film I picked up for my old-timey 35-mm at the thrift store)
• assorted RC car wheels
• wire (leftover from another project)
• 8 AA batteries (the book recommends dollar store batteries, since things are bound to be left connected accidentally, and good batteries drain just as well as cheap ones)

• 36 spring-clamp clothespins
• 3 D batteries (see above)
• 2 spools of electrical tape
• 250 plastic-coated paperclips (which can always be stripped down if the project calls for it)
• 12 binder clips
• spare gears and wheel axels (from old RC cars)
• brads and decorative metal gears
• glue sticks
• rubber bands

I also used a part of a roll of striped orange paper tape from Target's stationary aisle, reused some brown kraft packing paper, and printed some labels on some label paper.

If you find yourself wanting to make one of these kits for a scientist or inventor in your family, I can totally send you a PDF of the graphic for the box top (for personal use only, of course, not for resale). Just send me a message via e-mail or in the comments field below and I'll hook you up!

Thanks for reading!

p.s. you can make these photos larger simply by clicking, but you probably already knew that, clever you!

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