For the past five years, Make has offered a virtual summer program called Maker Camp — a set of projects and learning curriculum for youngsters that stretches out for the usually slow weeks of summer. Community-run affiliate sites around the country (and beyond) take part, hosting camps for local youth based on the Maker Camp curriculum and programming. To encourage making, Make: tries to get as many of these sites as possible kits with materials that tie to the each round’s content, including build projects, components, and books. (The kits this year were sponsored by AT&T, through AT&T Aspire, which helped get them to many additional sites.) Then we encourage the campers to share their builds, discoveries, and conversations.
The program takes different forms every year — we’ve presented it as a daily, live broadcast and prerecorded episodes. This summer, we chose to post all the content at the start to let each camp site set their own schedule. This has worked out great! Some camps started early in the summer, some late. Some are extending the content into after-school programs. It’s been a blast to see how each has approached this.
I recently popped by one of the Maker Camp sites, hosted at the Chimera makerspace in Sebastopol, CA. It was a packed day, full of kids getting hands-on with a variety of projects — making spinning art, exploring DIY slime, creating a banana piano with MaKey MaKey, building contraptions with Strawbees, and more. The kids needed no guidance; they were busy exploring and discovering all of the projects, getting them running and then taking them further.
One of my favorites with this was watching them work with the DIY slime. The project itself is to make a thick goop using common household products — borax, water, white glue, and a few others. Mix it up and you’ve got a stretchy, taffy-like material that perfectly displays non-newtonian qualities. Pull it slowly and it elongates into a dangling rope of goo; yank it quickly and it snaps apart.
What the kids discovered, however, is that if you insert a straw (sourced from the Strawbees activity), and fold the slime around it to make a small air pocket, you can blow a slime bubble of seriously impressive size. Like, twice the size of a child’s head. The enthusiasm around this spread infectiously through all the kids, and suddenly each was trying to outdo the others with their slime bubbles.
And that’s the magic of Maker Camp. Kids — and adults too! — inherently love being hands-on with projects. We’re tempted every day with phones and tablets and TV screens, devices that have their value for education, but also have their pitfalls for making us passive content consumers. But give kids a variety of projects to work on, and the freedom to explore, and they grab on and make. They learn through feel, through trial and error, through experimentation, and by simply stumbling across unexpected discovery.
This is exactly why we do Maker Camp. It’s powerful, and it can change lives. And it’s why I’m so glad I got to visit Chimera and see the kids embracing it all.