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My son recently became quite interested in robots. He's five, so we're starting with simple stuff. Since we're just getting started, that's what you'll find here: resources for getting started.


Building robots is an activity that may involve working with "dangerous" tools and materials.

My pseudonym isn't Runs With Scissors, so I'd like to offer some cautions, recommendations and observations.

  1. Proceed at your own risk. The info on this page is provided for interest and education. Use your own judgment when giving tools to your children.
  2. Make sure you know what you're doing. If you don't know how to work safely with electricity, don't fiddle with it until you do. Taking Dad to the Emergency Room might be instructive, but I think it is a class most of us would prefer to leave out of our homeschool experience.
  3. Remember that you (the parent) are probably the most dangerous thing in the workshop. If you are prone to sudden gasps and loud exclamations when your child picks up a knife, stick to Lego Mindstorms and K'nex or find somebody else to mentor your child in this area. Children, even very young children, can easily use tools safely in the presence of a confident, trusting adult.

Be sure to check out the tools section below for additional tips on shop safety.

Five Steps to Getting Started

Don't forget to have fun!!!

Robotics Books

Carpentry for Children
Lester R. Walker
ISBN: 0808552252, Published by Bt Bound.

This may seem like a strange resource for robotics work, but I think it is an excellent resource for several reasons. First of all, it is written for kids and it isn't the least bit patronizing or preachy. This book has great advice on tool selection and use and on setting up a workshop...information which is just as useful to the robotics engineer as it is to the carpenter.

Robot Builder's Bonanza
Gordon McComb
ISBN: 0071362967, Published by McGraw-Hill/TAB Electronics, 720 pages.

If you are going to build robots, you must have this book. It covers everything you need to know in exquisite detail: tools, materials, supplies, electronics, sensors, programming. Truly everything! This is first book I've seen that functions somewhat like a web site. At the end of every chapter is a "From Here" section that points you to other helpful areas of the book, somewhat like internal site links. Tremendously useful resource.

Book Description

A major revision of the bestselling "bible" of amateur robotics building--packed with the latest in servo motor technology, microcontrolled robots, remote control, Lego Mindstorms Kits, and other commercial kits.

Gives electronics hobbyists fully illustrated plans for 11 complete Robots, as well as all-new coverage of Robotix-based Robots, Lego Technic-based Robots, Functionoids with Lego Mindstorms, and Location and Motorized Systems with Servo Motors.

Features a pictures and parts list that accompany all projects, and material on using the BASIC Stamp and other microcontrollers.

Robot Builder's Sourcebook
Gordon McComb
ISBN: 0071406859, Published by McGraw-Hill/TAB Electronics, 711 pages.

Book Description

* A much-needed clearinghouse for information on amateur and educational robotics, containing over 2,500 listings of robot suppliers, including mail order and local area businesses

* Contains resources for both common and hard-to-find parts and supplies

* Features dozens of "sidebars" to clarify essential robotics technologies

* Provides original articles on various robot-building topics

Tools for Building Robots

If you use kits, you probably won't need much more than a set of screwdrivers. If, however, you are building robots from scratch you will need some tools.

I'd like to make a comment about purchasing tools for children. Don't waste your money or your time buying "children's tools." Every set I've seen has been of inferior quality and some present safety concerns..poorly molded or forged tools with rough areas and flimsy plastic handles.

It will take a bit more time (and probably cost more money), but seek out good quality tools in smaller sizes. I've found some tools that are smaller in size that are perfect for children. I've included the names and model numbers in the list below.

Here's a list of necessary tools for a getting started:

Black & Decker Workmate 225
Black & Decker


  • Folds easily for storage and transport
  • Exclusive clutch design makes clamping easy and allows for fine tuning
  • Durable steel constructions holds up to 450 pounds
  • Dual height--bench and sawhorse--for multiple uses
  • Two year home use warranty

Black &amp Decker Workmate 425
Black & Decker


  • Includes insert to convert vise into a workbench
  • Exclusive one handed clamp system
  • Folds for storage
  • Holds up to 550 lbs
  • Two year home use warranty

Materials and Supplies

Obviously, your materials list is going to change from one project to the next. Still, it can be helpful to have a basic set of hardware on hand. Be sure to check The Robot Builder's Bonanza for more specific size recommendations .

You may also want to gather parts from other non-functional equipment. I use a plastic tub for our miscellaneous parts. Broken equipment can often be picked up very cheaply at thrift stores. Old VCRs are an excellent source of parts for robots, but you can recycle nearly anything. The Robot Builder's Bonanza contains a substantial list of salvage parts, but here is a partial list of items to keep:

Related Resources

Engineering and Robotics Resources
Engineering and robotics links from Imagine magazine.

"The FIRST LEGO League (FLL), considered the "little league" of the FIRST Robotics Competition, is the result of a partnership between FIRST and the LEGO Company. FLL extends the FIRST concept of inspiring and celebrating science and technology to children aged 9 through 14, using real-world context and hands-on experimentation."

The FIRST Robotics Competition
"The FIRST Robotics Competition challenges teams of students and their mentors to solve a common problem in a six-week timeframe using a standard "kit of parts" and a common set of rules. Teams build robots from the parts and enter them in a series of competitions designed by Dean Kamen and Woodie Flowers. The Competition has grown to more than 650 teams competing in 17 Regional Events, and The Championship Event held at Walt Disney World, where more than 20,000 students participate."

Lakeshore is an educational supply company. They carry child-sized tools, workbenches and safety goggles.

Lego Mindstorms
This Lego web site for Mindstorms robotic products offers more than just the toys. There is also an extensive community offering tutorials, robot missions, and much more.

Robotics Mailing List
An e-mail list for homeschoolers and others who are interested in robotics and building robots. Site also includes links, articles and resources.

An e-zine with many articles about robots.

Robots 4 Kids
A to Z Home's Cool links for robots...mainly articles and on-line games.

The Robots Gallery: Teachers Guide
A phenomenal guide to building robots, with on-line activities to help you develop your design skills.

Backyard Habitats
Create your own biological fieldwork lab with a backyard habitat.

Science Books
A list of essential science reference books.

Science Equipment
A list of essential equipment for home-based science explorations.

Science is the knowledge of many, orderly and methodically digested and arranged, so as to become attainable by one. - John Frederick William Herschel

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