Every pundit cries that education is broken, the standards of standard-based education are mixed up. I agree completely! All we really need are good toys. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about a curriculum of life skills and the toys that would support it (and not only because I have a 2-year-old).
What are the fundamental things kids should know to help them understand and enjoy the complex physical world we live in, to modify or repair it in the future, to succeed as adults? How do we enable kids to be masters of their destiny? Can we do it with nothing but good toys and experiences? Could a curriculum of engaging toys be so powerful that the role of schools is reduced to something manageable, like merely socialization?
The best toys and games can be foundational lessons in life, teaching how stuff works, how stories are told, how strategies play out. Here’s my list of core life skills I think can be supported taught by toys. It’s a work in progress. I’d love to hear your ideas.
1. Drawing. Being able to draw sufficiently well to communicate your ideas is critical, especially for future makers. You don’t have to be Rembrandt, just learn proportion, perspective, and how to represent 3D objects on the 2D page. Chalk and a sidewalk, pencil and paper, an Etch-a-sketch if you must.
2. Sculpting. Understanding three dimensions and producing 3D forms. Play-Doh, Fimo or Sculpey, clay, sandboxes and beaches, food, aluminum foil, paper and origami.
3. Knots. It frustrates me that so many people know so few knots. Rope can help you do almost anything. String or rope, kites, sewing, knitting, crochet, sailing, rock climbing.
4. Joining Things. Gluing, nailing, soldering, welding, tying, lacing, riveting, taping, stitching, screwing. Most of these are cheap to learn — give them an old log, a hammer, and a bag of nails, and let them bang nails until that log looks like a rusty hedgehog. Nearly any craft project or model kit.
5. Shaping Things. Cutting, sawing, chiseling, whittling, sanding, grinding, drilling. Give kids real tools, not plastic versions, at any age. Woodworking and metalworking toys, most craft projects, origami, a penknife, scissors.
6. Forces. Gravity, levers (moments), projectile motion, friction, pulleys, mechanical advantage, gearing and gearboxes, torque. Mobiles, trebuchets, magnets, juggling, throwing and ball sports, board sports, sailing, seesaws, slides, Lego, and bicycles!
7. Fluids, Hydraulics, and Pneumatics. The power of pressure and displacement. Water pistols and super-soakers, water balloons, boats and rafts, blow darts, bathtubs, rivers, beaches, lakes, dams, skimming stones, bicycle pumps.
8. Electronics. Voltage, resistance, current, and blinky lights. Battery-powered toys (hack them), 9-volt batteries (lick them), LED throwies, introductory electronics kits.
9. Structures. Trusses, compression, tension, architecture, how things stand up. Blocks, cardboard forts, Lego, sticks and stones, sandbox play, Erector sets, Lincoln logs, treehouses.
10. Energy. Conservation and momentum, transformation (one type to another), generation, storage, consumption. Marbles, batteries, rubber band-powered airplanes, bicycles, dirt bikes, cars, slot cars, train sets, swings, skateboards, kites.
11. Math. Counting, multiplication, division, addition, subtraction, geometry — just about any toy has a math lesson in it. Beads, marbles, dice, poker chips, money, Sudoku, card games.
12. Laughter. Life has to be fun, and toys should help us laugh. Soap bubbles, Slinky, Pin the Tail on the Donkey, whoopee cushions.
13. Natural Philosophy. Inquiry into the ways of the natural world, including geology and biology. Magnifying glasses, magnets, telescopes, microscopes, buckets, nets, specimen boxes.
14. Properties of Materials. Every toy has a materials science lesson waiting to be explained. Cooking, Play-Doh, chemistry sets, any toy made of wood, plastic, glass, ceramics, metal.
15. Magic and Illusion. I love magic, because it challenges you to search for the illusion — an opportunity to learn about reason and the scientific method. Magic sets, physical puzzles, brain teasers.
16. Your Body. Exercise and nutrition, dance, sport, climbing, swimming, hiking, gymnastics, and all the wonderful things the human body can do. Go outdoors and to the park!
17. Storytelling. We survive socially by telling each other stories. Encourage children to tell stories and release their imagination through whatever toy they have in their hands. Dolls, stuffed animals, wooden trains, Lego, Play-Doh, it doesn’t matter.
