50 Dangerous Things: Deconstruct an Appliance


Task:  Take apart an appliance and unlock the hidden mysteries inside.


  • Broken Appliance
  • Screwdriver
  • Pliers
  • Crescent Wrench
  • Wire Cutters
  • Safety Goggles (depending on the appliance)
  • Cardboard or Drop Cloth (if you want to contain the mess)

Possible Hazards:

  • Cuts and Scrapes
  • Projectiles
  • Make a Mess

How It All Went Down:

For a long time Eli’s nickname was “Mr. Destructo.”  For most of his two’s and well into his three’s, he destroyed many things in our home.  Most of the time it wasn’t on purpose, he just didn’t really grasp the concept of “gentle.”  Or so we thought.  Somewhere around 3 1/2, Eli discovered screwdrivers and their power to unlock the mystery inside so many common objects.  Every day he’d plead with me, “Mama, can I screw something?”

So awesome, unless a stranger was within earshot.

We had to be really careful not to leave him unsupervised with a screwdriver, or he’d find something to disassemble on his own.  Hope you weren’t too attached to that DVD player.

What we thought was just destructive behavior in the beginning makes total sense when you really think about it.  Whether it’s a toddler smashing things on the ground or a bigger kid disassembling an appliance, it’s really about unlocking the mystery of the devices and tools we use every day.  Once you have access to the inner workings of something, you can start to process how it works and how it’s created.

In an interview before he passed, Steve Jobs reflected on a childhood in which his father encouraged him to take things apart and put them back together again.  He had his own workspace in the garage.  He bought Heathkits, and learned to put very intricate things together to make a working product.  He talked about the self-confidence and knowledge these kinds of activities gave him, and we all know where those positive experiences took him in life.

A few practical notes before you begin:

  • If you don’t have any broken appliances around your home, search for appliances at garage sales and thrift stores.  Eli’s deconstructed cordless phones, VCRs, CD players, and remote control toys.
  • There are a few appliances that should never be taken apart without expert guidance, including old tube televisions, CRT monitors and refrigerators.  If in doubt, read any labels or safety warnings you can find on the appliance.
  • As they remove parts, ask your child to try and figure out what they think they’re for.
  • Have jars or food storage containers available to store miscellaneous screws, gears and springs.  What can you make with all those extra parts?

This is one of the cheapest and most enjoyable activities a kid can do, and it’s so incredibly liberating for them to be given the freedom to take a once-forbidden object in their hands and manipulate it as they like.  So be risky for a change and instead of asking your kids to be careful with something, ask them to destroy it instead!

Want more?  Read about the rest of our experiences with 50 Dangerous Things. Inspired by Gever Tulley’s book 50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do).



  1. Been thinking about getting a copy of 50 Dangerous Things … thanks for reminding me to do so. My 7 year old would SO dig this!