“No scissors, no tape, but I believe in you.”
These were the only instructions given to my 8-year-old daughter and me one Sunday morning at The Forge, a dedicated maker space at the Science Museum of Virginia. Our task during this maker challenge? Build a puff-mobile, some sort of small craft powered solely by a human being’s exhale. We had a bucket of wheels, some plastic straws, paper, and binder clips.
The volunteer leading this session, while there to help us if we needed it, was deliberately hands-off. It’s a rare thing, especially at a kid’s workshop, to be given a problem to solve without being explicitly told how to solve it. With no example at the front of the room nor printed, numbered steps to follow, we initially felt stuck. But after just a few minutes, we found freedom in playing with the materials together. We talked through ideas, tried stuff out, and built prototypes that all failed – until one finally didn’t. As our cars gently glided across the floor, we felt triumphant.
Later that afternoon, I returned to The Forge – now with three girls in tow: my 8-year-old and two 11-year-olds (my oldest daughter and her friend). This time, we’d pre-registered for a maker workshop session to build audio speakers out of paper, magnets, and batteries. While more structured than the morning, the emphasis was still on exploration. We were given examples, not instructions, then set on our way. While the facilitators helped us along the way with gentle nudges like, “If you coil the copper too close, it might reheat the glue“ or “Those magnets are very strong, be careful not to get pinched,” they largely let us do our own thing.
At the end of the session, we each took turns trying out our creations. When it came time to plug mine in and as the tinny sound of KISS played through a speaker that I had built, I felt a purity of joy rarely felt in my adult life. While I (roughly) understood the electromagnetic principles at play, that wasn’t what mattered. Had I been given a complete kit or step-by-step instructions, I’d have just built a thing, a paint-by-numbers picture the same as everyone else’s. But instead, I’d taken a pile of nothing and built something, a creation that felt truly mine. It made me want to feel that way more often.
You and your family can experience The Forge at the Science Museum of Virginia. All guests are welcome at the newest permanent exhibit. The maker challenges in the morning don’t require registration. The maker workshops in the afternoon do require advance registration, which you can do in person at the guest services desk on the day of the workshop.
For hours of operation, admission at the Science Museum of Virginia, membership rates, and more information (including suggested age ranges for activities in The Forge) visit The Forge at the Science Museum of Virginia.