Soldering an Arduino mortorshield with 9 year olds

One of the projects that my oldest son and I have been (s l o o o o w l y) working on is a robot. The first version was great since it helped introduce him to the concept of “iterations” (i.e. start small, tackle one or two “features” first, learn from what you do, make another version, repeat) and me to basic electronics. Really, it wasn’t great–in fact it never even got to the point of moving, but we learned a lot.

For the 2nd iteration, we’re controlling it with an Arduino. Part of that is made easier by using a motorshield sold by Adafruit. Since I want my son to take as much control of this project as he can, I let him do all of the soldering–I did do a bit of desoldering, though, when we decided to make the shield stackable.

The whole experience was really fantastic, and by the end he became very proficient at soldering.

The kit has a lot of pieces to solder, so I’m not sure I would recommend it as a “first” experience with soldering.

If you’ve never soldered before, Sparkfun has some great tips you’ll probably want to check out. Also, this tutorial video by Curious Inventor is very informative, if a bit dry, and answers a lot of questions I had when first beginning.

Since my son learned the basics of soldering at Maker Faire Detroit (if you can go to one, take your kids!!) last year, I just gave him a review on proper techniques, which he followed close enough–too much correction at once can get in the way of actual doing and learning.

I walked him through the build instructions, sneaking in little pieces of knowledge like what the components are called, what they do, and sometimes how they work. He seemed to understand nearly everything, but only held on (this time) to about half.

The process can take several hours, so we had to split it up into two sessions. When we did the second, one of my nephews was here so I taught him how to solder so he could help out, too.

Since this was his first time, I put a bunch of LEDs on a small prototyping board, told him the basics, demonstrated what I said, then let him try, correcting the big mistakes as he went.

My son and his cousin took turns soldering until the project was done. I’m really impressed with the quality of their soldering.

And, here’s a some video footage of parts of the process:

My takeaways:

Especially after this experience I would recommend soldering as a great (supervised) activity for any kid that has the patience and manual dexterity.

The things I like about soldering together with your child:

  • soldering, especially a kit, results in something very tangible
  • it’s really satisfying and breeds a sense of accomplishment and empowerment
  • spending time with your kids is awesome
  • it’s a great opportunity to practice giving age-appropriate instructions and practicing patience in a low-pressure (i.e. if they mess up, just desolder it and try again) situation :)
  • teaches troubleshooting when/if mistakes are made
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