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The Most Fun In The World Is Making Stuff!

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The Most Fun in the World is Making Stuff TG

Recently I went to a wonderful Mini-Maker Faire called STEAM Fest in Boulder, Colorado. STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math. The emphasis was on making things, ranging from high-tech robots to low-tech cardboard boxes. There were a number of kids at this event that had autism; however, they had a great time cutting up large cardboard boxes and making forts. To safely cut the heavy corrugated cardboard, a mini-saw was made from a halved hacksaw blade and a duct tape handle. This creative tool was much safer than a knife and still sawed the cardboard effectively.

Many of the high-tech robotics activities involved computers, but the kids were more interested in making the physical robot do something. The STEAM Fest even had booths for doing simple, fun stuff like cutting paper snowflakes and making things from popsicle sticks, string, glue and tape— much like the craft projects I did in elementary school!

For the budding mathematicians, STEAM Fest had a cool game for making hundreds of mathematical patterns called FRACTILES. The designs one can create are infinite. I would have loved this as a child! My only warning is that it has small pieces, so FRACTILES would not be appropriate for younger children who might eat them.

I also witnessed kids building catapults that threw soft sponge balls. This was a fun activity where elementary aged kids were given short pieces of lumber, bungee cords, plastic pans, and lots of duct tape. They had to figure out how to make the catapult and their parents were instructed to let them. Participating in this activity enabled kids to learn from their mistakes. If one way failed, they had to try another. To keep this activity safe, adults watched to prevent the use of rocks and other dangerous materials.

It was great to see kids who were not glued to a screen. Since children on the autism spectrum sometimes get addicted to video games, my advice is to avoid giving them as gifts this holiday season. What I loved about the Mini-Maker Faire is that children were being creative. Children will put the screens away when if they have hands-on activities. Instead of playing the Minecraft video game, kids played with giant blocks made from boxes labeled “Minecraft Blocks.”

The kids were having the most fun with simple stuff, such as cardboard boxes, tape, and scrap wood. Making houses and forts from cardboard boxes was more popular than the 3D pictures on a large screen television. When I was a child, I was given gifts for making stuff and exploring the world, like carpentry tools, a toy sewing machine (it really worked!), and a microscope. The next door neighbor had an Erector Set. We never followed the directions, we just built stuff!


Temple Grandin, Ph.D., is an internationally respected specialist in designing livestock handling systems. She is the most noted highly functioning person with autism in the world today. For more information, visit her at www.templegrandin.com.


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