Kids, Creativity & Getting Out of Their Way


In a neighborhood of working single parents and working couples, there’s often not enough “time” for the kids during the week and often even on week ends. So, when school assignments which require making something come along, and given kids predisposition for putting off stuff they don’t think they want to do, last minute science projects can get a bit hectic.
But if the neighborhood has one or more people who don’t HAVE to be anywhere, or do anything - me - even last minute projects can still be fun - for the “adult” and the kid(s).
Case in point - six graders’, two girls specifically - assignment for “voc ed”: - take a piece of cardboard and cut it into an 11” x 11” square - in the upper right corner, one inch in from the top and right side, make a 3/4” diameter hole - in the lower left corner, one inch in from the bottom and the left side, make a 3/4” diameter hole - connect the two holes with something(s) that will cause a marble to get from the upper right hole to the lower left hole, in 5 or more seconds. - the “somthing” should be self supporting once constructed.
Now kids are great scroungers. If you turn them loose in your shop they’ll find your best stuff and want you to cut what they want out of the middle of a 4x8 sheet of birdseye maple ply or a piece of rosewood - girls especially. In this case I was able to limit the damage to the tops of two cardboard filing boxes.
Having been forewarned weeks ago of this upcoming project, two days before the due date I picked out some 1/2” baltic birch ply pieces - 12x12 or a bit bigger, ripped a bunch of doug fir and redwood 2x4 cutoffs to 3/4 x 3/4” lengths and, using a round end box bit, routed a U-shaped groove down each piece and chop sawed them to 11” lengths.
Being as how they still had another day to work on the project before it was due, the first day was just cutting cardboard and ply to size, drilling the two holes where they were suppose to go and wood glueing the back to a base, also about 11x11. That required some reinforcement so they found some cutoffs from mitered corners and glued them where they thought they’d hold things best. They then had the excuse of “we can’t do anymore ‘til the glue dries. Bye - and thank you.” - and they were gone. But they’d learned to use a sliding miter saw (weating ear protection, a face shield and with me with my hand on the saw motor and the other ready to move a kid out of harms way), what a marking gauge was and how to use it, what a dial caliper was, how to use it and how to read it and why knowing how to convert a fraction to decimal was handy stuff to know - 3/4 = 0.75. They also knew what a forstner bit looks like and how to use a drill press. Not bad for an hour of “work”.
The second day, the day before the project was due, I spent some time cleaning off the work bench, covering the top with construction paper and setting out - a bench hook, a dozuki saw, the hot glue gun - with extra sticks of glue - and a piece of scrap ply for the hot glue gun to sit - and drip -on.
The girls got out of school at 3:30 and around 4 o’clock they came through the gate on their bicycles - in the rain. (I’m sure they’ll tell their kid(s) “Back when I was a kid, sometimes we had to ride I bikes ALL THE WAY from school to home - IN THE RAIN!”) Note that this is California and THE RAIN in this case was more like a drizzle than real honest to god rain.
I was ready to work - but they weren’t - yet. “We need an after school snack!” That meant finding some bell peppers, a knife, cutting board and a paper plate, along with the ranch dressing and some napkins, with a cup of coca-cola for some caffiene and sugar. The single serving pinaple in syrup made for an adequate dessert.
Only then were they ready to “work”. Showed them the stuff on the bench, warned them that if they got glue on my bench top or cut into it “on accident” that they’d never leave the shop alive. I plugged in the hot glue gun, warned them that hot glue sticks to skin really well - and burns enough to blister - then asked “Where’s your marbles?”
“DUH! WE need marbles!” - and off they went in search of marbles. It’s a good thing one of them has a little brother who happens to have marbles, two less marbles now.
In “only” a half an hour, they were back. WE confirmed that the marble would stay in the track I’d made and that the steeper the slope of the track, the faster the marble rolled. They figured out the longer the track was the more time it’d take for the marble to roll from “A” to “B”. We talked about ways to lengthen the track and how to get the marble to change directions. When they got to the “We know what we’re doing - now go away!” I went back to the chop stick I was turning - all of 8 feet from where they were “working”. I was expecting a lot of “would you . . .?” requests and “I need help” interruptions. I was wrong.
