So I tend to be a bit of a hoarder, at least of electronics. My piles of old motherboards, power supplies, pc cards, and mystery boxes labeled 'Linksys' had gotten a bit out of hand, so my wife insisted recently that I put some aside for the boys to 'take apart', which I reluctantly agreed to do, assuming that we'd carefully disassemble things and look at them and possibly put them back together, carefully.
Not many days later, I entered the kitchen to see my precious hoard being diligently attacked by my sons wielding screwdrivers, pliers, and possibly a kitchen knife, in ways that were obviously not going to allow anything to be put back together ever again. My wife had an idea to have them use the cool electronics parts to make robot models. I joined the party and soon realized that cracking open DSL line filters to get to the cool electronic goodies inside was both 1) kind of like eating crab and 2) very satisfying. I tried not to wince too much when my son snapped a 128 meg RAM chip in half to make 'arms', when my other son used a screwdriver to gouge out the cone of a computer speaker, and when I had to cut a corner out of a motherboard to get the keyboard input box for a shoulder-mounted rocket launcher. With help from us, and truly excessive amounts of hot glue, we soon had some robots. The boys decorated them with Sharpies and we were done.
A few days later, on a Saturday perfectly suited to watching cartoons, my youngest asked me to help get the box out again and make a new robot. He seemed to have the bug.
So I'd call the project a big success. My oldest, after watching me use a soldering iron to take apart several pieces, is now asking for me to teach him to solder, and they both understand that it's ok to take things apart. I tried to point out the differences between surface mount and through-hole components and what capacitors, resistors, and transformers were, and maybe the next step is helping them make robots that actually do something. I hope that the project sparked some interest in technology and in the cool electronic guts that hide inside even the most simple-looking plastic enclosures. And if not, we had fun and used some creativity along the way.