Keeping Kids Busy During Long School Breaks

Now that school is out for the summer, my grandson Thomas is spending quite a bit of time at our house. This year his parents decided that, at 12 years old, he was too old to go to a day-care/summer camp program. He will probably take over quite a bit of the yard work and participate in some other projects, but, otherwise, he will end up spending his free time playing video games.

To give him something educational to do, I bought a 3d printer. Neither of us had ever used one before, and it took us an afternoon to figure it out, especially since the instructions were not the best. For example, there were four different ways to attach the filament spool, and we managed to try the three wrong ways before getting it right. It was also tricky to detach the printed item once it was done. In both cases, Thomas figured out what to do. I was impressed with his troubleshooting and problem-solving skills.

To get started with a 3d printer, you can use premade files that are freely available on the web. This printer came with software that converts the file to the correct format (gcode) and saves it to an SD card. After inserting the SD card into the printer and following the commands on a little screen, you sit back and wait for the printer to do its job. It’s easy once you figure it out.

Now we are working on the next step: designing and creating our own objects. This is introducing him to computer-aided design software and getting him thinking more about geometry. (We are using TinkerCad.) I’m sure this will be highly educational and keep his brain busy, and he could even be developing skills for a future career.

The Raspberry Pi is another inexpensive yet educational piece of hardware. It was originally meant for teaching computer science to children but became so popular that it’s used for many useful projects, like creating a home VPN server or high-tech mirror that tells you the weather. I’m tempted to buy one of these for next summer, but finding the time to learn how to program it so I can teach him is a problem. Here is a great resource for teaching coding to kids for the Raspberry Pi.

Even without buying a 3d printer or Raspberry Pi, there is no shortage of STEAM (science, technology, education, the arts, mathematics) projects that kids can do with things that you can find around the house. Visiting a science centre or makerspace for a day is another option, and many of these have camp programs.

Today’s children have grown up with technology like smartphones and tablets. It’s always been part of their lives. Showing them that they can do more, may or may not get them interested in learning how technology works. (I like driving my car, but I don’t want to build one!) I think it’s important that they all have the opportunity, however, because some of them will enjoy it, which could lead down a path to a great career.

Commentary Competition

Enjoyed the topic? Have a relevant anecdote? Disagree with the author? Leave your two cents on this post in the comments below, and our favourite response will win a $50 Amazon gift card. The competition closes two weeks from the date of publication, and the winner will be announced in the next Simple Talk newsletter.