#86. Build a precise scale model of something.

IDEA #86. Build a precise scale model of something. Try making an exact model of your room, for example, complete with furniture and belongings, at an exact scale of one inch to one foot (1″:1′). And remember, a scale model can be larger that the original object.

When one considers that a full-scale battleship AND an exact one-foot model of the same vessel can be built from the same set of instructions, the power of the concept of scale becomes apparent.

The art of scale model design begins with the concepts of precise measurement and proportion. A model of an existing object for which plans are not available begins with measurement, and all models require an understanding of the mathematical coIMG_1221ncept that ALL relationships must be set in the same proportion.

Materials for a scale model project are not particularly important, although resources like stiff cardboard, foam-core board, and balsa wood can be exceptionally useful. For the ambitious, many art and craft supply stores sell materials for scale modeling, and some even sell architectural details—roof shingles, door hardware, and the like—set to particular scales. A proper job also includes tools for cutting to precise measurements, and some kind of adhesive for fastening; with sharp cutting tools and aromatic glues, caution should be observed.

In IDEA #60 we suggested the creation, as an art project, of a giant-scale model of a smaller object; such projects can have a certain whimsical charm. We referred there to a giant pencil as well as a giant lipstick, but any small object can be scaled up for the purpose of enjoying this activity.

#85. Participate in a big local citizen/amateur sporting event; you can participate as an athlete or a volunteer helper

IDEA #85. Find a big local or regional citizen or amateur sporting event you can participate in: a running race, state or local “games,” a tournament in your community. If you don’t want to participate as an athlete, go (take some friends!) and volunteer, or just cheer for the participants—they’d love to have you!

Around the world more and more “citizen” sporting events pop up every year. Runs long and short, indoor and outdoor, bike races, triathlons, canoeing races, and tournaments in sports of all kinds are everywhere; even some of the larger charity “walks” and fundraising bike-athons are as much about sport and exercise as they are about their worthy cause.

Manimagesy events emphatically welcome beginners or others who want to develop some skill and confidence in competing (and many events also have adaptive divisions, so that a physical or mental disability need not prevent someone from participating.) It is important that any prospective athlete in one of these events have trained in preparation, and any sort of training should never be undertaken unless a doctor has certified the athlete’s general health.

Timed events involving movement—running, bicycling, swimming, boating—may intimidate the novice athlete, but the key idea here is “personal best”—to do as well as the individual can possibly do, perhaps setting a personal mark that may be HeadOfTheCharlesbettered the next time out. Other events, in team sports, should be entered into with the idea that the fun is in the participation, not just winning. The athletes will soon have an idea of how competitive they are in the field and what they might need to do to improve their performance, and debriefing on performance is an key piece of the thinking athlete’s preparation.

If the whole idea of competing does not appeal, it’s a safe bet that any such event will make use of as much volunteer time and talent as they can recruit. Courses need to be set and monitored, registration and refreshment tables need to be manned, times and scores need to be kept, and hundreds of other chores need to be done. Volunteers who are alert and above all responsible make these events possible, and the young volunteer who takes on a role in one of these events will gain skill, confidence, and respect, even if there is no trophy or ribbon at the end.

But perhaps issues of age or other factors will limit the child’s interest to spectating. That’s just fine, as the athletes will appreciate another cheering, supporting voice. And watching might spark some subsequent interest in playing or doing.

#84. Find a hardcover book that is about to be thrown away and very carefully disassemble it

IDEA #84. Find a hardcover book that is about to be thrown away and very carefully disassemble it. Figure out what the physical parts are of a hardcover book; see how the cover is made, and how the pages are held together. Look up “bookbinding” online or in an encyclopedia and learn as much as you can about the process. If you are inspired, try building a blank book of your own, with a beautiful cover, to give to a friend or loved one.

This may seem distinctly sacrilegious to committed bibliophiles, but for a young person with an interest in books this can be a solemn and significant act, like a medical student dissecting a cadaver.

The printed word, they say, is on its way out, and yet physical books persist and multiply. There is something elementally satisfying about handling a book, and for many the feel and smell of a book can be in themselves pleasurable. Young people do not always realize the power of scent, but in later years the smell of an old book that has lain on a dry and dusty limantel booksbrary shelf or that has gently mildewed in a seaside home may bring back rafts of memories. Books as objects are a medium in themselves.

