diyorg is one of the best sites for keeping kids stimulated and engaged in the real world I’ve ever encountered. Beautifully designed and engineered, it breaks real-world maker skills into more than a hundred categories. When kids accomplish three tasks in a category, they get a virtual badge (you can purchase a real version of the badge for $5). This is the site I wish I had thought to build, dangit.

No idea what their monetization strategy is, but huge applause to the engineers and designers behind the project.

Miles (@Milezinator) is spending his Christmas break on a mad DIY badge quest (a blissful escape from Minecraft for us!).

Midsummer Night’s Dream – Urban Fairy Raps

So Miles was recently an “Urban Fairy” in his school’s production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” The job of the fairies was to slip in at intervals and explain the more subtle plot points to the audience in contemporary language. With the raps still fresh in his head, we ended up video’ing all five of them in our back yard and in nearby woods on one of our hikes.

Here, for posterity, are raps #1-5:

Rap #1

Continue reading “Midsummer Night’s Dream – Urban Fairy Raps”

Crestmont 4/5 Sound Science Fair

Wonderful watching and hearing the fourth and fifth graders explain their audio science projects this morning – such a broad topic, and every kid had a completely different take. Recorded some random audio samples this morning while meandering from theremin to echolocation demo to analog amplifiers to oscilloscope to homemade stethoscope to foley demo… the variety was fantastic.

For a taste, start the audio, then start the slideshow and choose the Full Screen option.

Flickr Set

Ideal World

We have the 1972 edition of The Ungame, which is like the board game equivalent of a conversation pit. No winners or losers, no set time. Just cards that get you to talk – cheap group therapy for families. A few of Miles’ cherry answers from tonight’s “session”:

Q: What is beauty?
A: When all the species go extinct from global warming, the world will still be full of beautiful plants.

Q: If you had to move and could only take three things?
A: Lego supply, cookie supply, and my nice cushy bed.

Q: What makes you feel lonely?
A: I feel lonely when everyone else in my class knows what to do and I don’t.

Q: What’s an ideal world?
A: In an ideal world I’d be surrounded by aliens and flying cars.

Q: What really turns you off?
A: Nothing. Can I take another card?

Bristlebots in the Classroom

A year ago, Miles and I made our first Bristlebot – a small robot made from a toothbrush head, hearing aid battery, and the vibrating motor from a cell phone – which skitters around on flat surfaces in chaotic patterns.


The experiment didn’t end well – Miles grabbed a hot soldering iron by the shaft when I wasn’t looking and we had to segue into burn control. When that subsided, we had great fun racing the bot across the floor.

I just volunteered to help his entire second/third grade classroom build their own bristlebots this April. We’ll also try a variant with mint tins and paper clip legs. We plan to build a “sumo” ring they can push each other out of, and may also try our hand at bristlebot painting:

Chris Cerrito’s Vibrobots on Paint from Anderson Miller on Vimeo.

Found a good source for a battery + motor combo pack, which I’ll be ordering in bulk. Now just need to get my hands on a lot of toothbrushes!

My Kid Could Paint That

Olmstead Whoa: 4-year-old painting prodigy Marla Olmstead creates abstracts on canvas that are so expressive, and so visually penetrating, and so comfortable with themselves… her mind is exactly where so many artists want to be – connected directly to her inner life, but completely unburdened by expectations of the art world that’s falling all over itself to buy her work.

Watching her paint, she’s got this rhythm, this ease. All four-year-olds are un-self-conscious in the adult sense, of course, and all are in touch with their “inner child” (whatever that means), but Marla is working on canvases larger than herself, and creating works that stand on their own against paintings done by people who have been painting for decades, trying to achieve something like what she does in pure play. Her paintings have been compared to “legends like Pollock, Miró, Klee and Kandinsky and had sold for first hundreds and then thousands of dollars.”

OK, except Marla is now seven (still painting) and a new documentary film about her gift has just been released. I haven’t seen it. But it gets tricky: Salon’s My Kid Could Paint That looks at the controversies unearthed in the making of the film, which have some people wondering just how “pure” Marla’s paintings really are, how much coaching she might have received, etc.

I have two thoughts:

1) No amount of “coaching” or “direction” given to a 4-year-old is going to affect the kind of artwork they make in any substantial way. In small ways, sure, but the fact that her father apparently sometimes gave her certain kinds of encouragement while painting does nothing to change the fact that her gift is genuine.

2) Whatever the truth behind Marla turns out to be, her amazing creative gifts are being permanently affected – possibly marred – by mass media attention and the self-consciousness that will bring.

I do want to see the film though – sounds like it raises some interesting discussion:

As New York Times art critic Michael Kimmelman discusses in the film, Marla’s story appealed to two contradictory popular prejudices. First of these is the idea of prodigal artistic talent as a lottery prize handed out to random toddlers by God. Second is the notion that modern art (at least in its abstract or nonfigurative guises) is a pseudo-intellectual con game that has no standards and conveys no meaning, so the apparent success of a 4-year-old debunks the whole enterprise.

Interesting that every single painting in her online gallery is marked “sold.” But I try to put myself in her parents’ shoes. If I had a kid who could paint like that, what would I do? Shield him/her from the world? Keep the talent a secret? Is what I think I would do what I would really do?

Music: Shaggs :: Paper Roses


Got kids? As summer fades, it’s getting dark earlier, which means evenings indoors. And for us, that means only one thing: YouTube! Kidding of course, but we did just stumble upon a large and completely amazing collection of short videos, rendered from a bug’s-eye perspective – excerpts from Thomas Szabo’s 2006 movie Minuscule:

IMDB: “You might call it a cross between Tex Avery and Microcosmos, or grassroots slapstick.” A few of the clips are available in higher resolution at the official web site, which is a gorgeous work of art on its own (though somewhat mysterious to navigate). Would like to get my hands on the original DVD, though it’s mysteriously not available through NetFlix (no surprise – seems like NetFlix doesn’t have half the stuff I search for.)

Anyway, next time you want to cuddle up with your kid(s) in front of the computer, check these out – Miles ate ’em up like peanuts.

Music: Sun Ra and the Year 2000 Myth Science Arkestra :: Prelude to a Kiss