Category: Arduino adventures

IT WORKS! Don’t-worry-clock > part 2 < Arduino project
IT WORKS! Don’t-worry-clock > part 2 < Arduino project

“Mommy, when are you coming to pick me up?” – “When your heart is fully lit, honey.” – part 2

I’ve made a cool toddler clock for my son Vico, who just started school a few weeks ago. Not knowing when we will be reunited is stressful for him. I wanted to take away his worries so he can enjoy his day more fully, so I created a little don’t-worry clock which he can use to check how long it will be until I pick him up. Because he can’t tell time yet, I thought of something different using an Arduino. In part one of this article I shared the first steps toward making this thing and in this part, I’ll (proudly) tell you about the final product and if Vico actually benefited from it.

Electro Lasagne

It was a race against time to get the toddler clock done before his first day of school, but I made it! It took really long before my special battery and battery shield arrived, and it had been a hot minute (20 years! I’m getting old…) since I soldered something. With shaky hands and a small drop of sweat on my forehead, I managed to solder the battery shield successfully together. Pffew!

Arduino project - Adafruit PowerBoost 500 shield solder

Heart clock apart

Then the time came to connect the parts together and switch on the power. I thought: Did I figure this out correctly? Will it work? Here it goes… little check lights appeared on the Arduino, the battery shield and the dot matrix powered up and… *BAM* the little red heart lit up! It’s alive, alive!!!!! I was so happy that I ran across the room holding my precious toddler clock in the air like this:

simba animated gif

Yep, that’s how happy I felt!

The heart

My first idea for the animation with the dot matrix was to turn off one row of LEDs every hour. This way it visually counted down (check my mini video in part one). If all rows were turned off, school time would be over and I’d come and pick him up. But rows are boring! So I thought of a little heart shape that would fill up during the course of the day. (The video below shows a fast version of the animation.) To make thing even more clear for Vico, I stuck a little white heart on top of the dot matrix to enhance the effect. Also, if for whatever reason the power would fail, the heart would be still there and it would be a little less of a disappointing for Vico.

Besides, the heart shape has a special meaning for us. I often draw a little heart on our wrist with lip liner. That way, if we miss each other on a work day, daycare day or school day, we can look at our little hearts and feel a little less far apart.

The assembled heart clock. I stuck the pieces on top of each other with adhesive velcro. 

Later, I realized I should protect the battery better than I did in this project. It should be put in some kind of a hard plastic box or something like that. Batteries like these are vulnerable and need to be tucked safely away as they can cause heat and even fire. We don’t want that. Maybe a 3D printed custom made container? I don’t know. Any ideas, anyone? Let me know in the comments below.

The snack box

Unfortunately, I didn’t have any time left to sew or attach the toddler clock to Vico’s backpack. It was literally the night before his first day, so I dove into the kitchen cabinets looking for a small box to put the clock in. Luckily I found a little snack box in which the clock neatly fitted. It even held the clock in its place tightly. Furthermore, because of the white lid, it had a cool see-through effect.

Heart in box

The don’t-worry clock in a little snack box, with cool see-through effect. 

Did Vico benefit from the clock?

And now the mother of all questions: Did Vico feel less worried at school with this clock in his backpack? The answer (proudly) is: Absolutely! The clock gave him a sense of time and a sense of connection. When I showed him the clock for the first time, I told him I made “a special heart clock” for him. I explained what he could do with it and that if he wanted to know when I was coming to pick him up, he could peek into his backpack and look at the heart. Another interesting insight is that making this clock helped me cope better with this (stressful) period of change in our lives because I build something especially for him, which fits his needs. Let me tell you: that felt really awesome.

Next adventure: Toddler clock version 2.0

Vico used his clock during the first three weeks of school. After this period he was used to the new school, the kids, and the teachers and he didn’t need it anymore. Even so, I want to make another version of this clock, a sturdier and smaller version. I’ll be using a very cool multi-colored LED ring (3 cm diameter!) with a very small battery. Giuliana, Vico’s little sister, will be going to school in 1,5 years and, who knows, maybe the toddler clock will help her too!

