Having kids grows you up for sure. They teach us so many lessons about ourselves when we introduce them to things we love and explore just by having the advantage of being able to watch them figure things out for the first time. I just had this happen with my son, his best friend and the design & build process.
In January I started a DIY.org club in Tucson. A friend of mine has two boys and she was considering an alternative to the scouts and was wondering if I’d be interested in DIY.org. I took a look at the site and was immediately a fan, set up a calendar and partnered up with some close friends and started the club.
DIY.org is a site to introduce kids age 8 – 18 to the Maker movement. The site offers challenges in certain skills to earn badges, similar to the scouts. Apart from buying the badges, the site is free. Skills include the scienc-y, such as Physicist and Chemist, artsy crafty such as Cardboarder and Potter, and just plain fun, such as Summerologist and Lego Master.
We have a meeting every month and do something different every time. Our club name is Tucson DIY and here are our sites:
This last week’s meeting was a group challenge. From looking at the DIY.org site it looked to me like the site creators encourage team building. I will be honest, I was a little nervous about team building. I mean, it is volatile as you are practically guaranteed that there will be a ton of arguing and (hopefully) compromise and I don’t have any team building tricks up my sleeve other than life experiences like school teams, work teams and other clubs. And truthfully, I am NO expert. Though I always try.
But I thought – this time, let’s jump in! Team building lessons have to start sometime.
Our challenge to our club: Make a costume out of cardboard for two or more people. Work together!
So, I knew this would be tough, for the parents as well as the kids. The thing about watching your kids do this type of thing is that it is very hard NOT to take over and tell your little one how to do stuff. In general, parents have a hard time seeing their kids struggle. But if you want your kid to experience the joy of figuring stuff out, discovery, and making stuff, you have to back the heck off.
It has indeed taken me 7 years to get that through my thick skull. I am a believer but it sure is tough to watch sometimes.
This experience did not disappoint.
It truly reminded me of every design – build experience I’ve had as an adult!
So, the boys both knew the challenge ahead of time. As typical, my son threw out an idea about two minutes after I’d described the challenge and that was that. He was very attached to it. He wanted to make a two person dragon.
When I got to CoLab, Max’s buddy excitedly talked about the two headed dragon he and my son would build. I thought, great, they are thinking along the same lines. Easy peasy! What was I so worried about?
So we went down to the meeting space with our huge pile of cardboard and I set up a huge pad of paper on the floor and gave the boys 5 minutes to talk about what they wanted to make. The boys decided they would draw sketches of their ideas on one half of the paper each, in a nice orderly fashion.
After the 5 minutes was up, I was surprised to find that Max’s idea hadn’t changed a bit while his buddy’s was 100% different, which was now a tall cardboard giant and a tiny cardboard person. Neither boy wanted to give up his design or compromise and do a combined design. We adults pointed out that the boys had to come up with a project that they both wanted to work on. We gave them 5 more minutes. They finally agreed on a dragon with a robot rider. They were reluctant at first at the compromise but I was impressed that they came up with one. In about 5 more minutes they LOVED their combined idea.
Then I gave them 5 minutes to draw a plan of the dragon robot rider. Now this is when it got really interesting. My son sat with pen to paper and drew out a plan. His buddy walked around the room and came up with about 10 more ideas of how to make the dragon. Neither of them looked at the cardboard to see what we brought. We adults strongly suggested they just look at stuff, feel it, touch it, get ideas. But they really resisted this! Both boys were quite married to their processes.
It took my hubby, who is the engineer with a TON of design-build experience and our friend’s mom, who is a lawyer, to talk the boys into actually looking and finding a big box to become the body of the dragon. The boys debated how to fit in the box.
Initially the boys wanted two leg holes each (so four leg holes total), which is very logical and literal planning. You can see where this would be an uncomfortable design though.
It was hard, but we did not interfere. And it was also HILARIOUS. The sight of them trying to walk around while not able to bend their knees in sort of a shuffle shuffle was too cute for words. They decided to make the leg holes bigger after that. They decided then they needed ONE leg hole each. Hooray!
The boys both had ideas for the wings using a particularly big mailing tube. My son’s buddy wanted to make a pulley crank mechanism to control the wings using the tube. My son wanted to use the tube as a skeleton for the the wings to fit over their arms. Neither explored how to make the wings. They just never got to it.
After that, the boys instinctively split up and one made the dragon head while the other made the robot rider. We helped them with box cutting and hot gluing but they got things to where they wanted. With dragon and robot attached, the boys debated the wing issue again.
My son’s best friend suddenly said, “Hey, let’s use the tube on our arms for the wings!” and of course my son said, “Hey!! That was MY idea!”
So I want to pause for a minute to reflect how very MANY times in my life I have had this happen in a creative group situation. I’ll have a really good idea early on, no one will listen to me, and then a lot later, the same idea will pop back up, and I will sigh in a frustrated exasperated way saying, “Hey!! That was MY idea!” and feel a bit put out. I have often wondered if I just put ideas out wrong or if my voice is annoying or if there was some reason people weren’t taking me seriously.
From this point of view though, I learned a few important things. I think that the process will happen when it happens. There seems to be that brainstorming time when no one really listens to each other and it is just darn frustrating. Then there seems to be a time when people take that info and think it through either by talking or drawing or modeling. Then there seems to be a time when everyone pokes at the real materials or environment. Then, the building. And it will come full circle to a lot of those first brainstorming ideas as things get tuned or the team changes their mind about what they want for the final product, etc. Though I’ve been through the process myself many times I never really saw it objectively, from the outside. My emotions always got in the way.
I think in the future I just won’t be so bent out of shape when no one listens at first. I think I will just ride out the brainstorming and try not to freak out as there is seemingly nothing getting accomplished. Because really, right there is where a whole lot gets accomplished.
I asked the boys, “Is it important whose idea it was?” And one boy said “No!” and the other said “Yes!”
I think both are right. As an outsider, I was just happy they built something. So perhaps it is not important whose ideas were whose. But then again, feelings get hurt if no one acknowledges one another’s contributions. And that doesn’t feel good or build a team closer. So perhaps it is very important to pay attention to whose ideas were whose if at all possible through the storm. By the same token, everyone should take a breath and realize that it is difficult to always remember whose idea was whose and just let it go from time to time.
My big personal take away lesson was that the process happens in steps and to be patient and to cheer on your teammates, tell them when they did something good.
Another cool thing was to see the amazing styles of design and creation our boys had. So different! But both vital. One with many many ideas, the other with a few very well developed idea. Broad versus deep, big picture versus detail. Ever have a dynamic like that in your workplace? I’ll bet you have. Even at age 7 we have a creation style.
At the very end the boys LOVED shuffling out their creation and they had a wonderful time. Enjoy our final video of the cardboard dragon robot!