For the older ones

With the weather cold and snow lingering on the ground (and according to my kids, it’s not the good kind of snow) we’re working hard here to keep everyone occupied.  This weekend was a mix of illness and cold temperatures along with general restlessness.  I can count on Seth, Gabe, Keats, and Larkspur to take one long trek outdoors each day, but on a non school day, they need something else to do.  Our older boys especially are at an age where they really need to stay occupied to avoid squabbles with each other and the rest of the family.  This weekend they had the chance to use the soldering iron they received for Christmas as I had both a broken printer and boom box to dispose of.  Dismantling electronics of any sort is a favorite activity.  They combine pieces from the cast off electronics with parts from their circuit set and this will keep them busy for hours, and they are mostly able to work cooperatively on these projects.

Seth is very interested in mechanics and making little contraptions and has a growing library of books on making catapults, trebuchet’s and other miniature weapons.  When he first requested a book titled Mini Weapons of Mass Destruction I raised my eyebrows, but have since learned that the mass destruction part is just a catchy title.  Seth has spent hours constructing tiny little weapons using office supplies and other household materials.  His interest lies more in the construction than in the implementation of the weapons and once he masters one, he moves on to try building the next.  This weekend he pulled out the case of gadgets he has made over the past few months and made some repairs.  We sure do go through a lot of hot glue these days.

Seth’s booklist:  The Art of the Catapult, Mini Weapons of Mass Destruction: Build Implements of Spitball Warfare, Build a Secret Agent Arsenal, Build Siege Weapons of the Dark Ages, The Boy Mechanic, Whoosh Boom Splat:  The Garage Warriors Guide to Building Projectile Shooters ,and Backyard Ballistics.

What are some of your older boys’ favorite activities?


  1. I think you have such a lovely blog…reflecting a loving life. Thank you for sharing! I’m taking some Christmas gift ideas for my boys from this post.

  2. That’s so cool! Make Seth make you a trebuchet for a pumpkin chucker!

  3. Wow lucky kids. It’s wonderful way to learn.

  4. My son who is 14 years old loves the Mass Destruction books. We check them out of the library regularly. Another homeschooling family with boys of similar ages have them checked out when we don’t. Our neighbor boy of 14 just built a working welder out of microwave oven parts. It is amazing.

  5. Our son, Isaac’s, favorite place to go is recycling – he collects, repairs, takes apart and builds. So much fun!

  6. Looks like our boys share a book collection! As Sage has gotten older we’ve recently given him some modest computer access. He set up a profile on and is enjoying the hands-on challenges and projects he finds there. Oh, and he still has that bag of saltpeter awaiting transformation into smoke bombs…

  7. My husband would order pretty much all those books in a heartbeat. I think it would be as much for his enjoyment as our boys’, but then he IS an engineer. 😉

  8. Oh, boy, does my little 8yo boy need this post! We have had no school for days due to -20 and -30 and almost -40 windchills here. I often give him our old cell phones & broken electronics, but after taking them apart I’m at a loss as to what he should do next….have your boys ever used the LEGO Mindstorms robotics sets with the NXT software? I used to coach MS LEGO League teams & both the boys and girls could works for days creating robots…

  9. Your cat’s face it priceless-“Oh, goodness what are they going to do now? Meow!?”

    xo m.

  10. Danielle G says:

    Love that you call it a boom box — fellow child of the 80s.

  11. My lad of 14 plays the guitar. ..a lot! Those books would suit one of my girls though! She a bit lost at the moment. My other daughter is making a clay animation movie, great fun!

  12. I was so thankful it started to show signs of warming up today! The snow only seemed to be “good snow” when everyone could go sledding, then the newness wore off! It’s so cool that the boys love to dismantle and make things. I’ve never heard of those books but I bet they are every boys dream! Thanks for sharing.

  13. just popping in to say that I think it is GREAT that you are finding ways to keep your kids busy and seeing what is needed. I hope you all feel better soon; winter colds and stir craziness is HARD.

