As the Los Angeles host for the Maker Education Initiative’s Maker Corp program, The Exploratory has had the honor of seeing 18+ adults using the same materials that we use with 4+ Maker Scouts and noticing the differences and similarities. It occurred to me today, that children are more apt to have a story – a narrative that is connected to their making projects. Sometimes, its a story that comes from the project – a way for them to establish a sense of place. Other times, we find that a provocation is helpful as a starting point. I’ve done e-textile projects before and without a provocation, I have noticed that the young makers tend to make copies of other people’s design.
So, for this introduction to e-textiles, I thought that I would ask ” What kind of superhero would you be and where would your power come from?” I also asked ” What do you LOVE so much that you feel a strong need to protect it?” We had the best answers – ” Cats, Dogs, Eagles, my family, and best of all – MILK”.
Armed with lots of ideas, they started by sketching. Some drew a picture of their superhero as opposed to designing the accessory from where their powers would come from. That was interesting for me because I had shown them samples of accessories to get them started and thought that they would dive right into their logo design or power cuff design etc. But they seemed to need to draw themselves as superheroes to get to the accessorizing stage. Others doodled – it’s what I would do – just moving their hands
We offered several stations again as options. In one station, the scouts used felting needles, wool, and cookie cutters to needle felt. One scout decided that she wanted to make leggings. So, she needle felted a flower, then sewed it onto felt which was sewn into leggings , then she used conductive thread to add LED lights. In a second station, some scouts first drew their design on to felt and then using an embroidery hoop to keep the fabric taut, used embroidery floss to outline the design. Other scouts opted to make bracelets or power cuffs from which their power would come.
The scouts that used the embroidery hoops were more successful in outlining their designs than the ones that worked on the smaller piece of felt for their cuffs. Next time, we will start with the large pieces of felt and then cut them down to size. It would also help to have the scouts make simpler, larger designs to make their sewing more successful.
When they were all done with their embroidery, we started playing with alligator cables and the circuit blocks. It’s always wonderful to see the children who were not interested in or intimidated by the cables and motors when they were presented by themselves, now have no hesitation to learn about circuits to enable their super hero accessories. Those bubble gum sized LED’s are so enticing.
I always wonder where these ideas come from. Two boys decided that they wanted to make finger-less gloves and some of the cuffs are so elaborate.
One of the parents noticed that most of the children would focus for about one hour and then get up and run around for about 10-15 minutes and if no one pushed them to return to work, all would come back to the task by themselves. We have a dirt mound that the children can roll down and a play structure that allows them to climb ropes, hang from rings, and other implements to twirl around and around. Their immature nervous systems need strong vestibular, proprioceptive, and tactile input to help them to focus for longer periods of time.
Jean Kaneko, founder and chief tinkerer at The Exploratory, is documenting a session of the Maker Scouts’ successes and failures for MAKE and celebrating both as learning opportunities.