tinkerer with drill

Guest Post: Aaron Kramer on Supporting Frustration in Tinkering

[Aaron Kramer is a reDiscover Board Member, artist, and educator who will be leading the 7/15-7/19 Tinkering School LA Masters Camp session]

I visited the Pali camp twice this week for their end of the day ritual. Today they were revisiting a trend where the 7 and 8 year olds were saying Tuesday, “this squid is too hard to cut out of cardboard can you do it for me?” It was symptomatic. Inexperienced junior counselors tried to encourage them to try but the kids would just quit and lose focus. So they started helping more and it opened up the Pandora’s box of the kids wanting them to do everything.

They had to push a coordinated reset button to allow the kids to fail. Be frustrated. And soon become self reliant and back at work. That took 3 days. Knowing when to step in and save a kid from frustration is a tricky art. Too soon and they become dependent. Too late and they can give up and become recalcitrant. There are hundreds of these moments in a typical day of Tinkering. I think of it as “taking a beat”.

I was working with a 10 year old girl today in a mini camp. One of many examples; she was drilling holes and had the drill on reverse. I noticed but waited. She tried twice with no success. Then the lightbulb went off. She noticed the direction, solved the problem and moved forward confidentiality. I truly believe that we are teaching a deeper learning. One that serves these kids more than they realize. Fail forward. Fail faster.

The age of a child does not always equate to the emotional age of the child. Some kids just want to know what is next. Some just want to coast. Some have their own ideas and want to pursue them. Some are overly ambitious and easily frustrated. Some refuse to compromise. Some just roll with it all and have a good time. We want the kids to be having fun at camp. We also want to challenge them and help them grow into being able to take on increasingly challenging projects that take them to the edge of their comfort zones. But first we need them to be engaged. With our open ended approach we hope to make room for all of those kids. That takes a very specific approach to each individual child. The concierge approach to learning. We do this well but we could further institutionalize it.

Kits and preplanned projects can check a lot of boxes for a wide range of children. It is an important skill to be able to follow instructions. I think this is more true the older the kid. There is value in showing work product to parents and the sense of pride that in turn reflects back on the child. All the little lessons and building blocks needed to take on more complex problems can be found in projects like these. Repetitive tasks. Tedious, dictated processes that build up to a defined goal. There is real value in these.

In this vein I sometimes setup kids for success. Thinking a couple steps in front of a process and making an adjustment that will avoid a possible derailment has value. Having just the right thing at the right moment can save the momentum on a big push. Sometimes the store bought wheels just get you there faster. There is nothing wrong with “seeding” the warehouse with the right component stuff for your build.

With my upcoming camp we are offering a little more focused outcomes. Mine will have a design client and hopefully an empathetic response to a real world problem. Not as much fantasy but reality. We can offer all of the above and depending on how we teach it get the same value and that deeper learning. Fantasy driven camps. Small specific builds. Deep design thinking dives into meaty topics. All can coexist at reDiscover.

Scroll to top