Parenting: On Making Kids Who Make Stuff

1. Determine your child’s level of interest. A child who’s fascinated by tools or electrical equipment typically demonstrates an almost obsessive interest in them, pays attention, takes direction well, and instinctively focuses on the job at hand. I’ve taught soldering to children as young as eight, and their ability to concentrate is astonishing.

If you’re a DIY enthusiast have a basement tool-and-gadget area, let your child see the fruits of working with these objects and identify with what Mom or Dad does to fix or make things. If you sense your child’s delight in imagining similar creative endeavors, then buying a kit could be a good idea.

via MAKE | 5 Safety Tips for Your Child’s First Tool and Electronic Kits.

Some interesting advice from the folks over at Make a few weeks ago on how to get a kid interested in “making” endeavors.  They have some great advice on how to create parent/child connections involving the electronics hobby.  The advice works for almost any “making” type hobby – building cars to soldering lines to writing computer code to crafting quilts or woodworking.

I am chuckling a bit to myself about the description of a kid who’s “interested” in electronics.  He’s not describing most children – he’s describing kid with an already well-developed, probably two or three year long love affair with a hobby or activity, the type of kid who turns these childhood obsessions into careers (well, look who’s blogging!  I’m willing to bet his description is as much the kids he’s taught as a autobiographical account of his childhood).

My experience tells me it’s a rare child or teen who has a true steady interest in anything.  Children burn through hobbies, interests, book genres, authors, music styles, clothing styles, hair styles, friends and academic success like wildfires through California in a drought with high winds.

Children are made to experiment with themselves – the selves they make now become the self they will be.  Your kid may like Thomas the Tank Engine for months, but when you finish the Thomas the Tank Engine bed, he’s become a nut for dragons  and monsters.  Maybe your sweet teen comes home with a sweet mohawk and some new friends with sweet sense of punk rock.  Your eight year old quits experimenting with being a victim of bullying and experiments being the bully.  Perhaps your son has always loved playing in the garage and suddenly finds a passion in the kitchen.

These changes are normal.  Nothing to sweat too much over, nothing we can do to change it.  Our job, as I see it, is to make the experiment worth something.  If a kid tries learning electronics, they learn skills – logic, perseverance, soldering and debugging – which they can take into other endeavors.  The teen sees the world as an outcast and maybe becomes more accepting of differences.  The child becomes repulsed by their actions and becomes an advocate for playground fairness and justice.  As an adult, both as a teacher, parent and maker-mentor, my job so often is to help my students find the value in their experiences, not judge the experience from my own set of semi-settled values.

So, to sum it up.  When your kid wants to give woodworking or whichever hobby you participate in, be grateful they asked.   Show them what you do.  Then don’t be surprised if she or he changes his mind.  Just be happy for the moments you steal away from the drumbeat of family for the swish of a chisel.

Make it safe & keep the rubberside down this week.