  14. I love it! That is my idea of school and great family times.

  15. My oldest (14) isn’t mechanically inclined. He wants to play with that stuff, but he wants someone else to build it for him. 🙂 He’s more of an origami type. He can fold very intricate designs into amazing objects. He also reads more than our others. My 11-year-old and 7-year old boys rarely leave the Lego table. I think the 11-year-old would love some of those books though. I could see that inspiring both of the younger 2. Thanks for the recs!

  16. If they like building circuits, and are interested in learning some programming, I highly recommend Arduino:

  17. Thanks! We are battling the same thing here. I am ordering some of the books ASAP!

  18. My husband has Backyard Ballistics. He bought it when my son was 12. They never really attempted to make anything but they enjoyed reading what they could do. Oh my goodness. I thought it was my husband, but it must be a “male” thing.

  19. Great book recommendations. The winter is long and as much as love fort building a chance to change it up would be wonderful.

  20. those are great books! we love backyard ballistics. i was just given a ‘circuit board tour’ the other day. i am going to have to look at those other books, thanks for the recommendations.

  21. My boys have most of the same books. Taking things apart to see how they work has always been a hobby around here and now I have one that is building a computer. Who knows, it maybe a career field he goes into one day.

  22. We have quite a few of those books too, and my kiddos all enjoy them. My son received a soldering iron kit for the holidays as well. My daughter received a wood burning tool. Both are huge hits.

  23. Thanks for the booklist! My son has been asking to do some of these things and I found a good number of those books on our local library booklist! Yay!

  24. Ah! Love these book suggestions. Chase has been building trebuchet and catapults while we deal with the weather issues up north, but is starting to get a little stir crazy. I’ll have to look into these for him.

  25. Oh my! Looks like our home! My son was thrilled when a co-0p 1 hour away from our home offered an electronics class. He loved the first session and was so happy doing the hours of homework on his circuit boards with the soldering iron! He is 11 and this is the perfect class for him – his favorite. Since he has attended the “Invention Convention” at our local library where they dismantled items (they each chose one – he chose a microwave … but brought everybody’s parts home with him that they had left behind) Our second electronics class begins in March – and thankfully my husband is the parent involved with this course! So grateful for your post – thought we might be one of the few houses with parts all over! (Oh! and we just took apart a blackberry the other morning too while we sorted old cell phones!)

  26. Thanks for the great book suggestions! We have some contraption builders here as well, and they will love these ideas. We have an almost seven year old who is just starting a project on electricity and has a papa visiting later to help him with a circuit and some other stuff. So much fun. I really admire how you let your kids dig into projects – I have little images of various posts in my mind as we walk through our homeschooling journey. Thanks for the inspiration!

  27. Great book suggestions! Just the ideas I was looking for, we have a 12th birthday coming up.

  28. I think you have some future engineers in your midst! My brother used to love dismantling hairdryers, radios, toasters, anything he could get his hands on.

  29. Hi Ginny, is there one book among these that your boys prefer above the rest – or vice versa least favorite. These would be perfect for my nephew who is going through a tough time right now and needs something to keep his mind occupied (his Dad had a stroke last month and is still in the hospital). Thanks for the idea.

    • Betsy, how old is your nephew?

      • Hi is 11. He has an older brother and older sisters (13 – 17) who could maybe help him at times but he is rather a “do it himself” kind of kid.

        • Okay, I asked Seth and he says that as far as a book with projects that you can actually do, the Mini Weapons books are best. He recommends volume 1. As far as interesting reading, but without projects that you can actually do, Backyard Ballistics is great.

  30. We have the catapult book and it is so fun. We’ll have to look into the others.

  31. I have a boy who loves to make models out of cardboard, popsicle sticks, toothpicks etc. Lately he went through a spell of making knight helmets he and his brothers could wear out of card board. Amazing!

  32. Thanks for the book list! My 10-year-old has Backyard Ballistics. He also is very mechanical which I absolutely love. He takes after his dad because I hardly have a mechanical bone in my body!

  33. Oh, I wish my boys could tag along with yours! They do exactly the same things and it would be neat to have friends to share it with. It’s been in the single digits here for over a week so we’ve been battling cabin fever big time!

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