Seeking Wonder Junkies

“Would like me to make you a birthday cake,” my three year-old niece, Emma, screamed as she climbed onto the kitchen stool. 

“Of course! What will you make me?” I asked as she looked through the kitchen drawer for supplies.

“Ummmm…how about a dragon cake!” she squealed louder. “Dragons are soooo cute! The cake can roar and the dragon can jump out of it,” she exclaimed, getting more animated as the ideas came. 

At three, Emma’s a wonder junkie. 

Emma reached for every color of food coloring and dumped them in the icing. “No!” someone yelled from the corner. “You don’t want all of those colors in there. Pick three.”

At three, Emma’s told how something is supposed to appear. 

Emma grabbed the plastic spatula of a thousand colors and dumped it on the cake, crumbling beneath her. What remained was a crater of color. 

She beamed. “Happy birthday, Christy! It’s a dragon! Rawrrrrr! Do you like it?” 

What’s not to like? 

(Dragons are fictional, right?)

We assign preconceived ideas of how something should be to tasks that are meant to be holistic. We assign random numbers to learning development. We say that a seven year-old must be doing a set of tasks and, if they are not, they are failing. We assign right and wrong values to art. We decide how a fictional character like a dragon should appear. 

In our efforts to standardize education, we’ve stopped behaving as wonder junkies. Somewhere along the journey, we have started behaving like correctional officers. Wonder does not need to be corrected. It needs to be cultivated and then, shared. 

I challenge you to bring back the wonder. Even in restrictive environments, there is room for wonder. There is room for making. We are all makers. But, only some of us recognize it. 

Recently, I took the wonder junkie challenge to my staff. Not only is it my first year at a private school, it’s my first year at this private school, and it’s the first year for my position at this school. It’s a year of firsts. So, it seemed perfect to introduce the idea of the makerspace. 

To get the climate ready for the idea, though, involves patience and willingness to explore for a year. During that first year: 

  1. Organize a focus group of students and staff who are excited about the idea of making (start with the passionate folks in order to generate momentum).
  2. Meet monthly with the focus group to establish the direction of the makerspace. For instance, will you have a classroom-based makerspace, a library makerspace, an after school makerspace, or several makerspaces around the school. We opted for several smaller makerspaces that each focus on a topic of interest (coding, wearables, recycling, etc.)
  3. Host monthly maker parties. I made this list for our school year. These should be both high tech and low tech activities to bring in a diverse crowd. Keep each party limited to two activities for easy management. I kept the parties to 45 minutes. However, I found that students came throughout the next few days to the space to finish; thereby encouraging the use of a makerspace
  4. Hold a kickoff party. We did this in the form of a Maker Night or a Maker Faire. We staged nearly ten booths plus a photo booth and invited all staff, students, and families. 
Create a space for wonder. Once you create that space and cultivate the climate, allow for it to shape itself. 

The kickoff party started with 8 booths:
  • 3D Printing
  • Google Cardboard
  • Cardboard Arcade Challenge
  • Upcycling
  • Raspberry Pi Tinkering
  • Makey Makey Challenge
  • Short Circuit Robots
  • 6 Word Memoir Stop Motion Animation
However, it evolved into so much more

Students found duct tape, LEDs, cardboard, C-Cell batteries, and cell phones to make talking robots

Students wrote their life in 6 words, drew it, and then animated it with stop motion
Students disassembled old electronics and created new inventions

They turned computer parts into jewelry

They used SketchUp to construct their own structures and then, 3D printed them

They made their own virtual reality tours with Cardboard Camera

They turned cardboard into fortune telling machines

They made messes – lots of them. And, it was okay.

They created without instruction – only ideas

They explored

They turned bananas into music

They set up stands made from recycled materials

They turned books into art kits
They had snacks (for extra encouragement)
Most importantly, they had fun

 It evolved into engagement and excitement. There were no rules of what something was supposed to be or not be. It was holistic. 

We are born to be makers. We are born to tinker and explore. However, we have been trained to follow a formula.  

Break the formula and get started. We are 9 months into our maker journey. We do not know where it will go or how long it will take and we’re okay with that. 

Check out the Spartan Maker page for a detailed account of our Maker Year. Need some more inspiration? Check out making over your library (presentation) and for all things maker. 

Making = Happiness

I like to make messes. I like to clean messes. I’m one of the few eccentrics out there who enjoy both. So, the idea of making intrigues me deeply.

At the age of five, I wanted to sew my mom a purse. But, I didn’t want to ask her for the sewing machine and I knew she’d say I was too young. So, I found some fabric at school, found a pair of childproof scissors, and grabbed a stapler. I cut out a purse of my own and stapled it shut. Then, I found some popouri in the bathroom and poured it in her purse. Her purses always smelled like lilies so I assumed she carried them around. It wasn’t until I gave her the purse that was only a myth.

I wrapped the purse in newspaper and made her a hand-drawn card. With a gigantic smile on my face, I handed her my prized creation. My mom stuck her hand in the purse and immediately scolded me for using the stapler. But, I didn’t care. I had made my first purse. I was an artist.

A few days later, I went to my parents bathroom and saw my purse, staples and all, hanging from the bathroom door as an air freshener. I had never been more proud. At that moment, I knew I was born to make.

I’ve never stopped making.

From the nickname of “mess-maker” to my storage box of “junk” in the garage, I was ready to recycle anything.

I have created mosaic coat hangers from cabinet doors, stained glass tables from barn doors and windows, light sabers from wrapping paper (let’s face it – who hasn’t?), purses from old books, and that’s just the start.

When I started sharing my projects with others, my friends called me the “crafty one.” But, I never understood why it had to be a thing. Why couldn’t they do it too?

Making gives me inspiration. Making is a part of me.

But, I’m no exception. We are all makers. We are all inspired by making. My 3 1/2 year old niece loves nothing more than to create something. She feels empowered.

I challenge you to make something. Feel empowered. Add more making to your classroom. Create a space for invention and innovation.

Do it.