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Make It and Mend It: Real Life Learning Opportunities

Make It & Mend It: Real Life Learning Opportunities
By Wendy Priesnitz

Taking part in the DIY movement with your child provides real-life learning opportunities for both of you.

There are many things not taught in schools, from empathy and creativity to budgeting and having a conversation. One big set of skills that’s overlooked in schools and in our consumer society in general is what’s involved with making things from scratch – as well as maintaining and repairing such things. Many commercially produced items are designed not to be repaired by the user and others are designed to quickly become obsolescent (either unfashionable or non-functioning) in order to sell new ones.

The increasingly popular do-it-yourself (DIY) movement is counteracting that problem. Many products can be made from scratch or repaired. And increasing numbers of people are doing just that – if only because economics require it. DIY is also better for the environment, can often produce better quality, and induces a feeling of pride and sense of accomplishment.

The trouble is, because most of us went to school, few of us learned the necessary skills. But it’s not too late to learn them...along with your children. Building a bookshelf or fixing broken household items with your child is one way that you can offer them real-life learning opportunities. At the same time, you’ll be modeling learning – either by taking courses or consulting books or the Internet. Sometimes, your child will know about things that you won’t, and will be all too happy to share their expertise. And, in that case, you’re providing them with practical experience in leadership and confidence building.

Tackling a DIY project if that’s not your normal way – especially with your child watching – can be scary. So start slowly, say with a simple board-on-brackets shelf or by darning your sock holes or repairing a bike tire. There are lots of books available (from repair manuals to the “Complete Idiots” and “Dummies” series), and plenty of helpful information on the web. Don’t hesitate to seek help from friends or family because these can be great multi-generational projects. Some of us are braver than others about opening the back of a computer, and some more knowledgeable, so working together can help build confidence in our abilities. And besides, combining repairs with socializing will help everyone and provide your families with some fun times.

Encouraging and helping each other to build stuff and repair broken belongings while having fun is the impetus for a growing number of groups and community locations around the world. Variously called “maker faires,” “hackerspaces,” “fixer collectives,” “repair cafés,” or “fixerspaces,” they are often offshoots of tool libraries, which are popping up many communities (often affiliated with regular libraries). Although these groups tend to attract adults, younger people are usually welcome, and Make magazine’s Maker Faire project has spawned a Young Makers program.

An Internet search should help you connect with collaborative makers and fixers in your area. Or start your own group: Get together with a couple of friends and their kids, and start creating, learning, building, and repairing.

Wendy Priesnitz is Life Learning Magazine's founding editor, the author of 13 books, and the mother of two adult daughters who are still living and learning without school. She has been an advocate of DIY, life learning, and children's rights since the 1970s.

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