One of the new favorite activities around here is dismantling old, broken machines. Armed with screwdrivers and pliers, the kids have taken apart a tape deck, a turntable, and a fan, all scavenged curbside in Brooklyn, and are eagerly clamoring for more.
My kids were already in a phase of being extra fascinated with electricity, thanks to a book on the topic my husband saved from the rubbish heap at the town dump near our upstate cabin. So taking apart actual machines could hardly be more satisfying to them. It's at once a treasure hunt ("I found the motor!") and an outlet for kids' more destructive impulses; it allows them to use grown-up tools, which is always exciting; it helps impart an intuitive sense of how things actually work.
For me, this pursuit has had a considerable fringe benefit, in that it has gotten my kids enthused about garage sales and thrift stores. We happily roamed the Catskills over Labor Day weekend, finding old Walkmans for 25 cents, blenders for 50 cents, and toasters for a buck. We assembled quite a stockpile of cool junk, which we can look forward to disassembling during the fast-approaching housebound days of winter.