I’ve written about this topic before, and the “Maker Movement” is gaining a lot of steam these days. I’ve been checking out DIY.org for future weekend and summer projects to do with the kids. And my daughter and I have taken a tentative step into coding, producing our first Scratch story. This past semester, students in my writing class made games, digital or otherwise, and showed how creative and critical they can be when given the opportunity.
But this recent article in Slate struck and cord with me and reminded me of my own maker days when I was younger. Rainbow Loom (which I had never heard of) is a tool that kids (sorry, tweens) are using to make their own bracelets, key chains, etc., using brightly-colored elastics. There is a whole community online that shares how-to guides for more complicated patterns and designs (one which includes taking apart and putting your Rainbow Loom back together). This brought rushing back the memories of making my own bracelets using various materials (rubber cord woven together, yarn darned, tiny pieces of thread into knots). Each one had its own phase in my childhood, and while I could never get the more complicated patterns, I did feel a sense of accomplishment when I completed them, often sitting at swim meets killing the endless hours between races making.
And then there is this story about an artist who is trying to raise money to create a live-sized origami elephant. His work with paper folding is astounding to me. In elementary school, we read Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, and I, for a time, became obsessed with origami. I took books out of the library, bought kits at the craft store, and spent hours and hours folding and refolding my figures. But, again, I had a lot of difficulty with the more complex folding patterns. It didn’t help that the book could only show a flat, 2D rendering of what I should have been doing, with directions that weren’t always clear.
Finally, I also got into Cat’s Cradle, or string art. I was a fidgety child, and so would often sit in class with a strong hoop around my fingers, going through the various steps to create shapes out of the string. Like with origami, I struggled with translating the flat pictures and unclear narrative steps into action. What I wouldn’t have done to have a collection of YouTube tutorials at my disposal to be able to actually show me how to do it. Also, while most of my friends got caught up in the bracelet-making craze, I was the only one I knew who did origami or string art. If I could have connected with an online community, a place to share triumphs, ask questions, and just share in our passion for these activities, I might not have given up on them so easily.
Nothing says popular like being the weirdo who plays with string, let me tell you.
All of this reminiscing to say that, despite my claims to the contrary, I did in fact make things, but didn’t have a community to support me in my activities. And, that I hope that whatever either of my kids (or students) get into, that they find a support, information, and encouragement, online or elsewhere. As a parent and an educator, I know they’re out there. I just need to help them find their way to the places that feed their passions and imaginations.