“I need a piece of wood to hold this up. Can we use stuff out of this scrap box?” Confirming that the scrap box in question was in fact a scrap box I said “Sure - but just stuff out of THIS box. Stay away from my box of exotics stuff!” I showed them how to use the bench hook and the dozuki saw, again warning that if they cut into my bench I was going to kill one or both of them. Also noted that aby blood that got on my bench was to be wiped off BEFORE any crying or screaming could begin. And I returned to my turning.
A half an hour went by with a lot of talking and singing and laughing before the next interruption.
“Can you cut this piece of plastic piple in half down its length on THAT machine (the bandsaw)?” Did that, and found two 1/2” copper elbows and some 3/4” vinyl tubing for them to consider using. Went back to turning.
Over the next hour I heard a lot of “One Mississippi, Two Mississipi, ...”, “If I put this piece here and glue that there . . .” , “why don’t you ...” and “would you hold this here so I can ...”. It was hard not to peek or get into “you should . . .” but I stayed at the lathe.
An hour and a half into the “work” I heard “... nine Mississippi! I’m DONE! Where’s the paint?”
Off to the metal, fireproof cabinet full of “finishing stuff”. Coincidentally, it contained spray cans - Day-Glo green, Day-Glo Pink, Robin’s Egg Blue and a can of just plane purple - purchased months earlier for a Cat Condominium Project that had stalled out. Amanda, the fashion diva, naturally went for the Day-Glo Pink.
“While I set up a place to paint, you shake that can ‘til the marble inside rattles - for a minute or two.”
“There’s a marble inside? Is it Day-Glo Pink? I wanna use the marble inside for MY marble coaster! How do we cut this can open to get MY marble?”
After explaining that the marble would be covered in paint and would have to dry - and even then would have a flat spot were it touched whatever it would sit on while drying - that idea was dropped. “YOU could make US marbles out of wood right? That’d be really cool!” Rather than get into “wood expands and contracts with changes in humidity so it wouldn’t stay round for long” I went with a simple “No!”, and showed her how to spray paint without a lot of runs and drips then turned her loose with the spray can. When she was done I had her “clear the tip” and explained why that was required BEFORE putting the cap back on.
“This will have to dry right?” - and she took off - for home - to get “stuff for my marble coaster”. The “stuff” was a Sharpe pen - black for the “spots”, a jar of gold glitter, three small plastic leapords (sp?) and a leapord print scraf - the THEME for her coaster. The glitter was carefully sprinkled in the bottom of the “track”, none where the marble would roll, and it stuck nicely in the wet paint. A few dots of hot glue for each animal held them in place, a bit of creative wrapping of the scarf around the piece and she was done - and it worked - Nine Mississipis.
Don’t know about them, but I learned a lot. Not sure about the glitter now scattered on the floor around the bench though.
If you have a kid or two, or there are kids in the neighborhood, consider becoming a teacher/helper. It can be quite rewarding - and a lot of fun. Then they turn into teenagers and all bets are off.
charlie b
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You're brave. I shudder at the liability, grown men these days can't entertain young girls.
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Locutus wrote:

Gates always open, shop door and garage door, both visible from the stree open during shop time, all lights on brightly. Parent(s) stop in to visit, check progress on The Project or to drag their kid home for lunch or dinner. Doors always open.
No kid uses the table saw, bandsaw or the router. And when they use the oscillating spindle sander, miter saw or drill press, I'm right there, the piece, when possible secured mechanically and one of my hands is on, or very near, the OFF switch, the other ready to pull, push or lift the kid away from sharp spinning things. Long hair must be tied back, no loose sleeves, no bracelets, necklaces or rings etc. If the power tool makes noise ear protection is mandatory as are safety glasses/goggles or face shield.