18. Logic. Building a complex Lego model or knitting a hand puppet are both exercises in basic instructional logic: do this, then that; if this happens, do that. Any construction toy, any craft project presented in sequence.
I doubt our school system will be reformed soon, so I think the burden falls on parents, guardians, and friends of children. We can teach them the skills of life, and toys are the medium. Let’s share the lessons and experiences embodied in the best toys, with each other and with our kids. But subtly. Kids can smell didactic like a giant adult skunk. Make it fun, don’t make it stink.
This column first appeared in MAKE Volume 28 (October 2011), page 27.
Saul Griffith is chief troublemaker at otherlab.com.
From the Pages of MAKE
MAKE Volume 28: Toys and Games!
They call this system the Beer Automated Dispensing and Security System (BADASS):
In all seriousness, the robot skeleton of Society of Robot’s soul-reaping rug-crawling Carpet Monkey v5 is pretty sweet. Check it out:
The claws are CNC-cut aluminum, the body is HDPE. It has no autonomous behaviors, so the guts are quite simple: two servos, a battery, and a small R/C receiver. [via BuildLounge]
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Checking in from Sebastopol, Becky Stern and Brookelynn Morris show a few of their favorite kits in the craft section of the Ultimate Kit Guide. They include an octopus needle felting kit, a celebrity paint by numbers, a lego syringe and a trash can lined with plastic bags.
Matt and Ariel look at a few of the electronics kits in the Special Issue of MAKE and Ariel discusses his own Discover Electronics kit.
Want to show us your project? Upload a video or photos and send a link to email@example.com.
Back in Plastics Month, we featured a simple shop-made plastics extruder built by Instructables user Random_Canadian. Now the arbitrary Canuck returns with this pint-sized metal lathe built with a 14″ piece of precision aluminum T-slot extrusion, and some characteristically resourceful salvage including an electric motor from a cordless weed trimmer, a variable speed switch from a cordless drill, and a tailstock center improvised from a countersink.
The tiny 3-jaw chuck is adjusted with an Allen wrench, and was hand-made by brazing three hex nuts onto a fender washer and running set screws into them. Impressive, clever work.
The Adalight project pack, available in the Maker Shed, lets you build your own ambient light addition for your monitor or media PC television. Originally outlined in Sean’s post from October, this project pack is contains nearly everything you need (except an Arduino and a USB cable) for the Adalight project tutorial. By running the Processing code on your computer, the halo of LEDs will follow the screen colors to provide an ambient light display that adds pop to TV shows, movies or games. Works using open source Processing and Arduino – so it’ll run on Mac, Windows or Linux computers.
Are you a hackerspace member with an event you’d like to publicize? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet me at @johnbaichtal and I’ll post it. Also feel free to subscribe to my hackerspaces Twitter list. Hackerspace Happenings runs weekly(ish) Tuesday(i)s(h).
Is your space interested in participating? fill out this form.
HackMiami is Now a For-Profit LLC
A lot of spaces in the U.S. have chosen to ditch the bureaucracy-laden NFP angle in place of a LLC (Limited Liability Corporation) filing, which is quicker and simpler. Hackmiami announced that they have done the same,
Hackupy: Hackerspaces in the Occupy Movement
Lighting Talks at Mesa, Arizona’s HeatSync Labs
The talks will take place tomorrow, November 11th at 7pm.
Create Your Own Lockpicks Class at Cincinnati’s Hive13
The class will take place Thursday, November 17th, from 6:30-8:30.
DARPA Cyber Fast Track Lecture at Seattle’s Metrix Create:Space
Vancouver Hack Space’s Super Happy Hacker House
The event is this Friday, November 11th, at 7:30pm-1am, at Vancouver Hack Space. (The timelapse is from a previous SHHH.)
Searching related content for yesterday’s Pistol Flamethrower post, I came to the startling realizations that A) we have lots of great flamethrower-related content in the archives and B) hard as it may be to believe, we have not rounded it up before. That oversight is hereby rectified. Thank you, and you’re welcome. Enjoy!
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