Children (and beginners) need the right foothold to get started with great tools, and the Arduino is no different. With many different versions of the board available over the years, it’s entirely possible that potential users have been put off.
This is a shame, but it’s something that can be remedied with the right approach. Whether you’re new to Arduino, or have one or more children with an interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths) subjects (or both, and want to go on a journey of Arduino exploration, offspring in hand), the secret isn’t in buying all the kit, all the books, and subscribing to the right Twitter accounts.
Instead, the secret (if you can call it that) is to buy the right kit. One option is to buy a single Arduino board (available for around £15), but this isn’t going to open things up for you unless you’ve got plenty of cables and compatible modules to play with.
Similarly, buying a £30 “starter kit” is only going to supply you with a bunch of buttons, servos, resistors and cables and some poorly translated instructions. Instead, look for a kit offering a tangible target, some sort of robot or other exciting project.
The Makeblock mBot v1.1 robot demonstrated in the accompanying video is a good example of this. Available direct from http://www.makeblock.com/ or Amazon, the mBot uses a child-friendly Arduino-like device called the mCore. Rather than the Sketch system for creating programs for the Arduino, meanwhile, the mBot relies on a block-based, drag-and-drop approach.
Beyond this, but still in the realms of Arduino robots, is the VKmaker Tracking Smart Robot, a full kit (around $22 in the USA, trickier to source elsewhere) powered by an Arduino UNO and featuring a motor and sensors. A tutorial CD is also bundled for a quick start, and the robot can be built without soldering.
If you’re more of a purist, however, and want your son or daughter to get their hands dirty with a more traditional Arduino, a generic Arduino UNO starter kit should do the job. These typically ship with everything needed to build a buzzer challenge, create an LED game, or even play a melody. Just make sure you get hold of some legible instructions!
Do your children use an Arduino? How did you introduce them to the board? Let us know!