David writes in:

I am interested in fooling around with LEDs. Nothing fancy I just want to learn some basic stuff, and build some easy circuits. I am 65 years old and have some time on my hands so I want to explore these devices. Could you send me a list of some elementary school level books? I have a couple of grand children that I want to play with; and, I think we could have fun and learn some interesting things together. I don’t know what aspect of this technology will interest them, but maybe we will build something that we can attach to an old cd player that will change colors in conjunction with the music.

Well, David, I don’t know about elementary school level books, but I can certainly suggest some kits to start you and your grandkids off. LEDs are a great place to start. They don’t take a lot of background knowledge or equipment to get started. A good first project is to make some LED throwies. All you need are LEDs, coincell batteries, magnets, and tape. You can get LEDs and batteries online, or from RadioShack or Fry’s Electronics if there’s one nearby. From there move on to blinkybugs and vibrobots, and then maybe the Sparkle Labs kit for learning electronics, which comes with an excellent booklet full of illustrations and easy-to-follow instructions for popular and simple circuits. As for making an LED blink in time with music, you could follow this Instructable. You might also like playing around with 555 tmers, as they’re pretty easy to get going, too. There’s a great article on them with sample diagrams in MAKE, Vol. 10. I’m so glad you’re excited about building things with your grandkids!

Becky Stern

Becky Stern

Becky Stern ( is a DIY guru and director of wearable electronics at Adafruit. She publishes a new project video every week and hosts a live show on YouTube. Formerly Becky was Senior Video Producer for MAKE. Becky lives in Brooklyn, NY and belongs to art groups Free Art & Technology (“release early, often, and with rap music”) and Madagascar Institute (“fear is never boring”).

  • Rick

    Hi, Good on you for wanting to learn!!!


    as one of the best basic LED web sited – it will even do calculations for you to save you the bother.

    Remember LEDs have polarity – On the LED case is a flat This looks a bit like a minus sign so goes to the minus side of the battery. It is often next to the short wire. (the one that is minus a bit)

    An LED has a maximum current it can cope with often in the area of 10 to 20 Ma (milli amps) to make sure it stays OK you may need to have a resistor in series with the LED to make sure the current does not exceed this value – the web site explains.

    Have fun

    Oh an an LED and a PICAXE micro controller is great fun and easy programming.


  • Scott

    I’ve found that the book Practical Electronics for Inventors by Paul Sherz to be an excellent resource. It starts at DC, and works it’s way up through FETS, showing you all of the math, but giving a good summary at the end for those who don’t want to (or can’t) follow it.