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Taking apart machines provides great insight into their inner workings. We use so many gadgets and machines every day, but often we don’t know what makes them work. Opening the machine up allows us to see all the different parts and understand a little more about how they work.

These activities are part of Science World's Big Science for Little Hands program. They were developed and tested with Preschool and Kindergarten educators.

Gadgets and Contraptions printable guide


  • Take apart complex machines to see how the parts work together.


  • Old/used toasters

  • Hair dryers

  • Rotary Telephones

  • Clocks with large gears

  • Screwdrivers and other hand tools

  • Book The Way Things Work by David Macaulay, or the website How Stuff Works

  • Camera (optional)

  • Hint: Thrift stores are good places to purchase older appliances

Key Questions

  • What does this appliance do? Tell me the story of this machine.
  • How does it work? What happens when it is turned on?
  • What do you think is inside this machine?
  • What is the same about our two toasters? What's different about them?
  • Which part of the toaster heats up and darkens the bread?
  • How does the toast pop back up?
  • What is the same about our two hairdryers? What's different about them?
  • Which part of the hair dryer moves the air? Which parts make the air hot?
  • What is similar between a toaster and a hairdryer?

What To Do

Safety Notes: Children must be supervised at all times. Some appliances will contain sharp pieces. Avoid taking apart televisions and large screens, which can store charge and pose a shock risk. Remove batteries before giving appliances to children. Once an appliance has been taken apart, do not use again.

  1. Examine the outside of the appliance. If possible, try turning it on.
  2. Draw or describe the machine and how it works.
  3. Remove the outer casing of the appliance using a screwdriver. Start by looseningthe screws and let the children unscrew them the rest of the way. Record the process of disassembly with a camera, drawings or video.
  4. Examine the inside of the machine and guess what each part does.
  5. Repeat with another appliance of the same type.
  6. Repeat with other types of appliances.

Hint: Practice taking apart the appliances beforehand and loosen all the screws. Avoid appliances that are highly digital/computerized – there’s not much to “see” inside.


  • Try reassembling the toaster!Use parts of the appliances to create something new! For example, allow the students to craft sculptures or "inventions" using the appliance pieces.
  • Try taking apart other common machines, such as pendulum clocks, telephones, radios and fans.
  • Machine art: use the appliance parts to make imprints in clay, to make rubbings using crayons and paper, and as stamps using paint.