Play Time at FabSummer

We made an important decision at the start of the summer to run a 5-week camp instead of a series of weeklong or half-day camps. Time, a common complaint is that folks don’t have enough time. We are all so busy, busy, busy.

FabNewport’s antidote was to run from June 29 to July 31, 9-4, Monday through Friday–lots of time. The goal with all this time was to give our 11-17 year-old students specific coaching in the areas of fabrication, coding, and physical computing and then free them to develop personal projects. We let the kids go their own way and develop their own ideas at their own pace. It is a fine line, however, between structure and creativity. It can be hard to nudge folks into the creative space where the focus in on bringing ideas up from inside, from the mind and the heart.

FabNewport uses technology and tools as a platform to inspire people to find their way in that productive, creative space, to bring the their best ideas to life in the form of artifacts. We try to do this through play, by letting the children play with the materials and tools to get at their ideas and discover. Sometimes play is hard, like figuring out a difficult problem or learning a new skill like riding a bike. In the lab it might be tinkering with electronics to get things to work they way you imagined or learning the intricacies of the software to go deeper with the design. Frustrating at times, but when the breakthrough occurs you create new space in yourself, believe more in yourself. New possibilities percolate. Positive energy and creative juices flow when a student uses new skills to turn thoughts into tangible creations. Stamina for the hard play and work also builds.

Frustration is also part of the process.Children need to learn how to work through problems. We treat frustration on a case-by-case basis. Some children need more support than others. Problem solving is a form of stamina, also, a mental and emotional stamina we all need to get through life well. With the process of supporting children intellectually and emotionally we build trust and our students are in a position to take risks and pursue their ideas. Take the student I call Jane, for example.

Jane came to us with medium skills and a shortage of physical stamina. During her first week Jane had a hard time getting through the day. She was low on energy and short on ideas. But as Jane worked her way into camp, building skills, gaining confidence, she found her sweet spot using sensors and motors to create a bubble blowing machine and a motorized car. She was able to continue setting her own bar about the problems he chose to solve. Initiative is a key ingredient to play. Imagine the child on the playground, or in the woods, they don’t need to be told what to do. Children at play push themselves naturally without it feeling like work. Occasionally Jane needed nudging, coaching and kindness to keep playing. But at the end of July we had a young woman inspired, eager to show her talents and learn more.

Another example where time paid off was with a group of boys who fell into a boat-building project. They showed up knowing each other and well skilled and with good stamina but they hadn’t had the opportunity to work in a creative space, together, hour after hour, week after week. Once they “mastered” the fabrication, physical computing and coding – in terms of our summer goals – and satiated their appetite they found a pile of wood and started making a boat. They were consumed by this process, building on their knowledge of boats but being in fearless in interpreting how to proceed, using recycled bottles for flotation, scheming a rudder and tiller and designing in little storage cabinets. FabNewport simply gave these 13-year-olds the space, time and support they needed to pursue ideas they didn’t even know they had inside of them.

Learning is a personal journey. Our job is to empower with skills and guide with kindness, and give the children ample time to play.