You may have heard of developments in the maker movement over the past few years. The maker movement brings together elements from DIY, traditional crafts, and hacking as well as other digital skills. Introducing your children to the maker movement is an excellent opportunity to build their technical skills while boosting self-confidence. Not to mention it’s fun to build new things!

At its core, the maker movement focuses on building novel items instead of buying what is available at the local store or online. Makers are encouraged to use their creativity to modify existing products or designs to create something new. The best thing is that anyone can be a maker. You don’t have to have a PhD or be a genius. If you are curious, creative, and don’t mind making a few mistakes while you learn then you are well on your way to joining the movement!

Below we explore a few ways to introduce your children to the maker movement and why it is important.

The Importance of Introducing Your Children to the Maker Movement

In the early days of the maker movement, a little over a decade ago, lots of projects focused on robotics and hardware. The cost of entry was high in both knowledge and skills as well as capital. Today, that has drastically changed and the lower barriers allow virtually anyone to become a maker.

Today, you can find everything from robotic cars to quilts at maker events across the country and around the world. These events provide an excellent opportunity to introduce kids to the maker movement.

Building an Interest in STEM

Maker events are a great place to play with new gadgets. These events allow kids a hands-on way to interact with new devices. Imagine a conference hall filled with tables. New gadgets and devices are sprawled all over with friendly people inviting everyone over to try out something new. That is the magic of these events. Many of the makers are more than happy to provide extra attention to kids that show interest and this is one of the key benefits of taking your kids to these events.

Encouraging young children to excel in STEM subjects can sometimes be a challenge. However, after playing with a new robotic dog that can help answer math questions your kids may have a new appreciation for why STEM is important. More importantly, they have a chance to see how what they learn in school translates to the real world.

Foster Curiosity & Inclusion

Maker events encourage exploration and asking questions. Curiosity is welcome. It’s important for children, who are typically not shy as it is, to feel empowered to ask questions and learn. The events, filled with all sorts of novel inventions, are a place where minds can run free and technology can be embraced in a non-threatening (i.e. highly technical and boring) manner.

One of the most important observations from maker events I’ve attended are that more and more young girls are showing up. Encouraging more women to explore careers in tech is something we all have a responsibility to do. One way to help motivate your daughter to explore technical jobs is to get them interested at a young age and dispel the old stereotype that tech is for boys. Really, it’s time that idea gets thrown out as women have created some amazing things and will continue to do so.

Developing Collaboration Skills

How many times have we told our kids to play nice with others? Maybe some of us have to say that more than others, but we’ve all said it before. Introducing your children to the maker movement is a great way for kids to learn how to function as part of a team. Sure, sports are great at introducing team work as well. However, the skills needed for soccer and those for building a robot car are different. Communication skills and learning how to define and execute a process is important for a future career in tech.

While many adults are adjusting to working from home we’ve all run into issues. The maker movement is global so it’s possible your child works with a partner across the world on a project. This might worry some parents, but take it as an opportunity to teach your children about good cyber security practices.

Getting Your Kids Involved

So you agree getting your kids involved in the maker movement is a good idea? That’s great! Heck, you probably didn’t need much encouragement since you know have an excuse to tinker in the garage.

But where should you start?

Visit a Maker Event

As I mentioned above, visiting a maker event is a great way to introduce your kids to the maker movement. These events are fun, affordable, and provide a means of exploring a bunch of cool tech in one place. It really is fun for the entire family and a way to let young minds wander and dream.

If you do attend a maker event here are a few helpful tips:

  • Dress for comfort. You will likely end up doing a bunch of walking so wear comfy shoes that will hold up the entire day.
  • Plan your day in advance. Use the event’s app or online planning tools. Figure out which areas you want to see. If an interesting speaker is attending be sure to get to the speaking area early to get good seats.
  • Consider age. No, not yours. Your kid’s age though will be important. For very young children maker events can be a bit too much. Thousands of people crowding around might not be a great environment for young kids. Of course, with events moving online this isn’t much of an issue these days.

Play With Maker Toys

Looking to get your kid a cool birthday or holiday toy? Maker toys are educational, fun, and let your child return to school saying “look what I built”. That is empowering on many different levels for a child to proudly share their creation and receive recognition from their peers.

A few of my favorites include:

  • Raspberry Pi: the mini computer that can power a home-built weather station, race cars and so much more.
  • Teach the basics of circuity with Squishy Circuits. Kits include LEDs, buzzers, and insulating dough. It’s like Play-Doh when I was a kid, but the much cooler version with lights and sounds. Kits start at $15 and can be as much as $275.
  • The BOSEbuild Speaker Cube will have your child building their own speaker in a matter of hours. Designed for children 8+ years of age this kit comes with cables, connectors and a plastic cube. No tools or soldering will be required so this is something a child can build on their own.
  • MakeyMakey is all about, you guessed it, making stuff! With their invention kit your kids can hook up a banana, piece of bread, or your shoes and send electrical signals to a computer. The setup is super simple with alligator clips, a USB cable, and a circuit board. Kids can explore various activities such as creating their own controller with everyday items.

Provide Encouragement

Nothing dashes a child’s ambition like having a parent make discouraging remarks. Yes, part of making things might involve breaking something. However, stiffing innovation and curiosity will have a more profound long-term impact than a $30 experiment not working. It’s important for kids to learn to try, fail, assess why they failed, and try again. That is, after all, what making things is all about.

I’d encourage all parents who want to foster a maker mentality to encourage their children and not make mountains out of molehills when an experiment goes south. It’s perfectly fine to set boundaries for experiments. For me, anything that could cause a mess (pretty much everything at this point) is done in the garage. Worse case scenario is that a mess is made and I have to get out the hose and/or broom. So it really isn’t that big of an issue and I don’t have to worry about parts falling on the floor or making a mess on the dining table.

Encouragement could also take the form of helping your child create a local maker group. If they really take to the idea it might be fun for them to setup a website to showcase their projects and connect with other local maker children. Also, another learning opportunity as they build and manage their own website!

By this point you can probably tell I like the make movement and think it’s a great idea to get your kids involved. From projects at home to attending events and watching other builders on YouTube, the possibilities are endless for introducing your children to the maker movement.

Now, get off your computer or phone and go build something awesome with your kids!