PDX Young Makers

September 10, 2012, By Marie Bjerede

In West Linn, Oregon, a group of kids and parents have established a Young Maker’s club that focuses on high-tech/low-tech Making such as e-textiles and soft circuits.  In practice, what that means is moms and daughters (in our group the girls were 8-12 years old) sewing together, but with a small twist.  The things we make are decorated with light emitting diodes (LED’s) instead of beads and we use a special conductive thread for connecting them.  Although we moms found the idea of electronic circuits somewhat foreign at first, we are delighted that our daughters take them for granted and love to use them artistically.

Initially, the club grew out of my daughter, Annika’s passion. My daughter is a Maker.  She will happily tell you, “Turn your back on me for one minute, and I start Making.”  Paper, tree branches, hot glue, glitter, fabric, old bottles, you name it – nothing is excluded from her Maker’s eye as re-purposeable treasure.  As a toddler, she would spend hours on daily projects involving sticks or paint or tape, and at the age of six she was gifted with the book “Fashioning Technology”, built the circuit card that let the paper glow worm, Glowey, light up in response to dimmed lights, and suddenly gained a whole new source of inspiration and materials for Making: technology.  And I saw my very young child completely at ease with materials and processes that I had found utterly intimidating as a young adult in college.

 

It became my mission to support my daughter with access to Maker tools and Maker treasure, access to Maker expertise, and the opportunity to share the things she loved with others.  The first step was to find a local expert who could help guide us and teach us the basics – we literally had no idea where to start.  Fortunately, the 2011 San Mateo Maker Faire turned out to be a great place to make connections with the e-textiles community and we met a local Maker, Shannon Henry of Polymath Design Labs, who just happened to be experienced in teaching soft circuit projects to others, who was an outstanding role model as a Maker, and who was excited by the idea of working with the next generation of e-textiles Makers.


Next I talked with a few of our friends and neighbors in the community and found a real desire on the part of the girls to do creative work together (a lot of them were VERY excited by the idea of fashion design) and on the part of the parents to include technology among the raw materials at their disposal.  (Note that although we invited boys as well, they preferred very different approaches to engaging with technology initially.  I suspect, though, that regardless of the entry point, once young people are engaged with Making and tech, they will find themselves crossing easily among the many different venues for Making, from robots to microcontrollers to soft circuits to vehicles to fire-based contraptions to wearables.)

From there, it was easy.  Shannon held classes with our Young Makers between September and December, showing them small projects that helped them become familiar with the materials and tools of soft circuits.  She provided kits with all the materials, making it easy for us parents (finding and buying all the exact right materials is a pretty big hurdle).  After the new year, we worked on projects for Maker Faire which served as great inspiration for the girls to use their newfound skills to do challenging projects of their own choosing.  (I took over the job of buying the electronics materials in bulk for all of us – both to save money and to make it easier on parents.)

 

Finally, the Young Makers had the chance to share their projects with others and see the work of other Makers.  Coming together with others in the community is one of the most inspiring and energizing experiences one could imagine!  We immersed ourselves in the 2012 San Mateo Maker Faire as attendees and as exhibitors.  We exhibited, presented, and played at the Seattle mini Maker Faire.  We engaged with local geekdom at the mini Maker Faire that came to Portland as part of OSCON.

 

We are about to kick off our second year of the club with aspirations to bring the Lilypad Arduino into our toolkit to support the more ambitious projects the girls have been considering.  With perfect timing, the Portland mini Maker Faire will happen just at the beginning of our season, which will give us the chance to connect with others in our own area that share our interests.  What began as one young Maker tinkering around in her living room is evolving into a connected group of creative young people designing their own experiences and following their own unique interests – we can’t wait to see what this next year will bring.

Marie Bjerede

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