Take it Apart!

If you’d like to promote creativity, curiosity, language, small motor skills, and scientific problem-solving in your young children, you don’t need to buy something new.  In fact, you need something old.

Children love to see inside of things, particularly electronics!  All the wires and mysterious circuit boards.  Seeing levers and knobs connect with the movement of previously unseen parts.  Give them that opportunity by handing them a few simple tools and an old gadget.  Then set them loose!  They can’t break what’s already broken, but they just might learn something from it!

The Hunt

Find an old electronic item in your home, or (if you’re the one person in America who really did get all the spring cleaning done this year and you really have nothing you should part with) go to a garage sale or thrift store.  I most recently used an old stereo that had been through a few too many remodeling projects, was covered in drywall mud, and the knobs and tuners were starting to go out.  (Though I think the cassette player was still in top condition, so we could still listen to my college mix tape.)  Radios are great for this project, but so are phones, toasters —almost anything!

Safety First

Cut the power cord off and/or remove any batteries before opening the item or setting the kiddos loose on it.  Be a little familiar with the item you are using and be aware of any special safety considerations.  Obviously, you also want to be aware of any children who may be “mouthers” with this activity.  There are a lot of small parts involved, so if that’s going to cause a concern, adapt or postpone this activity.

Have Some Fun

I like to put the object on a table or inside my sensory bin (that way, all the tools, screws, and disconnected pieces stay in one place).  Open the item ahead of time, just to be sure you know you can get it open quickly.  Sometimes there are some well-hidden screws or connective plastic.  You don’t want the children to get too antsy waiting for 10 minutes while you figure it all out.  (It would be like Christmas morning with the billions of twisty ties and kids ready to play!)

Inspect the inside for potential problems, and then put it back together, loosely inserting just a few screws to speed up the process for the little ones.  Provide the children with screwdrivers, pliers, safety goggles, tweezers, magnifiers, even Q-tips.  Let them explore the “innards” of some spectacular gizmo. 

They may simply examine all the treasures inside.  They may experiment and hypothesize as to how the parts work together.  They may pretend to “fix” the item or to build something new from it.  Dramatic play may come into the mix as they talk about creating a robot, fixing their spaceship, or any number of exciting storylines.

Kids could spend all day with their fingers and brains going to task on this activity.  And it doesn’t even have to cost you a penny.  Now that’s got to feel good!

Photo by Bartek Ambrozik.
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Filed under fine motor skills, Learning through Play and Experience, science activity, sensory activity

11 responses to “Take it Apart!

  1. Oh, I just happen to know a little fellow who would really love an activity like this, too … (and funny that we’re both mentioning cassette tape players today LOL I could have brought my Tiffany tape over and we could have had a party!)

    Love this idea! thank you 🙂

    • notjustcute

      Too funny, Kara! Tiffany still takes me back! I’ve had “I Think We’re Alone Now” stuck in my head since first reading your message!

  2. Amy

    My husband is the King of doing this! When we first met as teenagers, I remember him taking an iron apart. I need to suggest he does it with the kids!

  3. This is a wonderful idea as I have vivid memories of taking apart a phone and a fan as a child. I allowed my son to take apart a phone last year, but disposed of the parts afterward and washed his hands as some circuit boards contain lead, mercury and cadmium. Also some of the old phone cord contain lead in the plastic.

    I’ve been eager to find some non-toxic items for him to take apart. Do you have any suggestions?

    wendy at wendy cook dot com

    • notjustcute

      It’s good to know about those risks before this type of activity. There are so many different items you could use, it’s impossible to know what you might be getting into with each one. I would suggest contacting someone who does repairs on the type of item you have available and ask about potential risks. I would imagine that the simpler the item, the fewer risks. Something like a fan, an iron, or an old toaster might be good, but there are so many different varieties. As I said, I would contact someone in the repair business first to check your concerns.

  4. Amanda, you are one of the most talented bloggers online right now. Your posts are so intelligent and well-written. I love the way you translate a developmental psychology concept into something that is easily understood, fun and useful. Keep up the good work my friend!

  5. Cynthia

    I have heard stories of my husband doing this. When he was 8 years old he took apart a broken telephone, put it back together all on his own and it worked! He’s always been good at problem solving and fixing anything you give him.

  6. Great idea; I’d enjoy it as much as our little one would I’m sure. One comment: you may want to post pictures of one type of component that is found quite often on circuit boards: capacitors. These can hold a charge for a long time; on a battery-powered gadget there is little risk but on an item that was previously plugged to the wall socket, you could have some dangerous voltage sitting in the capacitor. Capacitors are usually shaped like batteries; they are short, squat and round.

    Again- great idea! Now what can I take apart..?

    • notjustcute

      Thanks, Matt! I had to get into my computer once (OK more than once) and I remembered being told about some component that stored electricity even if the unit was unplugged, but I couldn’t remember what it was (lucky I didn’t find out the hard way). Thanks for keeping us all safe!

  7. Pingback: Let’s Build! Activities for a Preschool Tools and Construction Theme | Not Just Cute

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