Your kid can be a Maker.
That’s the promise of a new website called DIY (DIY.org) that is built around the idea of moving kids away from the virtual world – and deeper into the real one – by getting their hands dirty with projects. In an interesting twist, they can then post pictures of their work on their DIY dashboard and earn badges (called Skills) for their efforts.
In the parlance of DIY, Skills are unique sets of knowledge and know-how that Makers learn to become “self-reliant and creatively powerful”. To earn a Skill, your child will complete a set of Challenges that help them learn techniques to get the hang of it. Once they complete a Challenge, they add photos and video to their Portfolio to show what they did.
It’s a little like being a Boy or Girl Scout, except here you you get to pick the things you want to learn, complete the challenges, and show the badges on your dashboard instead of your shirt. There are plans in the works to have real stitched badges as part of a future premium service, but for now the site is completely free.
DIY is based in the residential Mission Dolores neighborhood of San Francisco and run out of a former laundromat. The team includes Vimeo co-founder Zach Klein and Isaiah Saxon of the digital animation team Encyclopedia Pictura. The rest of the team adds considerable creative credibility and are self-described as “a bunch of makers and doers. We’ve made websites, online communities, offline communities, films, cars, games, robots, sculptures, and houses.” All have remarkable resumés as Makers and Doers themselves, and see DIY as the natural extension of their previous work. Says Klein: “My passion for DIY is driven by what I learned at Vimeo. Everyone is able to be creative. And our confidence to be creative flourishes when we’re surrounded by people who positively support it.”
Targeting kids ages 7 and up, the site is intended to grab their interest with projects in nearly any hands-on activity you can think of: woodworking, robotics, sewing, bike mechanics, biology, chemistry… According to Cathy Davidson of Duke University, more than half of the kids entering grade school this year will end up working in careers that haven’t been invented yet. DIY aims to foster and boost the creative thinking and problem-solving abilities they’ll need to thrive in that environment.
This convergence of both online and offline world’s is a difficult problem. The site is intended for kids, so it needs to have safeguards built in. Currently, kids sign up using a ‘handle’ that isn’t their real name. Parents are required to approve their registration and are given the access to keep track of (and support) their kids’ efforts. Not flawless, but certainly good enough to help you keep tabs on what your kids are doing online.
Generally speaking, the website is beautifully designed and easy to use. They’ve also built an iOS app to help the kids keep track of their own projects and use to upload the photos of their work without having to port everything to a computer first. If nothing else, the site is a virtual cornucopia for crafty kids looking for new ideas. Some projects are created by DIY staffers, some are created by the kids themselves. Most use video as the primary teaching tool, which should work just fine, if my own kids are any indication.
In fact, there has been an explosion of learning taking place since online video took off, even if you thought YouTube was only good for cat videos. Seeing something done expands our concept of limitations and reworks our notion of what’s possible. While video-sharing sites like YouTube and Vimeo are great delivery platforms, according to Klein, they (and other existing social platforms) don’t quite satisfy the need.
“[Social networks] don’t promote creativity, so new members wouldn’t know that it’s valuable,” Klein said. “At DIY, it’s clear that creativity is what we celebrate, so our kids know that to make is to be a good citizen of our community. We hope it’s more fulfilling to share creative work on DIY.”
DIY has a lofty goal: “Our ambition is for DIY to be the first app and online community in every kid’s life.” To reach it, the real trick might just be attaining a “cool” status high enough so that kids will be interested in achieving something outside their video game consoles.