Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Let There Be Light!

I am very excited to launch another series! Not sewing this time - hurrah!

Every Christmas, I make a mental list of gifts to buy for the kids. I also make a mental list of gifts to sew for the kids, but I throw that list away very quickly, because it usually translates to staying up till 3 am, night after night, all through December. So I buy them gifts instead. Now, standing in the aisles of Target (or the virtual aisles of, I am always struck by the number of toys that talk, move, sing, do back-flips, twirl pizzas, record your voice and do laundry. OK, maybe not laundry - that was just me fantasizing. Crafty folks all over blogland, however, sometimes disprefer toys like those, opting instead for the quieter, less fidgety, ostensibly more imagination-stirring handmade variety. I'm all for quieter, but I have a confession: I think toys that do things are cool. I also think playing with toys that do things doesn't stifle one's imagination/brain development (ever met an electrical engineer who wasn't smart?) But wait - want to know what's even cooler than toys that do things? 

Handmade toys that do things!

You all know that I shamelessly love cardboard, right? And that, since I was a very little girl, I've made cardboard toys. My kids love the cardboard stuff I make, not the least because they can scribble all over them with markers. They will play with them for months, and go into mourning when we throw out the ratty carcass of a much-loved cardboard car, or scooter, or dollhouse. "When can we make another car, Mum?" they always ask. And those are just the toys that are static boxes. When I've thrown in a bit of circuitry or mechanics, they are beside themselves. They flip a switch and a lamp lights up. They turn a dial and it swings back. They spin a crank and an elevator moves. It's the same handmade cardboard toy, but their play is now taken up a notch and off they run, with new ideas and even more fantastical pretend-play stories.

There's Physics in it, yes. And I used to teach it, so that's not very fair, I hear you say. But hey - I was 11 when I made my first wired lantern. With rubbish electronic parts that I scavenged from who knows where. It was hopelessly amateurish, with scotch tape holding everything together and sometimes had to be given a hard kick to work, but it felt like magic, making light happen in a paper toy.

Some years ago, I started writing a few posts here on simple from-scratch circuitry, but I knew it could sound a little intimidating if you've never played with stuff like that before. Which brings us to this series. 

We're going to be making some toys together. I'll show you what to buy, where to buy it, how to use it, some convenient short-cuts, and some pretty awesome projects that you and the kids can put together. Some projects are 10-minute simple, some are several-day simple, and one particular one took me -cough - two years (but only because I procrastinated). They all have one thing in common - lights. Nothing fancy - just a string of battery-operated lights like this one, 

a couple of batteries and some cardboard.

To make it even more fun (and to prove that other people who aren't retired Physics teachers love it, too), I've invited a few friends to party with me! I gave them a little set of battery operated lights from IKEA that costs between $2.99 and $4.99

and invited them to go play with their kids. They'll be here to share what they made! 

From those self-contained light sets, we'll move on to a few projects involving circuits you can build from scratch with LEDs,


 and toggle switches.

And that's just the circuitry
Imagine all the cardboard toys we've made to showcase them! 

See you back tomorrow!


  1. I'm looking forward of your next post! I understand nothing in circuitry )))

  2. Yay!!! I was looking for things to do with my kids this school holidays and this is fantastic! Heaps and heaps of thanks in advance!

  3. oooray, finally somebody who things that toys that are "do things" are cool. Off course it do not necessary have to be the latest selfmoving self sewing self talking toy, but how cool is a simple switching of and on the light? Hurray!
    I am really looking forward for those posts since my little son is really into "making something" type os toys. He has firstly discovered the wonders of technique when he reassembled alarm clock at the age of 1,5 year to look inside. And yeas, he was actually looking at all those weel inside and was very happy to finally know how is it posssible that the clock was ticking.

  4. I'm so excited I can't wait. It's like Christmas came early!

  5. I love the lantern!!! And now maybe I'll get brave and give real circuits a go!

  6. Oh, I can't wait! You're so amazing.

  7. Sweet. I can't wait. The scientist who has been languishing in my brain since my kids were born and I finished grad school and left my job is quivering with excitement.

  8. I think the light just went on!! Can't wait!

  9. I cannot wait ! You know, I made my children a garage (I was inspired by your treehouse) with cardboard, and left it over when we moved, and 6 months later they are still asking me when are we going to make a new one. I want to build a rocket ship next... I think once more I will use your posts, thank you !

  10. Love the idea of this series! An unexpected twist :o) Thanks for sharing!

  11. hooray for physics + crafts!! a delightful combination :)


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