The renaissance of self-reliance has brought about such things as a flood of creative ideas on Pinterest, Arduino projects, popular YouTube DIY Channels, and the Raspberry Pi movement. But why should grown-ups have all the fun?
Kids are born into technology, so why not include them in the experience? Teach them to fix and create things and you teach them to take control of their world.
Why Should I Introduce DIY to My Kids?
Because you want them to be people who can solve problems, be creative, think analytically, and have healthy self-esteem. You want them to be able to adapt to or overcome life’s obstacles. Most importantly, you want them to never feel helpless and alone. Does that sound like a lot to expect from doing DIY with your young ones? Maybe, but at least one expert thinks it can.
Clayton Christensen, an intellectual, as well as physical, giant, and the originator of the term “disruptive innovation”, thinks so. He believes that,
“…really creative people have almost always had two experiences as young children: one is, their fathers or mothers had a disposition always to fix things for themselves. So if something went wrong in the house, they would never call the repairman—they’d always take it apart and fix it.”
Christensen explains, “When they worked with their fathers or mothers to fix things it did two things: one, is it gave them a curiosity to know how things work…and the other thing that experience does for them is it gives them the confidence that if something is wrong they can fix it.”
Whether that’s a learned behavior or a genetic trait is still up for discussion, but we’ll find that the answer is somewhere in between. But why bet on genetics to do the job, when you can do it yourself?
When Should I Introduce DIY to My Kids?
Now. No, not now, as in stop reading this article, but now in general. Even when they are toddlers they can create with building blocks, Duplo or Lego, and other toys. Just having your children around when you do things leaves an impression. Then they might grow up realizing they can build, and do, just about anything into which they put their effort. They’ll learn that science and technology is for everyone.
Is it Safe for Kids to do DIY?
It can be at least as safe as riding a bike, if not more safe. When you’re looking at something to involve your kids in, take the time to go through the plans and the tools needed. Assess the situation.
- Is anything toxic?
- Are there sharp edges?
- Does it require supervision?
- Does it require power tools or blades?
- Do they need personal protective equipment (PPE) like safety glasses or gloves?
After answering those questions and others, you can decide if this project is safe for the skill level of your child.
What Kind of Projects Can I Do with My Kids?
What do you like to do? What do they like to do? Where do those two things meet? That’ll tell you what kinds of things will be the most fun and enriching for all involved. Of course, involve them in more mundane things as well. Every project is a teaching and learning opportunity — from painting the walls, to using a flying drone for photography.
Speaking of building cool stuff, let’s look at some resources to help you do just that.
There isn’t a better place to start. Really. Think Scouting meets homeschooling meets Pinterest. DIY.org has everything to get you started on fun projects with the kids. Even the joining process is fun. You sign up as a parent, and then you sign up your kids.
The signup process allows you to give each of the kids a unique username that does not identify them to the world. There’s even a username generator that comes up with some very funny creations, like ‘Wyoming Mega’ or ‘Noise Blame’.
Your kids can earn badges — like in Scouting. The can learn new skills with your help — like in homeschooling. And they can share their projects with other kids — like Pinterest.
Once you and your kid are registered (yes, you both must register) pick different skills to learn, to earn the different badges. Badges do cost $4.99 USD each, but that’s pretty reasonable for most people. Once you’ve picked a skill, you’ll have to complete a certain number of projects in that skill area.
Now you pick a project. For the Bitster badge example, one of the projects you can choose is the Wake Up with the Sun. In that challenge, your kid builds an electronic device that is light activated. It’s age appropriate as it uses the littleBits snap together electronic components. See the kind of projects other kids did to get some ideas. You can see exactly what is needed, and how to, build a light activated device.
You or your kids can video the project and then post it to the site for credit towards the badge. Have some fun with it. There are several free video editors you could use. You don’t have to show yourself or your kids in the video — that’s up to you.
You can even combine elements from other badges and earn them within the same project. For example in the Wake Up with the Sun project, one person made an alarm triggered by light that played music when a box was opened. For that, they got credit towards their Photoresistor (Solar Engineer Badge), Light-Activated Alarm (Bitster Badge), and Intruder Alarm (Bitster Badge) projects.
There are plenty of badges to earn from many different areas of knowledge. There are the DIY things, but there are also the other life skills like Forager (food from the wilds), Chef (Real Cooking), and Medic (First Aid) that will serve them all their life. Currently, there are 123 badges to be earned and new ones get added periodically. Don’t you wish they had this for grown-ups too?
Did you know that if you’ve got a human dynamics expert, a professor of engineering, a comic creator, and a toy designer, you can put them together to create a kid’s DIY comic book series? That’s what happened when Joost Bonsen, Dr. Saul Griffith, Nick Dragotta, and Ingrid Dragotta got together and developed the idea that kids can learn all sorts of STEM things easily. They accomplish this goal by showing kids how they can, “…use everyday objects to invent toys you can build!”.
Presenting it all in the medium of comics really appeals to kids in a format they already understand and love. That’s the masterstroke in this plan, really.
These aren’t just instructions masquerading as comics, either. They have a storyline, humor, cultural references, and distinct characters with unique personalities. Celine and Tucker, siblings with rivalry and cooperation, tackle robot dinosaurs, zeppelin flying baddies, and an energy crisis, in the most amazing ways.
Even if someone doesn’t do the things that are in the comics, the comics still are worth reading just for fun. The [RE]Ignition books are really graphic novels. You can view or buy a lot of the comics on their website, and they’re also available at comic book stores, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble. If you can’t find them in a store near you, maybe talk to the store manager about bringing them in. This series has been around for ten years now — it’s worthwhile for them to carry it.
Not sure what a Makerspace is? Imagine a shop class that functions a bit more like a community center. These are places that like-minded people put together and filled with different kinds of tools, electronics, books, computers and resources. Plus, they really enjoy sharing their knowledge and learning from others too.
Some already have dedicated programs or memberships for youth, and more and more are opening up to include older kids and young adults in the fun of invention. Some Makerspaces also run special kids’ days and day camps.
To find a maker space, or learn how you can start one, head over to Spaces at Makerspace.com. If you live in or near a city, there’s a good chance there’s a Makerspace there. If you don’t see anything on their website about including kids, maybe try giving them a call and asking. It might be something they’re considering doing.
Maybe you’d like to help get one going. Check out the video below about how to make a youth Makerspace happen.
Where Can I Get DIY Supplies?
That all depends what you’re trying to do. You might even have most of the items you need around the house already. Another great cheap source is to recover parts from used electronics. If you’re crafting things, your local dollar store or craft shop will have what you need. If you’re building things, check out your local hardware store, or hobby shop.
If you’re doing some electronics or prototyping, look for a Makerspace or DIY Camp near you, or shop online.
- MakerShed.com has a good selection of pre-made kits as well as individual components, tools, and equipment.
- LittleBits.cc offers a line of easy to connect electronic components if you’re young one isn’t quite ready for soldering.
- KiwiCrate.com is a subscription service that sends your family a DIY kit of some sort every month. You get a surprise and a project! How fun!
Check out the resources above with your kids and see what would be the most fun for you. Then get together what you need and do it. Perhaps the most important part of “do it yourself” is the “do”.
Do you and your kids tinker together? Have they made something that they are especially proud of? Been to a Makerspace and want to share that experience. Let’s talk about it in the comments below.
Image Credits: Next Generation of Maker via Howtoons.com, Girl with Building Blocks via FreeImages.com, Girl with Safety Glasses via Shutterstock, Girl with Circuit Board via Shutterstock, Furby Dissected via Gratisography, CSM Library via Flickr.