How to Encourage Independent Discovery

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Kids learn how things work by taking apart old appliances!

It wasn't until I actually became a parent that I realized the absolute necessity of teaching our kids to think for themselves.  We will not always be around to do everything for them, and I would like my children to be able to figure out how something works even for the sole satisfaction of doing a job themselves.  

Personally, I am not a person whose instinct is to think things through.  I remember during our first few years of marriage, I would be in awe that my husband could fix just about anything.  At first, I thought, "Wow--must be nice to just know how to do everything."  But I soon changed my mind.   I realized he didn't necessarily just know.  

After hearing stories of what he was allowed to do in his childhood, and what he was allowed to try, and what he was allowed to take apart, it soon became clear:  He taught  himself how to figure things out, simply by being curious.

Now, I am not going to say that we can all be at his level of handyman expertise.  He did, in fact, have to break in his parents to the idea of taking apart the entire brand new television, with hundreds of little parts littered throughout the long, shag carpet.  After the inital screams and laments of "how could you!?,"  they came around just fine.  The point is: he would have taken apart anything.  It is in his blood.  He can't help himself and feels quite satisfied when he is able to disect the latest technological device.  

And I admit--not all kids are like that.  Some kids will be plain uncomfortable with the idea of "breaking" something, even if they have the intention of putting it back together.  Even if that object has no value and will soon see the not-so-fresh bottom of a trash can.  

So, that is why, as parents and teachers, should set-up times to explore with our children and see what is inside certain appliances and devices that make them "tick".  

Hewlett Packard is a wonderful workplace, one whose goal is to involve families in the workplace as much as possible.  Each year, in April, they host an event called, "Bring your Little Inventor to Work Day".  It is a day of celebration with a plethora of math and science-laced activities that the kids can take part in.  Always, there is a certain activity which garners much enthusiasm.  Imagine a room full of gadgets and devices and old computers and printers and then imagine, every where you step, pairs of screwdrivers and pliers.  Sounds like either the city dump....or the best kid-friendly activity on the planet.  


The kids take things apart and can screw things from one device to another.  Best, they can take home their creations!

But, you don't need an American multi-national information systems corporation to stage the exact same thing at your kitchen table.

(insert sigh of

The first thing to do is to gather old appliances which have lost their purpose in your home.  You can also ask neighbors or friends for donations or head to the local thrift shop.  Think about gathering computers, printers, cameras, projectors, beaters, toasters, alarm clocks, watches, smoke detectors, etc.   Instruct children to NOT plug them in.  Discard batteries, if applicable.  

Have the tools needed readily available: screwdrivers, pry-bars, pliers, etc.  

Give your child the permission and freedom to take a peak at the organs inside these gadgets.  Give new life to these forgotten house helpers, and give spark to your children's brains.  Practice the fine-motor skills needed to operate a screwdriver or pair of pliers. See what a pulley does.  Feel the spokes of a gear.  Hear the ding of a bell.  

And what will your child learn?

Learning is fun

And, in the case of myself, learn how to change the vacuum belt all by yourself (without the help of Mr. Handyman!)  :o)

The scope of this project can go on and on.  You can ask your child to create a new, fictional invention by swapping parts of several different appliance.  Then instruct your student to write an advertisement and give a speech to the family or a group of friends regarding this new invention.  

You could also have them research the origination of certain parts, like the pulley, the switch or the motherboard.  

You can have them complete a venn diagram comparing the parts of a toaster and a mixer.

The possibilities are endless!  This activity will also adapt well with a classroom, homeschool co-op, birthday party activity, etc.  

I would be delighted to take a peak at your shared discoveries.  Share your links in the comments section!