Learning Through Projects: an Interview with Kathreen Ricketson

You may know Kathreen Ricketson as the editor of the Australia-based craft blog Whipup. She’s also been busy self-publishing Action Packs, which are digital collections of making and learning projects for kids. Action Packs incorporate a little crafting, a little cooking, some nature exploration, a little building and tinkering – and each issue is centered around just a few materials, so kids can explore them deeply.
I talked with Kathreen about how she arrived at this publishing idea, and how kids are responding to these kinds of learning projects.

What got you interested in self-publishing for children? And how did you arrive at the Action Pack format?
I have a couple of children – Otilijao is 11 and Orlando is 8, a boy and girl – both very creative in different ways, both interested in making stuff, experimenting and cooking, and both very active with a lot of energy to burn. Because we don’t watch TV, and the school they go to doesn’t believe in homework (thank goodness), we have very creative afternoons and weekends together. That time is taken up more and more with activities that they are interested in, and because they love to experiment, many of the concepts come from them rather than from me. So I become their facilitator – and they my inspiration.
My interest in self-publishing has always been at the back of my mind, I have experience in magazine publishing, website publishing, and book publishing (two quilting books with Chronicle – second one coming out later in the year – and a series of four kids craft books with Australian publisher Hardie Grant). The next frontier seemed to be self publishing. After quitting my day job to be a freelance stay-at-home writer/maker/blogger, I had at the back of my mind that in between traditionally-published book projects, I would try my hand at self publishing. At first I thought this might be in the form of sewing patterns or quilting designs or even blogging advice. But I couldn’t quite find my mojo with these topics. Instead, as I was experimenting and creating with my kids, thinking up ideas, and documenting and research our process, I began to see a glimmer of an idea appear.
It all seemed to come together – my experience in publishing, my love of crafting and cooking, my husband’s love of science and the natural world, my kids’ creativity and endless thirst for knowledge, our family’s growing interest in a back-to-basics childhood, wanting my kids to learn to love and appreciate nature and to nurture their growing independence, and our increasing dislike of the commercialisation of childhood – all of this led us to create the Action Packs. 
We decided fairly early on that we would not have any advertising – we just don’t think that kids need to be exposed to a continual barrage of commercialisation – and so therefore we needed to charge for the product. Also we wanted it to be thematic so that each subject matter could be explored in greater depth. We knew it had to appeal to both boys and girls, didn’t want it to be particularly crafty, but more experimental and science and art based – all of these topics tend to overlap naturally. We really wanted it to be the perfect magazine for our kids, and I knew that if we felt this way and were desperate for a magazine like this, then other parents would be as well.
How do you decide what kinds of materials and projects to focus on in one of your Action Packs?
We spend hours, days, weeks, brainstorming ideas, all of us – many of the ideas depend upon what the kids are interested in at the time, what materials work together and what the seasons suggest. We like the idea of there being an edible ingredient and a crafty material – and then seeing how these two things can combine or contrast in different ways. We also want to get kids used to using and sourcing many of their own materials – things they can find fairly easily around the home. Recycled and natural materials play a big part in these projects.
What’s the best way for parents and kids to use an Action Pack together?
The Action Packs are a wonderful resource for families (and education facilities too). Use them as a jumping off point to discovery, or follow the ideas as presented – they’re great for homeschooling families to use as a project pack. Older children can take the lead and even teach younger siblings. Sometimes kids will need their parents help, and of course parents will have to facilitate the children’s making by providing them with some of the materials, tools and the space to create. Some parental assistance may be required with learning new skills and supervising. 
Have you heard any good stories about how kids are enjoying these materials and projects?
From Gretty and Zuzu in Canada, we had this lovely comment:  “I have an 8 year old little girl who has no interest in anything girly, and this magazine really speaks to her. It’s so hard to find things for girls that are not princess inspired, pink, and flowery.”
Filambulle in Switzerland told us, “I think that your last Action Pack will be perfect to practice English reading with my bigger children. The motivation to apply the knowledge you share in the pack to immediate discovery and play outside should awaken their curiosity and help them catch as much vocabulary as they can.”
Any sneak peeks at what we can expect to see in future Action Packs?
Ooh yes – I have asked a few special guests to contribute projects to future Action Packs. And some upcoming themes include ‘Chalk & Cheese’ {August} and ‘Zap & Zest’ {October}. We will also be doing another special bumper double edition for the holidays at the end of the year.

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