We guys are a practical bunch. Sometimes we just want books that will help us DO stuff — like fish, or play ball, or collect coins, or MAKE things that DO STUFF!
If your boy is a builder, here are a couple of project books I’ve used and recommend for kids aged 8-12 or so. I suggest getting them from the library first, but if they’re a good fit for your child, either might be worth buying. Combine the book with an assortment of the materials needed, and you’ve got a cool Christmas present.
I discovered this book advertised in Boys Life* magazine, and thought it sounded so cool that we had to order it for the library. I have not been disappointed. I’ve used it 5 times to make cars with groups, including a bunch of boys and their dads. It’s fun, the projects work, and the instructions (accompanied by lots of pictures) are clear.
The projects range from easy to complicated, from a simple rubber band car to a dog with a wagging tail, and even a car big enough for a person to ride in. None require expensive materials: corrugated cardboard, rubber bands, pencils, push-pins, old CDs (for wheels) — mostly stuff you’ll find around the house. Most grade-school-aged boys will need an adult to lend a hand, but that makes these fun do-together activities. And you can tinker with them — change the length of the rubber bands, or the size or weight of the wheels, add a spoiler, or try to make them go faster and further. Note that all the projects include photocopiable templates of the parts to cut out, and some need to be enlarged.
And a suggestion: The book says to use white glue — very frustrating! Go out and buy a low-temp hot glue gun with a bag of glue sticks (available in the Wal-Mart craft section, as well as other stores). They’re not expensive, and beyond saving lots of time, your projects will be much sturdier.
*P.S. You don’t have to be a Boy Scout to enjoy Boys Life magazine, and you don’t even have to subscribe to it, because it can be checked out from lots of libraries, including ours!
Electric Gadgets and Gizmos: Battery-Powered Buildable Gadgets that Go! by Alan Bartholomew
What about making gadgets that buzz and light and move on their own power? You’ll need to invest in a bit more stuff for the projects in this book, but nothing too expensive: popsicle sticks, wooden clothespins, batteries, wire, bulbs, buzzers, small DC electric motors, and a few tools like a hot glue gun, wire cutter/stripper, and needlenose pliers. (I’ve been able to find all the special items at Radio Shack.)
The step-by-step instructions are clear and well-illustrated. You should start with the first projects, which are the easiest, and build to the later ones. Most will require some adult help. Projects include a flashlight, buzzer, pop-bottle boat, a sign that lights up when you step on a mat, a “rumble box” that buzzes and shakes when you pick it up, a car, and glasses with wipers (pictured on the cover). (And if you don’t want to bother making the “battery pack” for each project, you can purchase cheap battery packs at Radio Shack.)
Though I’ve not seen it, a second book by the same author is available in area libraries: Electric Mischief : Battery-Powered Gadgets Kids can Build.