Maker Supportive Parenting

Maker Supportive Parenting
Shopping cart solar collector on the roof of house – Image created in Inkscape by Ata Amrullah (Indonesia)

Even as a young child, I knew that I lived in a maker supportive house. My parents encouraged me to tinker and they were exceedingly patient and tolerant of the “tinkering process” at our house. Did the kitchen look like a tornado blew through it? “Fine. Just clean it up,” they’d say. Did the garage resemble a garbage dump when I was working on a project? “Fine. Just clean it up when you’re done with your project.”

Even our living room was fair game. My siblings and I would do gymnastics in the living room, using the sofa as a mini trampoline. When I visited a friend who lived three houses away, I was aghast to hear that children were not allowed in the living room. You don’t get to choose your parents, but I knew I was damn lucky to have the parents that were given to me.

In middle school, I once made maple syrup by boiling the sap from the maple tree in our back yard. I boiled the sap for 12-hours straight, right in our kitchen. The entire house became a sauna, with water trickling down the windows and walls. Did my mom yell at me? Nope, she laughed and said: “Next year you’re going to boil the maple sap outdoors.”

In high school, I once used an abandoned shopping cart to build a hot water solar collector. I used a rope to haul the shopping cart up to the roof of our house. The neighbors were not thrilled with the shopping cart on the roof of our house, and they complained to my parents. What did my parents tell me? “We don’t care what the neighbors think. If you want to build solar collectors for our house, you go right ahead and build solar collectors for our house.”

In college, when I was studying mechanical engineering, I designed a forced-air solar collector that used fluorescent glass tubes with black metal strips inside the tubes. I wrote a letter of inquiry to General Electric to see if they could donate a couple dozen glass tubes for this project. It turns out the smallest shipment of glass tubes they can ship is 500. I wrote GE the letter of inquiry from my home in Scarsdale, New York, in August. I was expecting GE would answer my letter of inquiry – but no. Instead, they just packaged up 500 glass tubes into 25 boxes and shipped them to my family’s house in October – when I was away at college.

So my mom calls me at college and says, “A large truck pulled up today and the guy asks me: ‘Ma’am, where do you want your 25 boxes of glass tubes?’” My mom says, “I never ordered glass tubes.” The delivery person says, “I’m supposed to deliver 25 boxes of glass tubes to this address.” Eventually my mom figured it out – that the glass tubes were for my solar collector project.

She could have been upset or angry, but she wasn’t at all upset or angry. She laughed and laughed and laughed when she told me on the phone, “Phil, you gotta move those boxes of glass tubes out of the garage sometime.”

“Uhh, sorry about that,” I replied. “I had no idea they were going to send me all those glass tubes when I had just sent them a letter of inquiry.”

Maker supportive parenting. It’s what our country needs. How do you engage in maker supportive parenting with your own kids? How can we make maker supportive parenting the norm rather than the exception?

[Phil Shapiro is a maker and media maker in the Washingon DC-area. He loves open source, digital storytelling and fixing up donated computers to deliver to people who need them. He can be reached at  and on Twitter @philshapiro.]

Note – the graphics for this blog post was created by graphic designer Ata Amrullah, who uses only open source software in his design work. Check out his nicely done GIMP and Inkscape tutorials (in Indonesian) on his blog at  Ata Amrullah was hired via

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Phil Shapiro is a maker and media maker in the Washingon DC area. He loves open sourcedigital storytelling and fixing up donated computers to deliver to people who need them. He can be reached at and on Twitter @philshapiro.

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