A Big Pile of Fantastic Ideas to Get Kids Outside Making and Doing This Summer
By JESSICA LAHEY date published MAY 22, 2014
It’s May, time for teachers to revisit their bookshelves and think about summer reading selections. This year, I’m considering a different kind of summer reading for my kids, books that will inspire them to head outside and make, do and create. My younger son, Finn, likes these sorts of projects, and while I can provide him with scrap lumber, nails, a drill and some screws, he and I wanted to find some additional inspiration.
Judy Russell, our town librarian, enthusiastically joined in my research and helped me come up with some fantastic resources for inventing, constructing and making.
An excellent place to start, she said, is your local library. She pointed out that libraries have been ahead of the curve on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education and many of them offer construction classes. She also directed me to our local Makerspace, a sort of community center combined with tools and educators. We found a directory of Makerspace programs around the world, and many of these Makerspaces offer tinkering programs for kids.
Our library just acquired “The Art of Tinkering,” by Karen Wilkinson and Mike Petrich of the Exploratorium and its Institute for Inquiry in San Francisco, on the recommendation of a science teacher. This book offers a great way to start looking for beginner-level projects, as the required “tools” are commonly available in most households. The projects passed muster with my own 10-year-old maker, and most of them are projects he can tackle and complete on his own.
While he was excited about many of Ms. Wilkinson and Mr. Petrich’s ideas, Finn said what he really wants to do this summer is whittle and carve magic wands and wizard staffs. He acquired a new pocketknife recently, and he’s been itching to put it to use. I immediately thought of Gever Tulley, founder of the Tinkering School. His popular TED video, “Five Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Children Do,” has nearly three million views, and is worth a watch. I picked up a copy of Tulley’s book, “50 Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Children Do,” and Finn was thrilled with it. The table of contents includes some of his favorite activities, including whittling, making rope swings, playing with fire, and map reading.
Ms. Russell also handed me a copy of Make Magazine, and directed me toward the book “The Best of MAKE (Make 75 Projects From the Pages of MAKE),” a compilation of the magazine’s best projects. The publisher, Maker Media, founded the Maker Movement as well as the Maker Education Initiative that sponsors Maker Corp sites at libraries, museums and schools across the country. These sites provide supervision by Maker Corps Members, mentors and instructors that guide and direct kids’ construction and innovation efforts, even in the summer.
A science teacher, Christine Mytko, chimed in with an enthusiastic recommendation for the book “Zero to Maker: Learn (Just Enough) to Make (Just About) Anything,” by David Lang, calling it an “essential read” for aspiring tween and teenage makers. “Lang reminds us all that we all have to start somewhere and that the maker community offers many collaborative opportunities to learn and have fun with makers of all skill levels,” she said.
By the end of my research frenzy, I had accumulated a large pile of books and magazines, and an extensive list of websites on making, doing and creating. I could not help noticing that the publishing industry has targeted dads as the consumers of these kid-focused project books and the primary makers, doers and creators in the family. As I am the keeper of the power tools in our house, I had to grit my teeth and push through my irritation in order to give the wide array of “cool dad” books like “Geek Dad,” “Made by Dad,” “Handy Dad,” “Be the Coolest Dad on the Block” and “Dad’s Book of Awesome Projects” their due. Good thing, too, because despite their dad-centric focus, this geeky, handy mom found plenty of cool ideas.
After many happy hours of research, Finn and I present our favorite books and websites, the resources we will use this summer as we tinker, build and create the projects of our dreams.
“Unbored: The Essential Field Guide to Serious Fun,” by Joshua Glenn and Elizabeth Foy Larsen (Finn liked the section on forts and shelters).
“Made by Dad: 67 Blueprints for Making Cool Stuff,” by Scott Bedford (Finn thought the Godzilla skyline would be a cool addition to his room).
“Tree Houses and Play Houses You Can Actually Build,” by Jeanie Trusty Stiles and David Stiles (we have our eye on the Hobbit treehouse).
Jessica Lahey is an educator, writer and speaker. She writes about parenting and education for The New York Times, The Atlantic, Vermont Public Radio and her own blog, Coming of Age in the Middle. Her book, “The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed,” will be published by HarperCollins in 2015.