Why NonGeek Parents Have the Advantage in Parenting Young Makers

By Marie Bjerede     May 22, 2013

Why NonGeek Parents Have the Advantage in Parenting Young Makers

What does it take to inspire, raise, and nurture young Makers? Do they need lots of“stuff” lying around the house to create with? Do they need Internet access to connect with and learn fromother makers? Do they need parentswho respect and protect their need to make? “All of the above,” was the conclusion of a panel of Maker Moms and Dads I had the pleasure of participating in at last week’s San Mateo Maker Faire.

The panel included the parents of some pretty high profileyoung Makers including James Todd (aka TechNinja and dad to Super Awesome Sylvia) and Julie Hudy (mom to Joey Hudy).  Both of theseyoung Makers have been recognized widely as inspirational role models and even havegone to meet the President at the White House! The panel also included EthanEtnyre and LenoreEdman, whose wisdom aboutraising Makers made the talk complete. In addition to Maker parents on thepanel, the audience was full of parents whose young Makers were either hangingaround the stage or off making things at other parts of the Maker Faire. From theseparents we heard themes we recognized, mixtures ofpride and frustration: “Where do you put all the stuff they collect?” “Allthree of my kids are constantly taking things apart all over the house.” “Howdo we help them move from playing with Making to doing serious projects?” “Whatabout all the unfinished projects?”

The parent panel was surprisingly united on severalpoints. “Makers gotta make, so if you can’t get their stuff (maker treasure)under control just find a way to live with it.”  “Kudos for letting your kids disassemble, repurpose, voidwarranties, and explore fearlessly!” “Allow projects to take time and make roomfor play and exploration–even if it means lots of projects are in progress atonce (if you aren’t going to work on it in the next six months maybe it canhang out in the back of the closet for now.)”

But there were some very interesting points where thedifferent experiences of different panelists came into focus. While all of our young makers wereintensely intrinsically driven to be Makers, we ourselves had different levelsof interest and background in the kinds of making our kids loved, as well as kids of awide range of ages (9 to 18 years old). This led to differences in how we, as parents, support orparticipate in our kids’ making. Philosophically, there was a rough consensus that Makingbelongs to the kids--that it should be driven by their own interests, ideas,execution, learning from the Internet community, and so on--as opposed to drivenby parents in a school-like way leading the kids from project to project,building their skills.

Which brings me to the advantage held by nongeek parents.

For non-geek parents this supportive (vs. leading) role isperhaps more natural. Ethan andJulie shared their pride and satisfaction in how their kids used outsideresources to learn and grow their skills and followed their curiosity andinternal need to make. Julietalked about how proud and supportive she was of Joey, but that all thedecisions about his projects and his now high profile activities are his own. Ethan talked about having no backgroundin his son’s interests and how he might try to come up to speed to help whenneeded, but that largely his son learned from the Internet community. These are beautiful examples of parentswho create environments where their kids’ intrinsic motivations are able tofully develop and drive the work they are passionate about.

For those of us who are geek parents, we may need to be abit more careful. How easy is itto want our kids to love what we love?How hard is it to hold off on suggestions to make projects “better” whenwe have the experience to see the dead ends our kids are heading for? How easy is it to nag about gettingstuff done in time for hard deadlines like Maker Faire? Even if we understand how interferingin even minor ways closes off possibilities in a child’s mind and takes a bitof the oxygen away for a flourishing intrinsically motivated passion? 

All of us geek parents on the panel talked about having tobe so mindful of letting the kids drive and decide, even though they are inmany ways playing in our wheelhouse (though fortunately they are also doinglots of things where we have to learn right along with them.) Lenore consciously supported her son indropping Making in favor of marching band for several years. James consciously holds back fromgiving Sylvia suggestions for the projects in her show, even as he balances hisjob as her producer.  And I satdown with my daughter for a heart-to-heart about not being willing to nag herabout schedules when she is working on her long-term ambitious projects--afterwhich she “hired” me to be her project manager with input to schedules but nocreative control.

After hearing the combined wisdom of this group of makerparents, my advice for parenting passionate, driven young makers comes down tothis, “Let them go their own way, support the accumulation of maker treasure,and help (only) when asked (and provide the minimum amount of help needed tomake it possible for them to take that next step.)”

But what about nurturing the Maker in every child, eventhose who have not seized on making as their one true passion? I would suggest doing projects togetherjust as you finger painted with them when they were babies and add in bits ofDIY and tech for fun. Add lights orsounds to that painting with LED’s and conductive tape. Make a bird feeder with mechanicallydistributed portions. Grow yourown food in a closet. Make it allabout the experience together and not the result. And as your ambitions grow, find the maker spaces andexperts in your community to help you make the things you didn’t know youcould. But mostly take fulladvantage of not being an expert, not being an uber-geek, not being a know-it-allto follow your child instead of leading.


