The spirit of DIY (do it yourself) is ingrained in American culture. Ever since the founding of the nation, Americans have loved to create things, make do with what they have, and above all, improve themselves through hard work and effort. Although modern technology has certainly made life easier and allowed us to become a bit more sedentary, the joy of invention and creation remains a very powerful force in our culture.
Lately, this force has found new life through the Maker Movement. Essentially, this movement is DIY on electronic steroids. It’s a sort of subculture that combines DIY’s emphasis on individualism and self-sustainability with the incredible accessibility of modern electronics, as well as a healthy dose of the Internet’s free and open flow of information.
Using everything from woodworking tools to 3D printers, and advanced code to Scratch, Makers create robots, vehicles, wearable electronics, and more. Children and education are at the forefront of the Maker Movement, and it’s provided an environment in which kids learn that they can do anything, create anything, and be anything if they truly apply themselves.
How Makers Learn
The core concept of the Maker Movement is constructivism. Simply put, it’s the notion that people learn best through doing, rather than reading or watching. How many times have you mastered a difficult concept or technique by simply diving in, immersing yourself in it, and learning with your hands? It applies to everything from gardening to car repair to coding, and while nobody is saying the good old fashioned lecture is obsolete, the evidence is strong that letting kids get their hands dirty will result in smarter, more efficient education.
The Maker Movement embraces constructivism fully by providing a safe environment for kids to experiment and learn by building. Online and in physical Makerspaces around the country, kids and adults alike can talk to each other, learn from each other, and above all, build together. These spaces provide tools, supplies, and fellow members who share the passion to invent.
Collaboration and a healthy spirit of cooperation is key to Maker culture. Helping each other out with a thorny problem in a new creation, spreading around a new technique, or just showing off one’s successes in a step-by-step walkthrough lets everyone learn faster. The Internet has made open communication faster and easier than ever before, and there are numerous websites where people swap plans, techniques, and snippets of code to the benefit of all.
What Young Makers Become
All of this is good news for the United States. There is currently a talent gap in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) fields. Our educational system isn’t keeping up with the needs of modern industry, and valuable science and engineering jobs are moving overseas.
By instilling a love of science, creativity, and invention in your child, you’re giving them a leg up in the modern world. Technology is so ingrained in our economy and culture that schools are considering offering a language credit for coding. As children become adults in years to come, they are going to find more and more that a basic knowledge of electronics and computer science is no longer optional in many professions.
By teaching these basic concepts through play and imagination, you make them second-nature for your child. The Maker Movement is all about learning through doing, and what kids love to do is play. Turn education into play, and you’re setting your child up for success throughout their entire life.
How to Encourage the Maker in Your Life
So, the Maker Movement is a great thing for kids. How can you get them started?
- Events – There are all sorts of Maker events taking place all over the country. The largest ones are held under the banner of Maker Faire. There are dozens of Maker Faires each year, and they’re an amazing time for people of any age. In addition to Maker Faire, look up Makerspaces in your area. There are spaces everywhere these days, and they’re a great opportunity for your kid to see the potential of tinkering, not to mention get their hands on some tools themselves. Call ahead to make sure the Makerspace near you welcomes visitors of all ages, and find out if they are holding an open house or other event.
- Toys – Kids love toys. That hasn’t changed. You can take advantage of that simple fact by providing toys that will spark their imagination and urge to create. Although video games and action figures have their place, sprinkle in toys that require more creativity. Legos are a great choice, naturally. Lego is an industry all its own these days, and it’s just as much of a classic as it ever was. Combine it with our own mCookie line of Microduino parts, and your kids can create functional machines and computers. They can even pick up some coding along the way. It’s a perfect entry point into building electronics from the ground up.
- Culture – The other things kids love is media, just like everyone else. As you’re watching TV, reading books, or playing games with your kids, place an emphasis on entertainment that involves science, creativity, and creation. We’ve put together our own list of media that can inspire your kids, and it’s not hard to find more. We’re in an age where it’s cool to be a nerd and the smart guy gets the girl (and vice versa!) Leverage that to get your child excited about learning. Follow up that movie or game with a trip to the workshop or Makerspace to let off some of that creative energy.
- Participate – Above all, talk to your child and join in the fun with them. Build with them for as long as they want you to, and when they’re ready to do their own thing, let them show you their creations. Indulge their excitement about creativity, and support them by providing the tools they need to create. It will pay off over time, and you’ll be instilling a lifelong habit of curiosity and creation that will serve your child well for their entire life. The world is only getting more and more complex as technology advances, and the path to success starts early.