Making Do, part 1

Tom Hanks in 'Castaway'

Every kid should spend a healthy chunk of their childhood as Robinson Crusoe. Or Tom Hanks. Stranded on a metaphorical deserted island, forced to fend for themselves, pushed to invent, persist, “survive.” Not like in Lord of the Flies or Lost, where social dynamics trump the full fruition of compelled ingenuity, but like in The Swiss Family Robinson where isolation forces you to come up with stuff.

I remember as a kid I was faced with a constant stream of situations in which I simply had to make do with limited resources. Not because we were dirt poor or because my parents lived in a commune, but because back oh-those-many decades ago (three) I guess that was just a more prevalent paradigm of child-raising: give them something to do or something to play with occasionally, but mostly let them fend for themselves. I benefited from being left to my own devices to entertain or express myself or to accomplish something triumphant in my young person’s world.As a teacher, I try to spur my students’ creativity and problem-solving skills with lots of these “deserted island” activities. All you need are (a) an objective, and (b) a limited number of usable items to accomplish the objective. Here are some examples:

  • Art: take these cotton balls, popsicle sticks, and glue, and make something that you’d find in a city.
  • Games: take these dice, markers, coins, and cardboard, and make a board game that kids could play with their parents.
  • Sports: with these three different sized balls and those two old fence posts, make up a new Olympic sport.
  • Writing: using only words beginning with “a” and “t,” write a story about a kid with a superpower.
  • Math: using only subtraction and multiplication, and numbers starting with 3, use the fewest number of steps to make a math problem that equals 11.
  • Computers: using google to search only words beginning with “z,” find a news story about President-elect Obama.

It’s amazing what a kid can produce given just the scraps left behind near the paper cutter in their parent’s office or the sticks and stumps left behind in a cleared patch of woods. Whole careers can be launched in the moments of childhood when there’s nothing to play with except old film canisters and tacks.

Being a castaway on a real-life deserted island would be traumatic and potentially fatal, but being a castaway in your classroom or bedroom can be the best thing in your day. You never know the extent of your own potential until you’re forced to see the potential in something else. Encourage your kids to make do, make up, and make their own way.

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