Kit Controversy

by Mary Ann on July 26, 2010

I am going to take a break from the Master Inspire Plan to address an issue that parents have been asking me about – kits. Should you use them or not? I have listened to speakers and read some articles that say absolutely not. I don’t live in a black and white world although I did when I was a younger mom. Now I take my family, their needs, as well as my needs into consideration when making a decision about what is good when it comes to our education and learning. As Oliver DeMille has said, I am the expert in my home. You are the expert in your home. I am suggesting that you take the following information in and digest it. Think about it and then do what is right for your own family and your own Spark Station.

You are the expert in your home! You decide what to use for your children’s education

1. I don’t want you to fill your Spark Station with them. A kit can be a great thing and kids love them. The problem is in the fact that they come with directions which parents expect to be followed. There usually isn’t a lot of room for experimentation. Kits can work when parents let go of the outcome. A perfect bar of soap isn’t as important as mixing and experimenting and deciding what to do. Failure can sometimes be a great learning tool.

Kits can stifle creativity. For example paint by number is never going to be as effective in getting a child to think as a blank piece of paper and tubs of paint. The finished product may be more eye appealing with the paint by number but that isn’t the point, is it! We want some creativity, some thinking, some problem solving going on. However if you have a budding artist who wants a finished product that they can hang up with pride then a paint by number may just be the thing. Remember I said “may be” just the thing, that is a call you have to make because you know your child. A painting class might be a better use of your funds.

Also, some kits aren’t worth what you pay because the contents are skimpy and you can put them together more cost effectively yourself. So you have to really decide if the kit is worth the cost and if it will allow your child to expand knowledge and creativity.

One last comment, you as the parent need to let go of the cost of the kit. You can’t say, “I paid $15 for that kit and you aren’t going to ruin it.” If you can’t let go of the cost, don’t buy it. You also have to let go of the outcome. If you have to hover to make sure that it gets done “right” then kits are not a good choice for you.

2. Don’t abandon kits altogether. One of the items in the Spark station could be a telescope but suppose that you have a child that is just wild about putting things together. In that case a telescope kit might just be the perfect thing. I saw one on the internet for $14.00. What a great way to get a child started on experiencing some engineering. Of course if they are old enough then maybe they would rather make a telescope from scratch.

3. A lot of what we consider just play is actually science or math, etc. While I was doing research for my book I was astounded by the amazing and inexpensive kits that were offered for sale but even more astounded in what categories I found them. Let’s take chemistry for example. When I typed in Chemistry for Children I found a site which had all kinds of scientific equipment from professional to things for kindergartners. The kits listed in the section for Chemistry included: How to brew your own root beer, a Make your own chewing gum kit, cheese making, an elementary grade chemistry set, perfume kit, soap making, a candy factory, and creative cosmetics. Isn’t that amazing?

A kit might get your child involved in something that will move them beyond the kit to further experimentation. Let’s say that your daughter is all about hair and makeup. Let’s say that she is twelve and can’t keep a thought in her head that isn’t about boys, friends or how she looks. You are ready to go nuts because you can’t get her interested in reading or anything of value. But you remember that inspire and not require is important not just in education but in your relationship with your daughter.

So you add a cosmetics or perfume kit to the Spark Station without saying anything. Maybe she misses it for a few days because she is sulking and won’t really get anything out of The Spark Station. Then her younger sister spies it and begins to inspect the contents. The next thing you know your twelve-year old is helping her read the directions and they are off.

At the local heath food store or nearest book store or library you have picked up a book on herbs, medicines and home made items that includes make up, hand lotion, potpourri and perfume. It is available in The Spark Station or on the coffee table. That just might extend her interest beyond the kit.

It is always good to remember that the above scenario is what we want to have happen, what we hope happens,  that our children will move from interest to a desire to know more. Remember that once The Spark Station door is opened you have to walk away from it emotionally and let your children do their thing. She might not use the kit. So you will have to keep adding things, thinking and praying until she does find something that sparks her interest. It is after all, about her educating herself, when she is ready.

4. Another thing to remember is that you can get great ideas for your Spark Station by looking at kits. What would you need to have on hand to do certain projects without buying a kit? Take a terrarium for example. One week you could add containers, a bag of dirt and some plants to The Spark Station. Put them in when no one is looking. I am absolutely sure your kids will figure out something to do with the plants. Maybe they will ask for a suggestion and you can show them a terrarium because there will be a book in The Spark Station that tells all about them! This could lead to a discussion of biospheres and ecosystems.

Kit Possibilities to buy or put together yourself

  • brew your own root beer
  • telescope
  • pocket microscope or telescope
  • ant habitat
  • terrarium kit
  • solar system
  • robot kit
  • solar powered car
  • electro magnet kit
  • plasma ball
  • static electricity ball
  • perfume kit
  • dissecting kit (did you know that you can
  • elementary chemistry set
  • buy a frog to dissect for about $5.00.
  • bath salts kit
  • soap making
  • candle making
  • cosmetics kit
  • color mixing lab
  • candy factory (your kitchen is just one huge kit!)
  • magnetic levitation kit
  • battery kit
  • human powered light bulb
  • crystal growing kit
  • camera making kit
  • radio kit
  • telegraph kit
  • clock kit
  • barometer kit
  • electronics kit
  • kaleidoscope kit
  • construction kits that use straws, pennies, magnets etc.

As you can see the possibilities of what can go into your Spark Station are practically endless. You, like me, may just want to dash out and get it all. I mean really, it is so exciting isn’t it. That is the same excitement we want our children to feel when it is “school time”, “family learning time’, or “yea I’m at grandma’s time”. However, remember the space that you have set aside and don’t go overboard. This is rule four of the Five Rules of Engagement. Also remember that you want to rotate your items frequently to keep The Spark Station fresh and interesting. So add to it a little at a time. When you add something new, take something out. That way you don’t need to totally redo the contents all at once. It is important to keep the management of The Spark Station simple so that no one is overwhelmed and we keep it going long term.

Using The Spark Station in this manner allows parents to exert influence on the content of our children’s activities without crossing the line of structuring content. If we’d like to introduce our children to biology, for example, we can add items to The Spark Station on that subject. Because of the interesting and engaging nature of the system we are using they will be more likely to engage than if we told them we wanted to teach them about biology. We don’t require our children to engage, the items are just there and the system increases the likelihood that they will be used. The object of the tool, The Spark Station, is to help us structure time, not content and to inspire not require.

P.S. I found the coolest site on the web called Connor’s Kits for Kids. Here is what is cool. It is a company run by a kid named Connor to create science kits for kids that they can buy with allowance money, read the directions and have their questions about why something does something answered. I just thought that Connor was an amazing kid! Connor started his company in fourth grade, in 2004. He just wanted kids to enjoy science and know that it was for everyone. See this young teacher in action.

Why not let your kids make their own kit. Why not help them make a kit or two for Christmas or Birthday presents for friends and family. Why not?

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