Toy Hacking - What's Inside?

About: ReCreate delivers hands-on, project-based learning in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math, empowering our region's students to learn vital skills necessary to compete and lead the 21...

This project unveils the technology and mechanical components inside a toy. You can dissect, diagram and re-design an old toy into a new creation. Plan for this project to take at least 90 minutes, and more depending on your re-design. Through this fun, hands-on project you will gain an understanding of simple circuitry and mechanics. In a classroom, this can be standards aligned with reverse engineering, documentation, circuitry, storytelling. Anybody from 3rd grade and up would enjoy this activity.

It is recommended that you have one facilitator per every 8-10 kids. Before beginning, it is important to go over safe usage of seam rippers, scissors and other tools.

Step 1: Gather Supplies and Select a Toy

Here's what you need to start:

  • Various small phillips-head screwdrivers. Its helpful to have a long shaft, because often the screws holding together a toy are molded deep inside the plastic.
  • Scissors and a seam ripper
  • Safety Glasses
  • Jewelry pliers can be helpful when carefully taking a toy apart
  • Wire strippers
  • Battery packs for your redesign
  • Alligator clips
  • Hot glue
  • Wood or something to mount it on to, if desired

Selecting a toy is easy. If you can feel a plastic shell on the toy, and it moves, lights up and or sings you are in good shape. We find most of our toys at thrift stores, and just give them a good cleaning before we start our adventure.

Step 2: Cut Away the Fur and Open the Toy

Using scissors, you can start cutting the fur carefully away from the battery pack. Be careful not to snip any wires or you will lose functionality. The goal is to cut away all the fabric, and remove stuffing, and unscrew all the plastic covers to have exposed circuitry and mechanics of the toy.

Step 3: Understanding What's Inside

Inside your toy you will likely find several things.

  • Wiring to power is general black(-) and red (+)
  • Wires to LEDs and / or motors are generally two different colors
  • Wring to speakers and sensors are generally two of the same color

The Printed Circuit Board (PCB) is the heart of the mechanical toy. You can follow wires, and printing to understand what does what.

m: motor
spk: speaker
s: switch
c: capacitor (store an electric charge for a process within the toy)
r: resistor (limits the current passing through a circuit)
q: transistor (working as either an amplifier or a switch)

We like to diagram what is inside the toys we take apart, because it really helps to understand electric connections and the functionality of the toy. Once you dissect and diagram, designing is easy!

Step 4: Building Your Own New Creation

Here are some samples of what others have made in our workshops with their toys. Please remember cutting a wire isn't the end of the world. You can always strip it and tape it, alligator clip it or solder it back together.

We thank the Exploratorium and Wonderful Idea Co. for inspiring us to try toy hacking at ReCreate!

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    4 Discussions

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    Markess

    8 months ago

    This is great! Its really laid out well. I know what I'll be doing with my kids this weekend! Thanks for sharing.

    1 reply
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    seamster

    8 months ago

    Brilliant exercise! I'm sure most creative adults did this type of thing inherently when we were kids, but it's nice to see the idea formally presented and encouraged to younger kids. Awesome, thank you for sharing.

    1 reply