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!
MAKE Volume 28 hits makers’ passion for play head-on with a 28-page special section devoted to Toys and Games, including a toy “pop-pop” steamboat made from a mint tin, an R/C helicopter eye-in-the-sky, and a classic video game console. You’ll also build a gravity-powered catapult, a plush toy that interacts with objects around it, and a machine that blows giant soap bubbles. Play time is a hallmark of more intelligent species — so go have some fun!
On newsstands now! Buy or Subscribe
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).
Safecast bGeigie World Tour
Hopefully you already know about Safecast – they are a group of hackers and volunteers who are working to map radiation levels in Japan after the 3/11 earthquake earlier this year and providing all the data freely and openly for anyone to use. In doing this they realized the need for this kind of data outside of Japan as well and are teaming up with some hackerspaces to help fill in other areas around the world on their map!
The main way they are taking these measurements is with a device designed at The Tokyo Hackerspace called a “bGeigie” – it’s basically a geiger counter paired with an arduino and a GPS module which gets strapped to a car and driven around. Starting with the US (if this experiment works we’ll add the rest of the world soon) we have the idea of doing a bGeigie Hackerspace tour. The plan is, one bGeigie will make it’s way around the country, from hackerspace to hackerspace, measuring and mapping all the way. For a hackerspace to participate, the agreement would be to drive the device around your city taking a ton of readings, uploading the data to Safecast, and then physically driving (taking readings along the way) the bGeigie to the next closest participant. Ideally this will start and end in Los Angeles here at Crash Space, so with any luck the route will be a big giant loop. Depending on who volunteers.
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,
This is an official annoucement. HackMiami Inc has been dissolved as a non-profit entity and has been reinstated as an LLC. We have made this move so it will be easier for us to provide services to those who need them. We will be adding a page with services offered on the site shortly.
Hackupy: Hackerspaces in the Occupy Movement
Sounds like some hackerspaces are contributing to the Occupy movement, and a hackerspaces.org page has been set up to coordinate.
Lighting Talks at Mesa, Arizona’s HeatSync Labs
Hot Topics is our unfortunately named lightning talks series modeled on events like Ignite, Ted, and Noisebridge’s Five Minutes of Fame. Talks are <5 minutes and generally revolve around creation and hackerspace culture.
The talks will take place tomorrow, November 11th at 7pm.
Create Your Own Lockpicks Class at Cincinnati’s Hive13
The Lock Forensic group at Hive13 is having a class to show you how to create your own high quality metal bogota style pick set. The study of locks and lock picking is fascinating. A bogota style lockpick has a backend that can also work like a tension wrench. We will be making 2 of these style picks in the class. The two stiles will be the half diamond and the hook. If time permits we will have templates to make some more advanced designs (such as the actual bogota). We will also have lots of test and progressive locks to test our your new lock picks on as well as a quick demo on how to picks locks if you haven’t yet.
The class will take place Thursday, November 17th, from 6:30-8:30.
Open House at Huntsville, AL’s Makers Local 256
Come celebrate the last binary day with Makers Local 256 during our Open House on Friday, November 11 at 6 o-clock. Our doors are always open but on the 11th we will have many of our projects on display, a go-kart, 3D printers, a vacuum form table, a solar food dryer and much more. We’ll also be serving hot gumbo. Donations Welcome.
DARPA Cyber Fast Track Lecture at Seattle’s Metrix Create:Space
Put Saturday, November 19th on your Calendar. At 2PM, Peter Zatko, AKA Mudge, a hacker and Program Manager at DARPA’s innovation program, will be going over their new funding program, Cyber Fast Track here at Metrix Create:Space.
If you saw the Blackhat Keynote, or read the Slashdot post about it, you may know that DARPA is looking to get lighter, faster, and cheaper by reaching out to the hackerspace/makerspace communities.
Vancouver Hack Space’s Super Happy Hacker House
Hear ye hear ye. All countrymen and ladies are welcome to attend the VHS biquarterly event known as the Super Happy Hacker House. This event is the XVIII SHHH, and will celebrate summer hacking in the glorious City of Vancouver.
Bring your ideas, smiles and good friends down to VHS to celebrate with the hacking masses. It has also been designated as a binary beverage night. Bring your own binary beverage of choice.
The event is this Friday, November 11th, at 7:30pm-1am, at Vancouver Hack Space. (The timelapse is from a previous SHHH.)