Imagination and Innovation – Maker Spaces

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I have been inundated with information of all kinds and hourly my circumstances change. At the point I am writing this article, our entire state has been issued a “shelter in place” by Governor Cooper. As these safety restrictions increase, I keep asking, “What are we going to do with each other? How are we going to keep learning loss, boredom, and device induced brain fog from infiltrating our home? What about our mental and physical health?” If you are struggling with these questions too, brainstorm with me now. At least part of the answer may lie in conscientious behavior modeling. Create temporary spaces for creative and industrious expression for our children of all ages. Spend time playing strategy games together and explore the yard. Work puzzles, prepare meals together, or take turns completing various household tasks. Talk about how everyone is feeling, hold family meetings to check-in physically and mentally. Don’t over program, find a space to be alone and clear your mind. Have face to face calls with friends and extended family members.

Because 4-H uses an experiential learning model I will focus on how experiential learning can improve our circumstances of isolation. Creative expression has been shown to reduce anxiety and increase industry. We can improve the mental health outcomes of our youth in this time of isolation by encouraging true creativity and industrious expression. The internet offers us a clue to the popularity of creative expression in a multitude of ways. Bloggers, Vloggers, and TikTok’ers are drawing us into the craft of writing and videography by showing us how to bake, sew, fish, and hit the ball better. If you can name it you can google it! I found 938 million websites dedicated to the discussion of mental health and art. I found 114 million websites dedicated to the discussion of mental health and creativity. The Healing Power of Art states on their website, “At its best art has the power to heal, inspire, provoke, challenge, and offer hope. It can transform our physiological state and perception. It also has the power to awaken us to become more conscious about important issues affecting individuals, society, and the planet.” I agree whole-heartedly and I am encouraged by these words because there is something healing and preventative here. Please do note, as parents, it’s important for us to monitor our children’s internet search habits and also make sure the information we are using in our instruction is research-based and comes from credible sources.

So what is art, what is creativity? Both definitions include the word imagination. In our world of ‘how to’ videos and pre-packaged kits are our young people being encouraged to use their imaginations? Team practice, dance practice, homework, and the ever-present screens may lead to an over-programmed group of young people and maybe a stressed-out group of future therapy patients. Well, we have now been given the gift of time!

In the 1990s the acronym STEM appeared and it became a buzz word for us all to begin programming focused on science and math. Lisa Catterall is a senior associate at the Center for Research on Creativity and she wrote an article entitled A Brief History of STEM and STEAM from an Inadvertent Insider.  She claims that 1993 saw deep cuts in art education funding. She believes creativity leads to innovation and makes people better citizens. She set off to educate the nation and her success is evidenced by the new acronym, STEAM, adding in an “A” for Art, and a renewed focus by curriculum companies and educators to highlight the value of creative expression along with the “hard sciences”. STEAM-based curriculum and a new term, MakerSpaces, is evolving. says it better than I can, “We have a student culture of children who have learned to consume technology; educational zombies with all of their technological skills residing in the swipe of an index finger. With a maker-space, we can move beyond consumption to creation!” I encourage you to advocate for your children with their teachers, thank them if they are already trying, and in your home give your children unscheduled free space and time to imagine, innovate, build, consume, and create. You don’t have a 3-D printer? No Problem, a shoebox full of pipe cleaners, broken shells, straws, duck tape, glue, spare parts, and enough time for the computer screens to fade away and the ideas to generate are all an elementary-aged child needs to begin building the next great invention. An old VCR and a screwdriver might encourage a child to creatively explore the world of electronics. A box of recycled tubes, bottles, cans, and time can begin to stir a creative plan for engineering and architecture.

At Lee County 4-H we are trying to grow young imaginations. We offer summer STEAM camps and clubs, encourage participation in the Lee Regional Fair by entering creative exhibits, and we have an agricultural themed art competition during Farm City Week. Also, join me for my daily Facebook check-ins each weekday at 1 p.m., where I am sharing ideas for maker-space activities while we are unable to meet face to face. These can be stressful times for our families. Turn off the screens, talk, play, relax, and create every chance you get and together let us start a movement that will allow our young people to be imaginative innovators improving themselves and the future.