Tips from a Maker Dad

Connor and I started our Maker journey together when he was 6. The "Awesome" in Raising Awesome has always been him. These are the Dad tips I have that I learned along the way.

-Sean J. Miller ©2021

1. Safety First

Although we learn from our mistakes, the risk of injury from one has to be 100% eliminated. So, incorporate safety lessons with any project you are doing. These are the most common safety tips to apply:
  • Always wear safety glasses. They make "overs" as well that will go over prescription glasses.
  • Wear gloves - Nitrile when working with chemicals. Don't wear them around rotating equipment, though.
  • Wear a face shield when grinding anything or you have a risk of a splash from chemicals.
  • Pull the safety keys on power tools. Colored buttons just yell "Touch Me!" If you leave the key in them, your child will be tempted to touch it.

2. Always Give a Heads Up

Nowadays, kids rarely get bored. In the past, parents would look for ways for their kids to have fun. Today, there is a good chance you'll interrupt something they might rather be doing - like gaming online or going over to a buddy's house to swim. So, if you have a drive for a marathon build, break it up into smaller scopes and give your child a heads up as to when you want to do it. This also works for doing things with your spouse as well. A heads up always is a good thing when you want to take up other people's time.

3. Video Can Make it Even More Interesting

Making a YouTube channel they can share with their friends can go a long way. Others being interested in your videos will help drive his interest for future projects.

4. Keep a Steady Demeanor

This was one of our early Life Lesson videos as it's a good tip for adults, too. If you show frustration or anger while making a project, you will make the time together be something to avoid versus pursue. So, make sure you never criticize, condemn, complain, or raise your voice when doing something. This goes for teaching them to drive as well.

5. Target the Key Lesson - not the Project

Many of your projects, you - not your child - will have the most work involved - whether it's in research, design, or assembly. Your goal is to raise an awesome child that knows they can do anything they pursue. This means hands on targeted lessons that they will take away with them for the rest of their life. The completed project is really just the memento.

6. Finish

The value of your Maker project are the lessons. However, if you never finish projects, you are teaching them its okay not to finish. The #1 thing that separates professionals are those that see everything through no matter how long it takes versus the dime a dozen that don't. You need to have a history of finished projects by the time your child leaves the nest - not a bunch of started projects. So, only have more than one project going if its due to a contest overlap.

7. Don't Worry if They Don't Want to Help

There may be a period where they seem either very distracted or just don't want to do it - even if you gave a heads up. That's okay. The best response is to make the lesson even more targeted and quick to perform. Also, even when you are not doing the project, it doesn't mean you can't talk about the ideas as you are doing other things like a car ride or throwing a ball in the yard. These conversations will charge back up their interest for the next time.
Also, be sure your project is cool and meaningful. If it is centered around your interests versus theirs, you can expect a more lackluster engagement.

8. Join Contests and Give Them the Prize

I suggest this order for contests: Project14, Instructables, Hackster.IO, and then company sponsored. With each one, the contestent competition grows, but so does the prize value. Anything you win - give your child a prize of its equivalent value.

9. Get a Computer with a Mouse

There is a generation of phone users being raised now that are missing out on the real world skills development that comes with a computer that has a mouse. You should be able to get your hands on a computer these days regardless of your budget. Whether its a low end laptop or a Raspberry Pi - for under $200 you can have a good machine. Kids that grow up using a mouse raise their game for scholarships and tech related occupations over those that just swipe. Start them out early and get them on the home keys.

10. Preserve Your Memories

Simon and Garfunkel have a song titled Bookends. It ends with "Preserve Your Memories, They're All that's Left You." It's short and has a nostalgic feel to it. Being near the end of our Maker journey together, believe me, you need some way to look back on your Maker days with your child. For us - well, it's this site. A good Github repository is a great way to keep your code with you for your entire life and theirs. Consider a OneDrive or iCloud Photo Storage. You will find yourself at least once a year taking a trip down memory lane.