By MOLLY BAKER[TINKERING
Brothers Noah and Jacob take a break from engineering with some recreational gun play near their cardboard-box stronghold.Like a lot of boys, Jacob and Noah Budnitz like to build things. And they like to take things apart.
re identifying projects that teach these skills. Photo: Rich Addicks for The Wall Street Journal.
First it was Bristle Blocks, then Tinkertoys. They went through Legos—lots of Legos. But now, Jacob, age 10, and Noah, age 8, have graduated to other types of building materials: Doorknobs, alarm clocks and telephones. Plastic bottles and cardboard boxes. Scotch tape. Duct tape. Keys without locks, locks without keys.
One thing they don’t use? Directions.
When the boys use imagination and whatever they find at hand to create something, their mother, Tina Budnitz, calls it tinkering. Their latest project was the “Cricketnator 5000,” a contraption for feeding Noah’s pet bearded-dragon lizard, Spikey.
The invention moves live crickets through a bath of calcium powder (for proper lizard bone growth) and into the lizard’s tank, where they meet their fate—and the boys don’t have to touch the crickets.
Not Just Playing—Tinkering
“There was a lot of trial and error with tubes and a few loose crickets in the house along the way,” says Ms. Budnitz, of Norcross, Ga. “The mistakes are part of the discovery process.”
Parents have long worried about how kids, as they get older, spend more time with videogames, cellphones and computers and less time tinkering.
Now, Ms. Budnitz and a growing number of like-minded parents are fighting back by encouraging unstructured, hands-on creativity.
A few years ago, toy companies vowed to focus on developing products that would keep kids playing with toys longer, says Adrienne Appell, trend specialist for the Toy Industry Association.
The industry’s effort may have paid off. Building and construction toys were one of the few retail growth engines in toys last year. Sales of hands-on building toys jumped 23% to $1.6 billion in 2011 from $1.3 billion, while toys overall fell to $21.2 billion from $21.7 billion, according to NPD Group.
But true tinkering is more than following directions to assemble prepackaged parts. Ms. Budnitz thinks the unstructured experience is being squeezed out of childhood. With most building toys, “you can’t fail,” she says. “It’s much more fun to tinker and fail and figure things out.”
When MAKE Magazine started in 2005, its audience was adult do-it-yourselfers interested in electronics, metalworking, robotics, woodworking and computers, says founder Dale Dougherty. “But very quickly we heard from parents doing the projects with their kids, and now young teens are often creating the projects themselves.”
“This idea of making something is very fundamental to human beings, and children really get that,” says Mr. Dougherty, “We are not just consumers. We are makers of things.”
The magazine holds Maker Faire, a sort of science fair on steroids for amateur inventors and visitors, that has grown from 20,000 in 2006, its first year, to more than 100,000 in San Mateo, Calif., in 2011. There are more than 50 MAKE-approved local fairs held around the world each year, and last year nearly half of all visitors brought their kids, the organizers say.
“There’s a sense of learning, resourcefulness and confidence that comes from making or fixing something with your hands, and that really matters,” Mr. Dougherty says.
Somewhere during or after their tween years, many boys seem to outgrow their Legos and lose the urge to build and tinker in favor of exercising their thumbs with electronics.
It doesn’t help that retail shelves offer older boys few hands-on projects. In contrast, there are lots of options for older girls, whether it’s knitting, sewing, beading and scrapbooking or edgier crafts like inkjet tattooing, make-your-own makeup and nail art.
It’s tricky, though, for toy makers to address boys’ and girls’ differing hands-on styles without alienating parents.
Even Lego—whose intricate building sets are beloved by legions of families—hit a sour note in December, outraging feminist bloggers with a line of building sets for younger girls called Lego Friends, with themes like “Emma’s Fashion Design Studio” and “Butterfly Beauty Shop.” The bloggers were offended by the curvy figures and ponytails of the female play figures.
