Fun, Educational Projects to Inspire Kids
by Graeme Keon
When a child at school is already under pressure to absorb so much from so many different subjects, one might be understandably reluctant to add more. Especially in Asian countries where he or she already has a schedule busier than many adults.
“Handcraft” however, can play a useful role in adding meaning and purpose to what one studies in school, whether one designs projects specifically for that or not.
For example, if a child makes a toy car out of wood and adds a little electric motor and rubber bands to turn the wheels, he’s gaining, apart from woodwork skills, some valuable insights into electric motors and drive mechanisms. So when his physics teacher talks about drive ratios for example, he’ll understand, and instead of falling asleep in the class he might actually learn something useful.
They can also have loads of fun making paper mache landscapes. Apart from the obvious familiarization with landscaping, they will become aware of the concept of making things to scale. Thus when they encounter the concept in a classroom, they will understand it more deeply than one who is being taught it by words alone. Depending on how inspired they are, the activity can be broadened to include much more technical content such as electric trains, stop-motion animation; almost limitless possibilities. Here is an example of one student’s first experiment with stop-motion animation:
And on another subject, if he cuts up some wood and makes a simple thumb piano out of it, he’s increasing his understanding of how music is produced, and some of the physical factors influencing the quality of the sound. It would make a difference, even if slightly, to how he regarded his music classes in school.
Handcraft, in other words, is one way to make that all-important connection between theory and the real world. It is not the only way of course, but being “hands-on” has a definite advantage over a spectator activity such as touring a museum, for example. Furthermore, children are greatly encouraged when they discover things they can actually do successfully. It gives them a chance to work out where their talents and interests lie and increases their chances of finding some purpose in all that stuff they’re being bombarded with at school. And an important point in modern times: there’s a good chance they’ll find out that real life can be much more rewarding than TV or computer games.
See the “Project List” page for all the projects done so far.
I am an English tutor in Taiwan with a background in engineering. My wife Shirley is an art teacher. In recent years we’ve been developing handcraft projects for kids; interesting and educational things they can make in small groups during summer and winter vacations. It seems to be getting more popular, so this blog was set up to share our ideas and discoveries with others.
What we are attempting to do with these projects is to give kids familiarity with a wide cross section of arts, technologies and materials. To give them some skills, boost their self-confidence and help them find a direction in life. It is hoped that teachers and parents, especially home-schooling parents will find these ideas useful.
It began about ten years ago. I had been looking for an excuse to get our son Michael away from the TV, something that was occupying more and more of his time. When the TV broke, (honest, I didn’t do it) I mulled over our options, then had an idea. Digging a few of my old tools out of the cupboard I proceeded to take the cover off the back of the TV, then, drawing on my years of experience in TV and electronics, I began to trace the problem. Alas, after a grueling ten seconds, I had to admit defeat and announced learnedly that it was broken beyond repair, adding though, that there were “good things inside that should be salvaged before we throw it out.” That said, I put a screwdriver in Michael’s hand and we set to work stripping the TV and talking about the colorful bits and pieces that came out of it. Thus began a more practical education than he had been getting up to that time.
Not long after that, and with a pile of assorted junk (the remains of the TV) in a box, Michael invited some classmates over to do a class science project. The TV parts formed the major components of two intercom stations connected by a length of old telephone wire.
Several things became obvious at that time, particularly that most kids in Taiwan lack opportunities to learn practical skills. They don’t have a back yard and a garage full of tools and stuff that I had as a child. Their lives revolve around books, books and more books; textbooks, workbooks, exam preparation books, shelves full of them. And viewed from their limited understanding of their world, the content of those books looks inapplicable at best, dry and burdensome, to be memorized arduously, spat back out on the exam paper and forgotten. This brings us to a second observation which is that a child has to have quite a diverse range of experience under his belt before he can appreciate the purpose of all the stuff he’s studying at school.
So our projects developed from there, with the emphasis on ideas/activities:
1. that were fun
2. that gave them familiarity with a widening range of subjects, tools, and materials
3. that might help a child find a purpose for all those facts, methods and formulas in his school books.
Any feedback or suggestions are very welcome.