As a mom and an engineer, I am constantly on the lookout for ways to feed the insatiable curiosity of my kids in constructive ways. A friend of mine had a kid that would take apart clocks and toilet innards when he was five; my kids are not as brilliant or driven, but they are bright enough, and they like to tinker with things. I have found some interesting projects online for kids using the Arduino Uno R3. I will start by purchasing the Arduino Uno R3 Starter Kit. The free ModKit programming tools for the Uno are great. They remind me a bit of the graphical user interface programming tools that I used as an applications engineer for the Metasys® controls systems. They also remind me of the PSoC® programming tools, but the ModKit interface is laid out well with a web browser as a host development tool platform. The GUI (and the concept behind it) is simple, not circuit building-blocks like in PSoC (which I like to think of as something of a mini-FPGA because it can dynamically re-program itself.)
The Arduino Uno R3 has a lot of the basics covered for first-time use, including the ever-important LED. A blinking light project is the first one on our list, but my oldest has a smartphone, and I know he will want to do the Smartphone Garage Door Opener next. There is actually mention of a pee-and-poo detector with a diaper –mounted shield on the same site, which works well with juvenile humor in case the 9 year old needs some motivation for learning Arduino. (Turns out it makes a better methane gas detector that he could mount under his brother’s seat at the dinner table. I can’t wait to tell him. I know, I am a bad mom to encourage this, but the higher goal of motivating them is met.) My only pet peeve with my home projects is that they don’t look neat. I may have to spring for an enclosure to tidy things. My solder work looks awful because I am too cheap to buy proper tools like solder wick and solder suckers. If you heat up the bit you don’t want, you can sometimes fling the bits away. (No, I am not kidding. Just make sure no one else is around, heh, heh.)
We cut the cable years ago, going to digital antenna and streaming, and the kids occasionally say they have nothing to do, that they are bored. It would be music to my ears if they fought over who could use the desktop to program their Arduino instead of who gets to ride shot gun. And there would be no more Thursday night reveal on the science project due tomorrow. Another mom I know stayed up all night finishing a covered wagon out of toothpicks for her son. I am not making this stuff up. With an Arduino hanging around, we could snag a finished project and recycle it to wow the teacher. This assumes, of course, that it is compatible with covered wagons.
Lynnette Reese holds a B.S.E.E from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. Lynnette has worked at Mouser Electronics, Texas Instruments, Freescale (now NXP), and Cypress Semiconductor. Lynnette has three kids and occasionally runs benign experiments on them. She is currently saving for the kids’ college and eventual therapy once they find out that cauliflower isn’t a rare albino broccoli (and other white lies.)
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