As the editor-in-chief of MAKE Magazine and co-founder of Boing Boing, Mark Frauenfelder knows what separates a good project from a great one. When it comes to finding inclusive, family-friendly projects, things can get a little more difficult. We sat down with Mark to find out how to get your kids more involved in Making and what it takes to create a project the whole family can get excited about.
Can you tell us a little bit about how you got into Making and DIY culture? Was Making a big part of your life growing up or something you discovered as an adult?
My father and mother were and are makers and they are an inspiration. I watched my dad make stained glass windows and lamps, hi-fi equipment, jewelry, and leather vests. I watched my mother sew and paint. But I was not much of a maker until I became an adult. I'm a late bloomer! But once I got bitten by the bug, there was no turning back.
What lead to you writing your book, Maker Dad? Did you run into any unique challenges coming up with the projects?
I wanted to encourage my daughters to get started in making earlier than I did, so I came up with projects that we would enjoy doing together. My older daughter loves to paint and draw, and is making a shack in the backyard. My younger daughter makes sculptures out of polymer clay and makes video games using Scratch, a nifty kids' programming language.
As far as challenges, I learned that it took at least four tries to make something work the way I wanted it to. The first time I made something new, I discovered all sorts of major problems with the plan I had sketched out (often just in my head). The second attempt took care of the big problem, and revealed minor problems. The third build unveiled opportunities for improvement, and the fourth prototype was sometimes good enough.
What do you take into consideration before taking on a project as a family to make sure everyone ends up happy?
We like making things that are 1) somewhat challenging, 2) give us the opportunity to learn about a new skill, tool, or material, and 3) have a purpose. If a project hits all three it is usually a lot of fun to make and use.
Are there certain types of projects that you would you encourage people to do with their children?
Food-based projects are great. A lot of people don't consider food "making," but we do. We make yogurt, sauerkraut, and kombucha. We also raised chickens. We loved the chickens and the eggs. They were eaten by coyotes, though. I see coyotes about three times a week in our yard here in Los Angeles.
How do you incorporate Dremel tools into your work?
I have been using a Dremel rotary tool for many years. I bought one when I was about 12 years old to remove the flash from molded metal parts in model car kits. I've been using them ever since. They are great for repairing things, and I use them when I make cigar box guitars and wooden spoons.
Do you have any tips for encouraging Making as part of the family routine?
Expose your kids to all kinds of making. You never know what will capture their interest and later become a passion.
What's the best piece of advice you could give someone who is interested in doing more collaborative work with their family?
Celebrate your mistakes! Accept them as learning opportunities. It often turns out that mistakes take you down a path that leads to something unexpected and often better than where you initially intended to go.
To see more of Mark's work, check out his website.