I’m the proud owner of an Electronics Learning Lab from RadioShack; it’s my second one in my life. That helped me to understand things like resistance, capacitance, and basic digital logic. That year at Florida Tech studying to be a computer engineer didn’t hurt much, either.
Lately I have been eying Arduino kits, lots of opportunities there. I also recently saw this ad on Reddit for a NerdKit. The cool thing about the NerdKit is the stuff that’s included with it – an LCD screen for starters. They also include a temp sensor (LM34) and 4 2n7000 MOSFETS. Of course the instructions also include tips for using this stuff. The value here is in the convenience. I don’t have to now go and buy the temp sensor and MOSFETS separately, or the LCD for that matter. They are a little more expensive than a typical Arduino kit, but at $80, it’s not that much more expensive. Definitely a good gift.