Saturday, July 19, 2014

A Va-MAKE-tion

My eight year old daughter complained this week that we haven't done anything fun all summer.  Ouch!  There has been plenty of summer camp and staying up late and fireworks and ice cream, but we haven't gone away and I knew that's what she meant.  So I asked, "Where would you go for some summer fun?" and I could have predicted her answer:  "Pittsburgh!"

As a lifelong Clevelander, having a daughter who seeks fun in Pittsburgh is probably some kind of sinful, but my kids love a quick day trip or overnight to our sister city and we do it a couple of times a year.  One of the biggest draws of the city for them, and the reason my daughter wanted to go, is the Children's Museum.  At 10 and 8, my kids have outgrown Cleveland's Children's Museum.  When they were younger, we had a membership and went regularly, but their target audience is a little younger.  The Children's Museum of Pittsburgh, though, offers a lot for kids of all ages.

One of the areas we like the best at the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh is the first floor MakerStudio.  This is where my daughter wanted to start the day.  In the MakerStudio, you can practice sewing and sew projects of your own design, create cardboard scenery for a stop motion movie, create circuits out of various elements, create a ball run from lots of assorted hardware, play with virtual characters that you arrange electronically, and more.  My daughter poked through a fabric carousel to choose several interesting scraps and an old corduroy pocket that she used to create a crossbody handbag.  She loved that she could design it exactly the way she wanted it and construct it right there.

My son used his MakerStudio time to create  a couple stop motion movies.  One project involved placing squares on a grid board while a camera took pictures of it.  The other is the puppet theatre -- kids can create set pieces from cardboard and then use an iPad to film their movies.  He was very excited to share his finished projects. Some kids were so proud of their movies that they were asking museum workers to email the videos to their parents. My son moved next to the ball run area where he created a ball drop out of tubes.  He asked me to film that one so he could document his work.

Before we left, we spent some time in the art studio where my daughter used ink and watercolors to make a cool cat picture in a technique inspired by illustrator Quentin Blake.  Then she painted and created a screen print with newspaper and paint.  If we had more time, she would have started several other projects.  We had to tear her away to go on to museum #2.

Our second stop in Pittsburgh was at the Carnegie Science Center.  As you walk in, there is an exhibit titled "Blue" that has a lot to offer in terms of making potential.  We played there for quite some time, building a ball run out of interesting blue foam blocks of many sizes and shapes.  Other kids built towers and buildings, body armor, and more.

As I look at the pictures, I am struck by the simplicity of these materials.  Sure, there were some specially cut foam blocks and an iPad and a camera, but mostly it was cardboard and fabric scraps and paint and imagination.  My kids loved the whole day - the part that was the standard museum exhibits and especially the part where they did their own creating using materials supplied.

So much is being written every day on the subject of making.  Or maybe it's Making.  Schools are adopting MakerSpaces.  Libraries are offering Maker Nights.  In January the Cleveland Public Library opened Tech Central, a very high tech MakerSpace that offers cardholders the opportunity to try 3D printing, laser and vinyl fabrication, and video/audio/music production.  Even the White House hosted a Maker Faire.

It's great to see museums offering possibilities for making too.  Lots of museums brag about their interactive exhibits, but sometimes interactive means you just get to push a button.  These exhibits offered so much more.  I hope to see other museums, parks, and other family spaces get into the act as well.  Maybe even businesses.  Hey, Joann and Michael's, how about a Maker night or afternoon in your stores?  No agenda, just materials and a helping hand.  And I need to think about how to do more making in my chemistry classes this year.  Maybe it will be making things to demonstrate chemistry knowledge or maybe it will be using chemistry to make something, but my plan is to Make it happen.

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