Lego says the Friends line simply offers what girls and parents have been asking for. “Girls may choose to start with Friends, but then they go into Lego City or other sets. There’s a lot more instances of brothers and sisters, or fathers and daughters playing with Legos together than there was before,” says Michael McNally, director of brand relations for Lego.
Lisa Damour, a psychologist and director of the Center for Research on Girls at the Laurel School in Shaker Heights, Ohio, says, the battle over girl-versus-boy Legos was, in some ways, the wrong fight to pick with the Danish toy giant.
“I think the real controversy is that everything comes out in kits,” she says. “This limits both boys and girls—they need just big bags of Legos poured out on the floor.”
Dr. Damour says the urge to preserve hands-on play is important. “We need to care about both boys and girls doing things with their hands because it develops spatial and mental rotation abilities, which are really important to geometry and engineering.”
What motivates tinkerers to keep going through their teen years? Often, it’s the desire to circumvent a rule-setting, safety-conscious mother.
Robert Scalzo, age 12, of Washington, D.C., was forced to tinker after his mom flatly refused to get him an airsoft gun for his birthday or Christmas. Instead, he built a slingshot, using a Swiss Army knife to trim a V-shaped branch, attaching two rubber bands and adding a pouch made of hockey tape. “I use a lot of hockey tape,” he says.
Jim Danielson, of Arlington Heights, Ill., fell into tinkering after his mother said he couldn’t have a TV set in his bedroom. “If I build my own TV, can I have it in my room?” he asked. “They probably didn’t think I could do it, so they said yes,” he recalls.
He built a projector system for his room during his high school sophomore year, and he and his friends used it to play Nintendo 64 games. His mother didn’t let him take the creation to college, though, concerned it might be dangerous in a small dorm room.
No matter. Mr. Danielson, now 21, dropped out of college last year to accept a Thiel Fellowship—an unusual program started by Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal—which pays young innovators $100,000 to stay out of college and spend two years tinkering instead.
Patrick Corelli, a Wayne, Pa., tinkerer, turned to YouTube and Wikipedia after his mother banned videogames when he was in sixth grade. He learned how to put together furniture, fix his computer and “mod” his remote-control cars. His favorite YouTube-inspired creation was the air cannon he and his friends made out of 4-inch PVC pipe a few summers ago.
“We put Gobstoppers candy down the tube, pumped it with a bike pump and shot the hard candy at targets across the street,” recalls Patrick, now 18 and a high school senior. “So far that’s the coolest thing I’ve built.” That may not be true for long. He is heading off to the University of Pittsburgh in the fall—with an engineering scholarship.
You don’t find school reformers talking much about how we need to train more teachers in the arts, given the current obsession with science, math, technology and engineering (STEM), but here’s a list of skills that young people learn from studying the arts. They serve as a reminder that the arts — while important to study for their intrinsic value — also promote skills seen as important in academic and life success. (That’s why some people talk about changing the current national emphasis on STEM to STEAM.) This was written by Lisa Phillips is an author, blog journalist, arts and leadership educator, speaker and business owner. To learn about Lisa’s book, “The Artistic Edge: 7 Skills Children Need to Succeed in an Increasingly Right Brain World,” click here. This appeared on the ARTSblog, a program of Americans for the Arts.
By Lisa Phillips
1. Creativity – Being able to think on your feet, approach tasks from different perspectives and think ‘outside of the box’ will distinguish your child from others. In an arts program, your child will be asked to recite a monologue in 6 different ways, create a painting that represents a memory, or compose a new rhythm to enhance a piece of music. If children have practice thinking creatively, it will come naturally to them now and in their future career.
2. Confidence – The skills developed through theater, not only train you how to convincingly deliver a message, but also build the confidence you need to take command of the stage. Theater training gives children practice stepping out of their comfort zone and allows them to make mistakes and learn from them in rehearsal. This process gives children the confidence to perform in front of large audiences.
3. Problem Solving – Artistic creations are born through the solving of problems. How do I turn this clay into a sculpture? How do I portray a particular emotion through dance? How will my character react in this situation? Without even realizing it kids that participate in the arts are consistently being challenged to solve problems. All this practice problem solving develops children’s skills in reasoning and understanding. This will help develop important problem-solving skills necessary for success in any career.