Simple curiosity might motivate the careful deconstruction of a physical text. The act itself might inspire some research as to the parts and terms of the publishing and printing worlds—the meaning of endpapers, half-titles, front and back matter, and signatures. Each book, even a paperback of the meanest sort, has been designed, not only in the cover design, but in the choice of paper, font, illustrations, and textual organization (forewords, acknowledgments, prefaces, bibliographies, notes, afterwords, and so forth). Imagining why the choices were made that resulted in the finished product can also raise questions about the appropriateness of the choices or about the interests and backstories of those who made them.

The deeper structure of the physical book will reveal hidden complexities—stitchings and gluings invisible to the reader. The dissector may be inspired to do some research on the bookbinding process—and all the elements of bookmaking, from papermaking to printing to design and binding, are in themselves highly developed crafts practiced by professionals and amateurs alike. The project might inspire a visit to a printing shop or a bindery, or at least to ask the local library how it prepares and repairs the books in its collection.

The reader comfortably familiar with the nature of a book as a made object will carry with him or her a deepened sense of the significance of text—and this reader will always be one more voice raised in defense of the book against the inroads of whatever technology is next ballyhooed as portending the death of the printed word.

2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here's an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,200 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 37 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

More on the Interested Child Mindset: On Doing Things Badly and the Cult of Expertise

We live in an age that venerates expertise and success, when children specialize in a single sport by puberty and when family cars accumulate miles transporting kids to and from lessons and tutorials, workshops and competitions. Ten thousand repetitions and probably as many tears are rites of passage for children bred to ambition by ambitious families, and mediocrity is viewed as failure.

We occasionally worry that The Interested Child may in some way contribute to this exhausting program of accomplishing. This regimen frames too many American childhoods and adolescences, starting far too early and ending too often with a hollow emotional thud! barely audible beneath the applause as college acceptances roll in or similar external rewards pile up. I’m not sure what values this promotes in the end, but I have my suspicions.

My grandfather, a reflective educator whose own library was filled with how-to books on subjects that interested him through his life but on which he was no expert, used to cite G. K. Chesterton’s contrarian take on the adulation of expertise: “If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.” (We referred to this adage in a post a few months back.) I have tried to take these words to heart in my own life and parenting, and we are pleased to remind our readers here of their profound wisdom.

My interpretation of Chesterton’s maxim: If someone truly enjoys doing something, then let the pleasure of doing it take precedence over doing it perfectly or even particularly well. Enjoy the doing as an end in itself. It’s okay to let go of the mantra that failure is only a step on the road to success; enjoying something that we don’t do all that well is just fine—contrary to cultural messages that a thing is worth doing only if it yields an impressive line item on a c.v. or a profit.

I can think of only one area where Americans seem to allow themselves wide latitude in performance: golf. Duffers may strive for years to be better, but shooting par remains a distant goal for all but near-professionals. Most golfers are surprisingly philosophical about being average, or a bit worse, but for most golfers (at least the ones I have known) the camaraderie and perhaps the scenery seem to be adequate recompense for “a good walk spoiled” around 18 holes.

Our task is gently to urge our children to try new things and then support them in engaging more deeply with the ones they seem to like. But we must not, in our parental exuberance and our own embrace of the Cult of the Expert, push them where our hearts and hopes, and not theirs, are leading. If they enjoy something, take something away from an experience, then that might be as far as it goes. We can dangle carrots to entice and encourage, but we must not resort to even the most metaphorical of coercive sticks in our quest to help kids learn to identify, follow, and build upon their own interests.

I’ll offer myself as an example here. I have played the guitar for going on fifty years, but I’m not very good and unlikely to get much better. I own a nice instrument and early on I really did practice for the requisite hours to achieve “expertise,” but about thirty years ago I hit a plateau, and now I mostly play when no one else is home. But my limitations as a musician don’t limit the pleasure I take in making music.

We like to think of The Interested Child as a mindset, not a checklist or a roadmap—as a compendium of ideas that might intrigue, not an enumeration of imperatives.

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