Some of my best childhood memories included time spent with my dad, making stuff. When I was old enough to hold a hammer, he would set out a chunk of 2x4 lumber with some nails started in it and I eagerly pounded away at the block alongside him as he worked on other projects. When I got a little older, I got upgraded to actually helping him with the projects. He was forever renovating our home so I got to do a lot of things that other kids never did - tearing down walls inside our house, building fences, tiling bathrooms, painting bedrooms, and the list goes on. Sure I complained through some of the jobs, but for the most part, it was fun and it was rewarding. What kid doesn't like being able to put a hammer through the drywall in their living room?
What I didn't realize was that I was learning a lot of things during these years - how to work with materials using my hands, how to choose suitable materials for a project, how to conceptualize something in my mind and then create a plan to make it. Perhaps one of the most important things I learned from my dad the carpenter, was that if you don't know how to do something, you figure it out. There were so many times that I watched him wrestle with problems like these. He'd start out having no idea how he was going to remove that tree stump from the front yard, and then weld himself a customized tool from scraps in his garage to help him accomplish exactly what he wanted to do. To me, that was magical. It was having power and independence. He didn't have to call anyone to do it for him - he did it himself.
With a new generation of kids now growing up in a digital world, spending most of their time in front of interactive screens, I think it's important to continue to teach kids the fundamental skills acquired by engaging with the physical world. It's not just about learning the skill of building things, but empowering kids with creative problem solving skills and self-esteem to know that they can go through life and just "figure it out".
Here's the article from the NPR news website that inspired me to reflect on a childhood imbued with making things: Putting Power Tools In The Hands Of 5-Year-Olds