It's interesting watching an "old hand" give a newbie The Shop Tour - naming the various machines, describing what each does and always the "you have to wear . . ." rule.
charlie b
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It's a sad statement that Locutus makes. I volunteer about 5-8 hours/week in my daughter's elementary school with kids from kindergarten through 5th grade. Folks who aren't regularly in the company of a number kids wouldn't believe how many boys and girls are starved for an adult male in their lives; many, many homes are single-mother homes; and the school has a total of 3 men on staff - one is vice principal, the other is a 5th grade teacher, the last is the PE teacher - all the rest of the staff, classroom teachers, support, and special academic program teachers are women. Over the last two years, I've been hugged many times and asked in more than a couple instances to be a boy's or girl's dad - or have been told they wished I was his/her dad. I've not initiated or encouraged any of this but certainly don't recoil or reject the child's expressions due to fear of someone misinterpreting or jumping to conclusions.
We men live in such a state of paralysis over merely interacting with non-familial children. The real losers are the kids. Many don't have a positive male adult in their lives; many are taught to fear all unknown males. We all have an opportunity to be a positive role model for both boys and girls.
I, like you Charlie, take precautions to be in open environments with no barriers to others observing. Any time I am working one on one with a child, I make sure I am in a public place - like sitting in the school hallway, library, or just a quiet corner of their regular classroom. By doing so, you are not only taking steps to diffuse any misunderstanding by others, you are also offering the child safety and comfort that others are close-by.
I encourage others to work with kids - it is such a rewarding experience and it can make a world of difference in a child's life. Good on ya' Charlie.
--
Owen Lowe
The Fly-by-Night Copper Company
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wrote:

For Charlie: What a wonderful tale, and kudos for being there for these kids.
Owen: Kudos to you as well. Those children are so needy of role models and affection.
Many of you have heard this before, and I'm not looking for appreciation, just adding to Owens's statement. This is my 8th year as a volunteer. After Uncle Sam "retired" me from driving truck(Type II diabetes, insulin dependent), my best friend got me involved. He's a Special Ed teacher since mid '60s, working with 2,3,4th graders with emotional problems. In this classroom we see it all; ADD, ADHD, abuse of all sorts, anger management issues, you name it. Primarily single parent/welfare households. Lots of "tough love" in maintaining discipline while still trying to teach them words, basic math, reading, etc. For the last 2 yrs. we have had a marvelous para-professional(teacher's aide) who initiated Tuesday "cooking" class. Tuesday afternoons is Crockpot cookery. This is a multi-pronged lesson, teaching the kids about math(measurements, fractional cups, etc.), reading(the recipes), and becoming self-sufficient, learning about peeling potatoes, carrots, chopping things like peppers, onions, etc., learning about setting up a "kitchen" area, washing & drying dishes. What is prepared on Tues. afternoon is then warmed up & eaten during morning snack time on Wed.
Hugs are the greatest reward in the world, and we get lots of them.
--
Nahmie
The only road to success is always under construction.
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I came up with two ideas for working with kids. "Chef Bananas" and "Grocery Shopping = Math."
The first was to help an elementary school teacher with NUTRITION. Long story short, I dressed up in a green apron with a yellow "bandanna" thing we made and a real chef's" hat and came in from time to time to make healthy treats for the class. Banana Milkshakes was the first thing - hence the name. Banana Jelly (just mash up a banana and spread it on toast) was another.
The Grocery Shopping = Math was designed for my granddaughters while here on vacation in the Summer. We get all these competing Grocery sales ads every Wednesday and I would task the urchins to read all of them and create a small shopping list and a chart showing which store had the best price on several basic items.
The ads are great because they have pictures as well as text and even a real young child can "help" by finding the ad for Milk, leaving it to the older sibling to "do the math."
We are trying to get the local schools to use it as a regular feature and "homework" assignment. This would also get Mom and Dad involved as well as open discussions as to nutritional concerns and diet choices.
I have a "package" on the latter if anyone is interested.
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charlie b wrote:

Great story!!
Good to see there are still folks out there willing to take the time to teach things properly!! Didn't know this still happened in Southern California. At least it doesn't in my neighborhood. Language must be a barrier. Too bad.
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