Why NonGeek Parents Have the Advantage in Parenting Young Makers

By Marie Bjerede     May 22, 2013

Why NonGeek Parents Have the Advantage in Parenting Young Makers

What does it take to inspire, raise, and nurture young Makers? Do they need lots of“stuff” lying around the house to create with? Do they need Internet access to connect with and learn fromother makers? Do they need parentswho respect and protect their need to make? “All of the above,” was the conclusion of a panel of Maker Moms and Dads I had the pleasure of participating in at last week’s San Mateo Maker Faire.

The panel included the parents of some pretty high profileyoung Makers including James Todd (aka TechNinja and dad to Super Awesome Sylvia) and Julie Hudy (mom to Joey Hudy).  Both of theseyoung Makers have been recognized widely as inspirational role models and even havegone to meet the President at the White House! The panel also included EthanEtnyre and LenoreEdman, whose wisdom aboutraising Makers made the talk complete. In addition to Maker parents on thepanel, the audience was full of parents whose young Makers were either hangingaround the stage or off making things at other parts of the Maker Faire. From theseparents we heard themes we recognized, mixtures ofpride and frustration: “Where do you put all the stuff they collect?” “Allthree of my kids are constantly taking things apart all over the house.” “Howdo we help them move from playing with Making to doing serious projects?” “Whatabout all the unfinished projects?”

The parent panel was surprisingly united on severalpoints. “Makers gotta make, so if you can’t get their stuff (maker treasure)under control just find a way to live with it.”  “Kudos for letting your kids disassemble, repurpose, voidwarranties, and explore fearlessly!” “Allow projects to take time and make roomfor play and exploration–even if it means lots of projects are in progress atonce (if you aren’t going to work on it in the next six months maybe it canhang out in the back of the closet for now.)”

But there were some very interesting points where thedifferent experiences of different panelists came into focus. While all of our young makers wereintensely intrinsically driven to be Makers, we ourselves had different levelsof interest and background in the kinds of making our kids loved, as well as kids of awide range of ages (9 to 18 years old). This led to differences in how we, as parents, support orparticipate in our kids’ making. Philosophically, there was a rough consensus that Makingbelongs to the kids--that it should be driven by their own interests, ideas,execution, learning from the Internet community, and so on--as opposed to drivenby parents in a school-like way leading the kids from project to project,building their skills.

Which brings me to the advantage held by nongeek parents.

For non-geek parents this supportive (vs. leading) role isperhaps more natural. Ethan andJulie shared their pride and satisfaction in how their kids used outsideresources to learn and grow their skills and followed their curiosity andinternal need to make. Julietalked about how proud and supportive she was of Joey, but that all thedecisions about his projects and his now high profile activities are his own. Ethan talked about having no backgroundin his son’s interests and how he might try to come up to speed to help whenneeded, but that largely his son learned from the Internet community. These are beautiful examples of parentswho create environments where their kids’ intrinsic motivations are able tofully develop and drive the work they are passionate about.

For those of us who are geek parents, we may need to be abit more careful. How easy is itto want our kids to love what we love?How hard is it to hold off on suggestions to make projects “better” whenwe have the experience to see the dead ends our kids are heading for? How easy is it to nag about gettingstuff done in time for hard deadlines like Maker Faire? Even if we understand how interferingin even minor ways closes off possibilities in a child’s mind and takes a bitof the oxygen away for a flourishing intrinsically motivated passion? 

All of us geek parents on the panel talked about having tobe so mindful of letting the kids drive and decide, even though they are inmany ways playing in our wheelhouse (though fortunately they are also doinglots of things where we have to learn right along with them.) Lenore consciously supported her son indropping Making in favor of marching band for several years. James consciously holds back fromgiving Sylvia suggestions for the projects in her show, even as he balances hisjob as her producer.  And I satdown with my daughter for a heart-to-heart about not being willing to nag herabout schedules when she is working on her long-term ambitious projects--afterwhich she “hired” me to be her project manager with input to schedules but nocreative control.

After hearing the combined wisdom of this group of makerparents, my advice for parenting passionate, driven young makers comes down tothis, “Let them go their own way, support the accumulation of maker treasure,and help (only) when asked (and provide the minimum amount of help needed tomake it possible for them to take that next step.)”

But what about nurturing the Maker in every child, eventhose who have not seized on making as their one true passion? I would suggest doing projects togetherjust as you finger painted with them when they were babies and add in bits ofDIY and tech for fun. Add lights orsounds to that painting with LED’s and conductive tape. Make a bird feeder with mechanicallydistributed portions. Grow yourown food in a closet. Make it allabout the experience together and not the result. And as your ambitions grow, find the maker spaces andexperts in your community to help you make the things you didn’t know youcould. But mostly take fulladvantage of not being an expert, not being an uber-geek, not being a know-it-allto follow your child instead of leading.


From our Guide

further reading

Next In

Next in

STAY UP TO DATE ON EDTECH
News, research, and opportunities - sent weekly.
STAY UP TO DATE ON EDTECH
News, research, and opportunities - sent weekly.