Build your own computer kits are great way to develop a whole host of STEM skills. Not only because assembling the computers can develop your understanding of how electrical circuits and components function, but also because many kits also feature coding tutorials and challenges. We love what these companies are doing to educate people in the area of computer science, but we aren’t the only ones! Some of the kits have been endorsed by some pretty big names in the tech world – more on this below. Read on for our recommended best DIY computer kits for kids & adults in 2017.
Computer Kits for Kids
The first couple of build your own computer kits here are targeted at a slightly younger audience than the second two. As such, the builds are a bit simpler, with less fiddly parts and a story line style tutorial to guide you through assembling the little computers. Furthermore, the components are bright and colorful with no soldering required to put them together, so they are both safe and engaging for kids. Lets take a closer look at two of our favorite build your own computers kits for kids.
Kano came into being because one of the co-founders cousins, 7 year old Micah, had a desire to build his own computer. In the video below, little Micah is seen sitting with a huge ‘Raspberry Pi for Dummies’ text book and a Raspberry Pi board (a mini computer) when he says ‘I want you to make this as simple and fun as Lego’. So that was the challenge – to make a computer kit that was both easy and enjoyable to put together, but also educational.
Alex and Saul Klein got to work on building the kit, which saw them turn to Kickstarter for funding roughly one year in. To say the campaign was a success would be a huge understatement. Looking for an initial investment of only $100,000, Kano ended up raising $1.5 million and getting backed by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and Kickstarter co-founder Yancey Strickler! Production went into full swing and Kano Computer Kits now find themselves in thousands of schools, coding clubs and homes around the world.
So that’s a brief history of Kano, but what’s it all about? Firstly, kids have to assemble their computers through following a fun and interactive story book tutorial. Staying true to the initial goals, the parts easily snap together and there is no complicated wiring or soldering involved. Although, for kids with some prior experience or older kids, the assembly may be a bit simplified. If this is the case, you may want to consider some of the more advanced kits below.Once assembled, it’s time to plug in the Kano to a monitor via HDMI. Depending on the kit you bought, the monitor might be included, but otherwise you will need your own. Next it’s time to learn to code! Another book is designed to guide kids through coding simple games like Snake and Pong, as well as ‘hacking’ and adding mods to Minecraft. The Kano also has a speaker to add that extra bit of guidance. Kids can learn how to program art, animations, music and more, as well as browse the web.
The Piper Computer Kit is another set inspired by the ease and simplicity of Lego and Minecraft. Piper believe one of the secrets to creativity is confidence. With Lego, it’s so easy to snap pieces together and build what your imagination tells you too, and Minecraft is almost the digital version of this. Piper aim to bring down the barriers that prevent kids creating with technology by building an experience that simplifies the whole process and makes it easy to get started.
Similar to Kano, Piper also ran a successful Kickstarter campaign and received complements from Wozniak who said “I love Piper because it represents what enabled me to do all the great technology things in my life.” The company also claim that Elon Musks kids love the kit! It is also similar in that the focus is on building your own computer then learning to code. Although, the assembly is a little more complex, with kids tasked with putting together a lovely hand-crafted wooden computer case. It also comes with a lot more components including LED lights, motion sensors, buzzers, buttons and switches. As such, it might suit a slightly older age range.
When you open the kit you will be greeted with a ‘top secret’ letter, which tells kids they are about to embark on a serious mission to prevent earth being hit by an asteroid. Then they have to assemble the ‘control station’ by following the instructions on the giant blueprint map. When you boot up, an animation begins where we meet Pip and Piperbot, who have just received a call from mission control. Next, the story line guides you through assembling the rest of the components through challenges and tutorials in a Minecraft styled interface.
The programming element allows kids to customize and create in Minecraft, program other sensors and electrical components and more. Again, the Piper makes use of Python and Java coding languages, as well as the graphical programming interface Scratch. You can also browse the internet and run other normal computer functions like creating documents and spreadsheets.It’s similar to Kano in a lot of ways, but there are still pros and cons to both sets. We like how every Piper kit includes an LCD, compared with Kano where it only comes with the Complete Kit. Although, if you already have a monitor you might prefer not to pay for an extra one! Personally, we find using a mouse for dragging and dropping elements way easier than using a trackpad, so it is nice that Piper comes with a mouse. However, the Piper kit does not come with a keyboard and you will need to connect your own to begin writing programs, whilst the Kano does include its own. Whether any of these points will bother you will likely depend on the hardware you already have, but either way these are both great computer kits for kids.
Computer Kits for Teens & Adults
Whilst the build your own computer kits above do have options to get into some more advanced coding concepts, the story lines and basic designs likely wont appeal to older kids and adults. There also isn’t much in the way of electrical engineering, it’s more of an assembly rather than an actual build! The below DIY computer kits offer a bit more in this area, read on for details.
The Super Starter Learning Kit is another Raspberry Pi based computer kit from electronics education company SunFounder. It is focused around assembling electrical components and then programming them with the Pi. These include lots of different color LEDs, buttons, a DC motor, switches, a buzzer, a small LCD screen, a fan and more, plus all the necessary wiring. For the price paid, we really think this build your own computer kit is incredibly good value!
The programming element is taught through a 123 page illustrated instruction book, although SunFounder also provide additional documentation online. Within the book you can find an introduction to all the components, as well as 17 projects to learn how it all works. These include controlling LEDs in lots of different ways, controlling the buzzer, experimenting with switches, learning how to drive a DC motor and controlling the LCD screen. The projects start simple and progress to more advanced concepts, but this is only an introduction. There is so much you can do with Raspberry Pi, but it’s up to you to experiment and discover! Check out some awesome project ideas here.
The Elegoo Mega 2560 Project is similar to the SunFounder kit in a lot of ways, but it is powered by Ardunio rather than Raspberry Pi. What’s the difference I here you say? Well, a Pi is a general purpose mini computer that is able to run multiple programs at once, whereas an Ardunio is a microcontroller motherboard. This basically means it is a simple computer that is best suited to running single programs like opening and closing a garage door or operating a simple robot. As such, it is better for simpler tasks and a good choice for beginners.
This kit is also great value, coming with tons of components including a microcontroller, a small LCD display, motors, lots of LEDs, a photo-resistor, switches, sound and motion sensors, buzzers, plus temperature and humidity modules! It also includes all the wiring and other components needed to assemble the circuits. Although, the microcontroller is actually an Ardunio clone made by Elegoo, but it functions the same way. The set also features a PDF tutorial with over 35 lessons for getting to grips with how it all works. This will also guide you through the programming element, which is done in a C/C++ based coding language. Similar to Python and Java, this is also a widely used language in industry.
We hope you have enjoyed our article on the best build your own computer kits! The ultimate goal of the kits here is to learn how to create technology, not just consume it. It’s all about experimentation and, once you have got to grips with the basics, there are so many possibilities to explore and see what you can build. We think that tinkering with computer components are some of the best ways to build STEM skills, and hope you do too!