We are raising our kids in a very different environment than we had in our childhood. Specifically, children growing up middle and upper class families are not only surrounded by a considerable amount of possessions of their own but also are exposed to what other people have and do in social media from young ages. This results in a mindset of “want” and constant consumption. The urge to consume is not only for physical belongings but also intangible matters such as information.
My kids are no exception. They cannot refrain themselves from asking us to buy them things that they want or think they need. They play with single purpose toys, watch YouTube videos and play video games. I want them to grow up making and creating instead of consuming and utilizing these skills for problem solving and even entrepreneurship.
They have been helping us around the house making things such as cooking and DIY projects since they are little. More recently, they have started to work on projects of their own initiatives. Last December, there was a fundraiser fair at their school where in past years adult crafters would sell their wares for the holidays. This year our board decided to offer the same opportunity to students with no financial expectation merely for the experience.
My daughter was up for it as soon as she’s heard about it. At first, she didn’t know what to do but she wanted to do it. We went through various resources to find something that she can do independently and like doing it at the same time. She picked bath salts and bath bombs. She found the recipes she needed and fragrances she wanted to use. I purchased the ingredients and materials she gave me the list of. She worked diligently making her bath bombs. She failed few times but with persistence and some support she made a good amount of bath bombs and bath salts. She packed them and labeled them with the design she commissioned to a graphic designer (for her YouTube channel) I found for her.
The craft fair was a huge success for everyone. You can see kids’ amazing creations in this album. I was so proud of every single one of them and was able to find really great holiday gifts beyond my expectations at the fair.
It was a success for my daughter as well. She sold all her bath bombs and some of the salts. She – and my son – learned about expenses and revenues. They calculated and discovered they broke even. She paid me for the ingredients I purchased. It was a great learning experience from the beginning to the end.
There were few things I learned along the way in this maker movement to support them become courageous makers:
1. Lead by example: I have experienced this first hand in our house. When kids see us making or creating something instead of buying, such as Bunk Bed curtains, bedside organizer or gymnastics beam, they pick up on it and choose to make/create to solve a problem or fulfill a need. Whether it’s a dress for a doll or an airport to complete a LEGO set, they utilize the materials they have on hand to make what’s needed.
2. Let go of judgement and criticism: The top reason which nips promising makers in their buds is being judged and criticized, especially by their parents’. Unfortunately, I’m guilty of this more times than I’d like to admit. When my children come to me with an idea that “I think” is too childish, outrageous or plain stupid, I involuntarily show it. I hesitate, offer alternatives or blurt out a negative comment. When my son decided to make paper planes and customized drawings to sell to family members at a New Year ’s Eve celebration one year, I snickered and advised! him to make something useful and lasting. Luckily, they were persistent in their idea and they did it. During the craft fair, one of my son’s friends was drawing personalized caricature portraits and I thought his drawings were brilliant. What made me think my son’s paper planes and drawings were not worthy, I don’t know? Above is an unfinished cart my son and his friend is building. It barely fits in the back of our minivan and is now sitting in the middle of our living room without any judgments.
3. Celebrate successful creations, learn from failures: Sometimes creations are beautiful but sometimes not to our taste or doesn’t make sense to us at all. It’s all objective. Some creations with a purpose and some will be successful and some will fail. Once we set out to change the sound of my son’s alarm clock. We found instructions, got the materials and tried, once…, tried again.. tried one more time and it didn’t work like it should as shown in the YouTube video we watched. It might have been the clock itself or the audio module but whatever it was, it failed to work. At the end, we took a deep sigh and said “we tried”. We learned how alarm clocks work. We learned what a digital clock screen look like. It was disappointing but it was also fun. Then we moved on to our next adventure.
4. How about those perfectionists: Not all kids – or adults – can handle setbacks and failures with acceptance and grace. Even success might not be as satisfactory when they have very high expectations or constantly compare themselves to others. It is hard to respond when your kids come to you and lament that they tried but they think their work sucks, even though you think it’s great. It’s hard to make them feel that they’re heard when you feel the urge to respond that you think their work is great and they should get over it. We are not programmed to respond with an empathetic acknowledgement of their feelings, instead we try to console. It takes an effort to make them feel heard and encourage them to continue practicing instead of beating themselves down with unrealistic perfection or giving up.
5. Socialize and network with other makers: A great way to expand your makers’ horizons is to attend an event or a gathering where they can connect with their own. They can learn, be inspired, see that they are part of a community and make connections with their peers. Craft Fairs, Maker Faire, Hak4 Kids are some examples of these events.
6. Avoid gender stereotypes or labels: This is a hard one even for me, assuming having a girl and a boy would help a bit when it comes to raising kids without gender stereotypes. In our household, all materials and toys regardless of their commonly assumed gender labels, are at the disposal of both kids at all times. My husband cooks, I do repairs and vice versa. You might find them play a game with dolls stuck in a princess castle hiding from villains being saved by heroes in Lego planes and cranes. On the other hand, as they grow, they bring home new labels such as girls’ books, boys’ colors. This labeling hinders creativity and making. When I taught my kids knitting and sewing, I taught both of them. When we go to STEM event on coding or robots, we bring both of them. As parents, we work hard not only not to implant any gender stereotypes but also to prevent the acceptance of the labels society imposes on them.
7. Look beyond STEM: There is a common tendency to lean toward STEM activities both at schools as well as society in general when it comes to the “maker movement”. Not everyone is into STEM. There are many opportunities to be a great maker in literature, arts, culinary arts, sports, and humanities. We need to let our kids experiment to help them choose their own interests.
8. Choose activities, materials and toys which encourage tinker and create: We are lucky to be living in a city with lots of museums, shows and exhibits. Some of them are even free, like the Strandbeest exhibit by Theo Jansen show in the photo above. Open-ended construction toys, an arts & craft corner with organized variety of materials or family experiment nights encourage kids to create.
9. Maintain the balance between experimenting and perseverance: As a parent, I am more than happy to foster my children’s curiosity and let them experiment different fields as long as it doesn’t run down my finances and my sanity. I want them to try out things until they find something they can get in the flow of and cannot give up. But I don’t want to let them run around impulsively or give up easily either. As a parent, we try to guide them gently balancing between experimentation and perseverance. This requires lots of observation and listening. When you know your child, you’ll be giving that loving parents’ nudge to keep them going for that extra mile or accept that a project or an activity is not meant to be.
10. Don’t mind the mess: I think with creating and making the biggest pet peeve of parents is the mess that kids might leave behind. The solution? Giving kids their own space in exchange of the accountability of cleaning it up. This is harder when kids are younger but once the habit is learned early on, kids become independent makers.
My kids are older and they are into sharing in addition to creating. They make videos and both have YouTube channels, Sparkle Studio and B&R Fix it. What’s even more impressive for me is that they are in charge of their ideas, planning, video setup, filming and even editing and uploads. I still help my daughter for parts of her editing but the rest is their work.
Feel free to check out their channels, share them with your children and as they say “like, comment and subscribe“.