About a year ago, we got a 3-D printer. As parents, we try to support our children’s interests. Outside of school, each of our sons have some self-cultivated abilities that seem to be serving them well to complete their well-roundedness and sense of accomplishment. To a very large extent, they are innate talents, supported by hours of self-imposed practice, and an internal desire to learn and excel.
Our eldest son was musically supported with years of music lessons, a piano, two saxophones, a clarinet, and various reeds, oils, stands, microphones, sheet music and such. Although deciding not to be music major, music filled this child’s youth. Despite the lessons being helpful, the desire to play well and share his talents, were self-imposed. Hours, especially during the stresses of high school, were spent on learning piano concertos and instrumental pieces, culminating in two exemplary performances at our state level solo ensemble. It is hard to believe that was five years ago! Right about now, during the stresses of graduate school, he is probably wishing he had more time to practice his musical abilities. I know I am wishing that for him. Perhaps, by June he’ll have time. Investments pay off over time. The music is there waiting for him.
The 3-D printer, although purchased as a “family” gift, has been solely used by our middle son. He is our inventor, entrepreneur, and tinkering maker – essentially a wanna-be engineer – which he plans to pursue formally this fall. He took to the printer right away, learning its controls, types of plastic filaments, and tricks to producing the products he sought. The printer, as with any tool, is not perfect. But, the imperfections have led this child down a road of persistence, inventiveness, and self-reliance. The printer has been fixed a number of times. Again, this has been solely our second son’s “deal”. Not once in the last year, has he asked for help fixing it. He just figures it out on his own, orders the correct parts, makes the repairs, and starts printing objects again! This last repair involved the direct soldering of wires because he discovered the plastic connector the company had used was not the right grade for the degree of electricity that was traveling through it, so it melted. Despite the fact that during this process, my table got ruined from the soldering, I am finding it hard to be mad about it. The table can be refinished and the printer got fixed, yet again! The amazing thing is that none of the skills he’s used with his work on the printer have been formally taught to him. He is self-taught because he wanted to learn how to use (and fix) this machine. Isn’t that what school should be all about? School should foster the love of life long, independent learning. If this can be augmented at home, it should be.
Our youngest is an artist and his abilities are also self-taught. Like his brothers, work on his talent is self-imposed. He’s drawn some fabulous portraits, won a drawing contest sponsored by an olympic athlete, tried out watercolors, and now is learning how to use oil paints. Like most artists, he is self-critical. His first oil took 30 minutes, (pictured below.) Although we love it, he does not. A couple more oils were tried and unseen, as they were “trashed” before we could get a look at them. Yesterday, true to form, he developed his “own” methodology (like he has in the past with his pencil drawings) for layering the oils. Like his brothers, what he produces and the persistent determination, self-reliance, and degree of self-teaching amazes me. Again, I am glad we have the resources to be able to support these talents that are not gained in the current educational climate. For these abilities and the co-existing self-determination are not taught and I am beginning to believe they cannot be. It takes self-reflection, access to instruments, materials and tools, and the desire to learn, improve, and contribute – whether it be musically, physically, or artistically – and whether or not there is an associated “grade.” It also takes time and freedom to learn self-expression.
I know now that what I might have sought for my sons in the past from educational institutions, my husband and I have provided at home – right in our own maker space(s). And, while they do not receive grades (nor seem to need them for motivation), they learn, they improve, and they flourish under their own will and self-imposed guidelines. Perhaps this is the best kind of learning, and I wouldn’t have it any other way!