One concern I hear when suggesting that parents tailor science education to their own kid’s interests is how to make sure they expose their kids to a breadth of topics. What if you’ve got a kid with a latent talent for music or art but is never exposed to these topics because all they care about is motorcycles? What if they love art so much that they never learn about photosynthesis?
One of our goals is to provide our children with resources they can use to both discover and develop their talents. Even though our methods might differ, I don’t think this is much different from what other parents want for their own children.
There are a ton of resources out there to help you accomplish this goal, and one of my purposes in writing this blog is to share the resources we’ve found particularly worthwhile and effective in our own family. One that I want to highlight today is DIY.org.
What is it
If you’re not familiar with DIY.org, imagine combining merit badges, Pinterest, and social networking for kids.
Kids create anonymous accounts on the site, and then set about to complete projects in dozens of possible skill areas. They have a huge variety of skills including entomology, sailing, web design, weaving, entrepreneurship, and many more.
In order to earn a skill badge, kids must complete a set of challenges associated with each skill. Each challenge has example videos from experts and professionals in that field, which explain one way to complete the challenge. There are also sample projects created by other kids showing different takes on the same thing. I love this aspect of the site, as it shows kids that there are often many ways to accomplish the same goal.
Once your kid finds a challenge that interests them, they work on it themselves. Once they’ve finished it, they upload a photo or video of what they’ve done to the DIY website. The site moderators then evaluate the submission for suitability and either mark the challenge as completed or let the submitter know why it didn’t pass.
To make the process easier, DIY even provides mobile apps that kids can use to upload their projects directly from a smart phone or tablet.
Aside from the feedback a project receives from the adult moderators, other kids can comment on it. Kids can also follow one another’s project feeds so they can keep up with what their friends are doing. Our kids follow the feeds of friends they know “in real life” as well as kids whose work they admire.
The kids really enjoy the social aspect as well. Just to give you an idea of the scale, one of my daughters has 2,800 “followers” on the site who watch and comment on her projects. (I have 52 followers on Twitter, so maybe it’s time for me to hire her as my social networking consultant.)
Kids can even create their own challenges for other kids to respond to. For example, one of our daughters recently created an art contest on the site, complete with virtual prizes. Dozens of kids entered, and she had a lot of fun interacting with them in the comments.
As soon as you put “children” and “social networking” into the same sentence, some parents become justifiably concerned. If all the accounts are anonymous, what’s to stop some creepy cyberstalker from pretending he’s a six-year-old?
First, adult site moderators review all project submissions. Second, signing up for an account requires a parent/guardian email address. The parent has to approve the sign up, and then receives an email every time their child submits a project to the site.
There’s also a parent’s dashboard that you can use to see all of your children’s projects in one place, along with any social interactions and comments. If either a parents or kid sees a comment or account that looks creepy or suspicious, they can flag it for review by a moderator.
I use the dashboard mainly to browse through some of the cool things my kids do. I don’t have the time to keep up with the comments. Instead we take the “teach them correct principles and let them govern themselves” approach. Before allowing them on the site, we sat down with them and discussed internet safety. We also review those ideas with them periodically and occasionally spot check comments in their feeds.
DIY.org is a fantastic resource for parents looking to expose their kids to a greater breadth of knowledge. The social networking aspect, coupled with the thoughtful moderation and safety features, make the site a fun and safe place for kids to discover and develop their talents, while also finding and interacting with like-minded peers.