4. Perseverance – When a child picks up a violin for the first time, she/he knows that playing Bach right away is not an option; however, when that child practices, learns the skills and techniques and doesn’t give up, that Bach concerto is that much closer. In an increasingly competitive world, where people are being asked to continually develop new skills, perseverance is essential to achieving success.
5. Focus – The ability to focus is a key skill developed through ensemble work. Keeping a balance between listening and contributing involves a great deal of concentration and focus. It requires each participant to not only think about their role, but how their role contributes to the big picture of what is being created. Recent research has shown that participation in the arts improves children’s abilities to concentrate and focus in other aspects of their lives.
6. Non-Verbal Communication – Through experiences in theater and dance education, children learn to breakdown the mechanics of body language. They experience different ways of moving and how those movements communicate different emotions. They are then coached in performance skills to ensure they are portraying their character effectively to the audience.
7. Receiving Constructive Feedback – Receiving constructive feedback about a performance or visual art piece is a regular part of any arts instruction. Children learn that feedback is part of learning and it is not something to be offended by or to be taken personally. It is something helpful. The goal is the improvement of skills and evaluation is incorporated at every step of the process. Each arts discipline has built in parameters to ensure that critique is a valuable experience and greatly contributes to the success of the final piece.
8. Collaboration – Most arts disciplines are collaborative in nature. Through the arts, children practice working together, sharing responsibility, and compromising with others to accomplish a common goal. When a child has a part to play in a music ensemble, or a theater or dance production, they begin to understand that their contribution is necessary for the success of the group. Through these experiences children gain confidence and start to learn that their contributions have value even if they don’t have the biggest role.
9. Dedication – When kids get to practice following through with artistic endeavors that result in a finished product or performance, they learn to associate dedication with a feeling of accomplishment. They practice developing healthy work habits of being on time for rehearsals and performances, respecting the contributions of others, and putting effort into the success of the final piece. In the performing arts, the reward for dedication is the warm feeling of an audience’s applause that comes rushing over you, making all your efforts worthwhile.
10. Accountability – When children practice creating something collaboratively they get used to the idea that their actions affect other people. They learn that when they are not prepared or on-time, that other people suffer. Through the arts, children also learn that it is important to admit that you made a mistake and take responsibility for it. Because mistakes are a regular part of the process of learning in the arts, children begin to see that mistakes happen. We acknowledge them, learn from them and move on.
Greater Happiness in 5 Minutes a Day- how to teach kids loving-kindness meditation
September 11th, 2012
By Christine Carter
Might be that sitting with your legs crossed repeating stuff like “May all beings be free from suffering,” is a little too far-out for you. I’m a scientist for crying out loud, so you can imagine how I might feel meditating while surrounded by prominent neuroscientists, which I once did on a 7-day silent meditation retreat. Except that I actually didn’t feel silly.
Because research demonstrates the incredible power of loving-kindness meditation: No need to be self-conscious when this stuff might be more effective than Prozac. Also called metta, loving-kindness meditation is the simple practice of directing well-wishes towards other people.
Here’s How to Do It
The general idea is to sit comfortably with your eyes closed, and imagine what you wish for your life. Formulate your desires into three or four phrases. Traditionally they would be something like this:
May I be healthy and strong. May I be happy. May I be filled with ease. Loving-kindness meditation is a simple repetition of these phrases, but directing them at different people. I do this with my kids before bed. We visualize together who we are directing the metta towards, and at first I say something (May you be happy) and the kids repeat it after me. After a few repetitions, we start saying them in unison. The phrases we use are “May you be healthy and strong. May you be happy. May you be peaceful.“
1. Start with by directing the phrases at yourself: May I be happy.
2. Next, direct the metta towards someone you feel thankful for or someone who has helped you.
3. Now visualize someone you feel neutral about—people you neither like nor dislike. This one can be harder than you’d think: Makes me realize how quick we can be to judge people as either positive or negative in our lives.