16 NeoPixel Ring

NeoPixel ring with 16 multicolored LED lights <3

I also want to improve the code I made for this clock because I think it’s probably very sloppy. (That didn’t make it less fun! ;)) I haven’t coded in years, so I’m very rusty at it and with these kinds of projects I want to pick up my coding again so I can help my kids with their projects in the future.

To be continued!

I’m looking forward to your comments about this Arduino project. If you have any tips, ideas or comments, please leave them in the comments section below! 

Robo greets,


Don’t-worry-clock for my toddler > part 1 < Arduino project
Don’t-worry-clock for my toddler > part 1 < Arduino project

“When are you coming back, Mommy?” – “Just look at your lights, sweetheart.”

While squeezing his little arms tightly around my neck, my little man whispers in my ear: “Mommy, when are you coming to pick me up? How long will it take until you’ll be back? I miss you, mommy. I don’t wanna…” It gets me whenever something big like this happens.
Vico’s first day of school is coming up, so worries and stress lurk around the corner. This will be the first time he’ll set foot in a new school building, with a new teacher and new kids who probably are as nervous as Vico, which doesn’t help the situation at all. The biggest stress trigger for Vico does not know when I’m coming back to pick him up. Time for an Arduino project to help my little boy through his first week(s?) of school!

Arduino - sketch backpack project image

Here’s the plan

In this blog post, I’ll tell you about my don’t-worry clock Arduino project. Vico can’t tell time yet, and I thought of a solution to help him get a sense of how long it’ll be until school is out. The plan is to use an Arduino microcontroller together with an 8×8 dot matrix module to create a countdown clock. I know what you’re thinking right now: What are you talking about, Francesca! This is too technical! Don’t worry, it isn’t that complicated. The dot matrix is just an 8×8 grid with LED lights, and the Arduino is a microcontroller that controls the LED lights. (You can read more about an Arduino in my earlier article.)

Ardiuno by DFRobot

From idea to reality

First of all, I thought: Ok Fran, think… How are you going to make this happen? I am an Arduino newbie, so I had to figure out how the Arduino and the LEDs work before I could create a clock out of it. I decided to make a small animation that turned columns with eight LEDs off with a certain delay. The idea was that when all LED columns are turned off, the school day is over. This animation was pretty easy to make with all the example code, and YouTube video’s out there on the internet.

Wireless power. But how?

I was wondering how to create wireless power because I wanted to build the LED clock inside or onto Vico’s backpack. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be able to take it with him to school. The internet to the rescue! While browsing around, I discovered Adafruit. A very, very, VERY cool New York City company, founded by Limor Fried, also known as Ladyada.

“Her goal was to create the best place online for learning electronics and making the great products for makers of all ages and skill levels.”
. After grinding through this gem of a website, I found a PowerBoost 500 Shield by Adafruit. A shield is a piece of hardware that you attach on top of the Arduino. It’s like an electronic lasagne. The Arduino gets its power from a 3,7 volt Lithium Ion battery that connects to the shield. And there we go, wireless power! #foreverlearning

Because of the high shipping and customs costs, I decided to search for a Dutch online electronics shop that sells Adafruit stuff. Luckily I found one, so now I can finish my toddler clock Arduino project!

Adruino project - Adafruit powerboost shield image

Above: PowerBoost Shield 500 by Adafruit (Some soldering needed, but don’t let that intimidate you. It’s just welding two pieces of metal together with a hot metal rod.)

After a very long wait, my shield and battery finally arrived. And I can proudly say that I’ve made it! The night before his very first day of school my sons’ toddler clock came to life! Read all about it in part 2.

I really like to hear from you, so leave a comment. What do you think of this toddler clock idea? If you have tips, questions or cool ideas, please let me know!

Robo cheers!


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