“Heating things up to super-hot always changes things to make them different, right Mommy?”

Questions like this one sometimes make me wonder if my first grader got hold of a playbook along the lines of “Phrases that will Make Your Mommy Beam!”  But no, he seems to have cooked this one up on his own.  We’re standing in 90 degree heat around an iron pour demonstration at a “fire arts festival”, and he is so transfixed by watching the suede-clad volunteers pouring blaze orange molten metal into sand, that he doesn’t notice the heat.  My two year old is more interested in the hot dogs than the hot metal, but still gives it more attention than he gives most anything else I want him to look at.

Other parents question why I often choose this sort of destination for our family outings instead of the usual kid haunts, but there’s a certain magic to watching real people make real things, and my kids respond to that.   As a maker and a scientist (and a former farm kid) I can tell you from experience that I learned far more about the way things work, and the way the world works, from rolling up my sleeves and tinkering with stuff than I ever learned from a textbook or a lecture.  (Apologies to my alma mater, which will remain unnamed).    So when I watch my kid earnestly marking up a steel plate to indicate which parts will have a design welded on and which parts will have designs cut out,  I know this is a kind of learning that stretches across disciplines and beyond spelling quizzes.   And when I see him pen a design inside a part that is surrounded by a cut line, I bite my tongue for a minute to see if he catches this before he passes it to the welder.   (He does).

This, then, is why I’m passionate about helping to produce events like the Mini Maker Faire.   What if a family shows up at the Faire and a kid sees a live pot-throwing demo for the first time?  Or a craftsman working wood on a lathe?  They may never pursue that exact trade, but the mental exercise of watching something that is produced by manipulating a spinning object is absolutely riveting.  And maybe when they go home that night and happen to glance at the leg of their kitchen table, or the ceramic bowl they’re eating soup from, they think, “I bet I know how this was made!  Cool!” Now that’s a gift I want to give my kids.