Make It & Mend It: Real Life Learning Opportunities

Make it or Mend it - Real Life Learning Opportunities

Taking part in the DIY movement with your child provides real life learning opportunities for both of you.

By Wendy Priesnitz

We all know that there are many things not learned in schools, from empathy and creativity to budgeting and having a conversation. One big set of skills that’s overlooked in schools and in our consumer society in general is what’s involved with making things from scratch – as well as maintaining and repairing such things. Many commercially produced items are designed not to be repaired by the user and others are designed to quickly become obsolescent (either unfashionable or non-functioning) in order to sell new ones.

The increasingly popular do-it-yourself (DIY) movement is counteracting that problem. Many products can be made from scratch or repaired. And increasing numbers of people are doing just that – if only because economics require it. DIY is also better for the environment, can often produce better quality, and induces a feeling of pride and sense of accomplishment.

The trouble is, because most of us went to school, few of us learned the necessary skills. But it’s not too late to learn them…along with your children. Building a bookshelf or fixing broken household items with your child is one way that you can offer him real life learning opportunities. At the same time, you’ll be modeling learning – either by taking courses or consulting books or the Internet. Sometimes, your child will know about things that you won’t, and will be all too happy to share her expertise. And, in that case, you’re providing her with practical experience in leadership and confidence building, in addition to real life learning opportunities.

Tackling a DIY project if that’s not your normal way – especially with your child watching – can be scary. So start slowly, say with a simple board-on-brackets shelf or by darning your sock holes or repairing a bike tire. There are lots of books available (from repair manuals to the “Complete Idiots” and “Dummies” series), and plenty of helpful information on the web. (See the “Learn More” section.) Don’t hesitate to seek help from friends or family because these can be great multi-generational projects. Some of us are braver than others about opening the back of a computer, and some more knowledgeable, so working together can help build confidence in our abilities. And besides, combining repairs with socializing will help everyone and provide your families with some fun times.

Encouraging and helping each other to build stuff and repair broken belongings while having fun is the impetus for a growing number of groups and community locations around the world. Variously called “maker faires,” “hackerspaces,” “fixer collectives,” “repair cafés,” or “fixerspaces,” they are often offshoots of tool libraries, which are popping up many communities (often affiliated with regular libraries). Although these groups tend to attract adults, younger people are usually welcome, and Make magazine’s Maker Faire project has spawned a Young Makers program.

An Internet search or a visit to one of the websites below should help you connect with collaborative makers and fixers in your area. Or start your own group: Get together with a couple of friends and their kids, and start creating, learning, building, and repairing. Either way, making and mending can create real life learning opportunities for people of all ages.

Learn More

New Fix-It-Yourself Manual: How to Repair, Clean, and Maintain Anything and Everything In and Around Your Home by Reader’s Digest (Reader’s Digest Books, 2009)

Hand Mending Made Easy: Save Time and Money Repairing Your Own Clothes by Nan L. Ides (Palmer/Pletsch, 2008)

Canadian Living Create, Update, Remake: DIY Projects for You, Your Family and Your Home by Austen Gilliland, Karen Kirk (Transcontinental, 2011)

Woodworking Together: Projects for Kids and Their Families by Alan Bridgewater, Gill Bridgewater (Tab Books, 1993)

Wendy Priesnitz is the editor of Natural Life Magazine and Life Learning Magazine, and the author of twelve books.