4. Ironically, the next one can be easier: visualizing the people you don’t like or who you are having a hard time with. Kids who are being teased or bullied at school often feel quite empowered when they send love to the people making them miserable.
5. Finally, direct the metta towards everyone universally: “May all beings everywhere be happy.“
Doing this with kids of all ages doesn’t need to be complicated; most are good at using their imaginations to send love and well-wishes. You don’t really need to read books about this: loving-kindness meditation is as simple it seems. People write books about it because it is so powerful.
Here’s What You Get When You Send Love
Loving-kindness meditation does far more than produce momentary good feelings. Over a nine week period, research showed that this type of meditation increased people’s experiences of positive emotions. (If you are working on improving your ratio of positive to negative emotions, start with metta!) The research shows compellingly that it actually puts people on “trajectories of growth,” leaving them better able to ward off depression and “become ever more satisfied with life.” This is probably because it increases a wide range of those resources that make for a meaningful and successful life, like having an increased sense of purpose, stronger social support, and less illness. Research even shows that loving-kindness meditation “changes the way people approach life” for the better.
I’ve blogged before about social connections and how important they are for health and happiness. Doing a simple loving-kindness meditation can make us feel less isolated and more connected to those around us: one study showed that a SINGLE SEVEN MINUTE loving-kindness meditation made people feel more connected to and positive about both loved ones and total strangers, and more accepting of themselves. Imagine what a regular practice could do!
This story originally appeared at Greater Good
Posted by Colleen Curtis on August 17, 2012
On Monday August 20, First Lady Michelle Obama will welcome 54 talented young chefs to the White House for the first-ever Kids State Dinner. The guests — ages 8-12 — are all winners of the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge, and each of them created an original recipe that is healthy, original and affordable, and contains the five food groups (fruits, veggies, protein, low-fat dairy, and whole grains).
The recipes have been gathered into a digital cookbook, which will be published by Epicurious and available as a free download starting this week. But we’re previewing a few of them here — just click the links below and get cooking!
Creating environments for healthy human development and
a healthy biosphere for generations to come.
The purpose of the Natural Learning Initiative is to promote the importance of the natural environment in the daily experience of all children, through environmental design, action research, education, and dissemination of information.
The preschool that children attend has been shown to be a significant but variable predictor of physical activity of 3- to 5-yr-olds, whereas the time outdoors has been found to be a strong correlate of physical activity.
In The NAMTA Journal Vol. 34, No. 2
In Biophilic design: the theory, science, and practice of bringing buildings to life
In Open Space People Space
In Open Space People Space
In The NAMTA Journal Vol. 32, No. 1
In Landscape Architecture Magazine
In Safe and Healthy School Environments
In LATIS Forum on Therapeutic Gardens
Origami, Paper Airplanes, Paper Hats, Paper and Mandala Jewelry
Join Mind Unwind this July for a day or all three weeks of our Mini Art Camp. Camp runs from
- Monday – Thursday
- July 9th – 26th
- from 1:00-5:00pm.
For 3 weeks Mondays through Thursdays, kids will be encouraged to use their creative imaginations through active, hands-on art. Each project will incorporate creative time paired with outdoor activities. Permission slips will be handed out for field trips to Hiawatha (via walking) and Alki Beach (via bus).
Registration is now open. You can pay per day ($45), for a week unlimited ($150) or all three weeks unlimited ($250). Space is limited, so register early!
- Mondays: focused on drawing techniques, rapid visualization, pressure and cartooning
- Tuesdays: we are hands-on cooking. From cookie pops to pasta and pizza making.
- Wednesdays: kids will be doing origami and paper arts. We will make flowers and spinning air floaters, paper airplanes that spin, spiral and flip, along with paper hats and jewelry to wear on sunny days!
- Thursdays: Mandala Jewelry. Mandala, sanskrit for Circle, is a fun meditation on plants, animals and geometric shapes! Color your own Mandalas and turn them into shrinky-dink pendants, earrings or bracelets.