Our theme for the OPEN Make event on 27 Feb 2010 was wearables and soft circuitry. We led several activities in the studio that day that gave the visitors from the public a chance to make things. Because of the theme, our activities were fairly involved and often required quite a bit of patience and dexterity. These are not traits that are commonly totally developed in all ages of people, however, and we knew we were going to have visitors from everywhere along these spectra. It feels bad to discourage people from creating anything they want to try and make, but it also feels bad to have someone get really frustrated or bored during an activity that is not at their level. Often, but definitely not always, age is our best standardized indicator of ability. We've had a few discussions about suggested age limits, and I'd like to put some of our thoughts about this in writing on the blog.
During Open Make, we put up signs at each table that relayed the name of the activity. Some had no age suggestion written on them, some did:
For the Circuit Necklace making activity that I led, I wrote 'intended for ages 10+" on the sign. Then people with young children, and also children younger than 10 themselves, showed up and wanted to make necklaces. I was left to make snap judgments about who would be okay making one and who wouldn't be. I told young children that they needed to bring their parent(s) over to help since there were semi-tricky tools (wire cutters, pliers, etc). These kids often came back with their parents and then I would explain to their parents that this activity would require a long attention span, tiny pieces, and the ability to troubleshoot and handle some frustration. A few parents decided their kids wouldn't be into the activity. I was surprised, however, that a large number of parents and kids still wanted to do it despite my warnings and efforts to deter. And I was even more surprised that almost all of these kids and parents worked together and had great experiences!
This kid, for example, who was only 6, did an amazing job of making his necklace. His father worked with him closely, but never "took over" the project and really helped him learn how to use the tools properly and safely.
On the other hand, i let a few parents persuade me that their kids should do it, and their kids and i both struggled though the activity while their parents tried to do it for them. It was hard for me to handle those situations well, and when i had to spend lots of time focusing on these people, i felt like i was not able to give enough help and information to the other visitors i was facilitating for (since i was teaching a few people at a time how to do it).
Another one of the activities we did that day, Make Your Own Bling, led by Ryan, did not have an age limit on the sign. When I'm off the LS computer, he can comment on how this went for him.
In general, it's going to be an interesting challenge to plan and execute activities for the diversity of visitors that come to our wonderful museum to make things with us, and I think we're lucky that the public is so willing to try things out along with us! As a final thought, i'll leave you with a (blurry) photo (sorry!) of the graphic on the wall that warns you that this area isn't really intended for anyone under 12...or is it?