I know there are lots of youth groups already in existence: BSA, GSA, Boys and Girls Clubs, Y-Indians, Spiral Scouts, Camp Fire...what's the point in staring another?
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Well, for one thing, every single one of those youth groups focuses on outdoors, outdoor activities, and social development. These are good things. I have no quibbles with any of that.
But none of them are designed for the geek child. The child who wants to read, to mess around with beakers and test tubes, who want to build robots, who want to make Tesla engines, and add a steam engine to their bicycle, to build hovercraft, to fly in a hot air balloon, and so much more that's mostly indoor oriented, and all is definitely science oriented.
Last year, we debuted the Junior Sprockets, a family-oriented science-focused youth group.
How often do you see smiles like this when you're teaching physics to kids? We were working with the principles of lift, balance, and ballast using helium filled balloons, baskets, and plastic ninjas. This young man is smiling because he chopped the legs and arms off his ninjas to reduce ballast and give his balloon lift. We were razzing him about his cruelty to plastic figurines. His neighbor reduced weight by shaving off large portions of the basket rather than the ninja. Another hollowed out the ninja and shaved bits off the basket. Another eliminated the basket entirely and had the poor ninja cling to a ribbon. In the end, they all got their ninjas aloft one way or the other - and raced them across the room with paper fans as air currents.
Taking science out of the classroom and making it into a game, with badges, and pins, and trophies, making it competitive and cooperative, and allowing the whole family to participate, in costumes, makes it so much more exciting than science alone.
The fact that we allow older family members in and encourage people of all ages to work together in makeshops and multi-layered activities that appeal to many age groups - everyone gets a little something from it and when they repeat the activity, they learn something new. Nuanced. That's the Junior Sprockets.
By making it relevant to their interests, providing them with minimal directions and tools and supplies, and having them work alongside adults doing the same things for the first time, the children blossom. The reason we chose to allow adults to participate - and earn those badges too! - is so the adults don't hover over the child and end up taking the project from the child to do it themselves. I've seen that happen far too often in both BSA and GSA, and Camp Fire. The adults want to play, too, and they crowd out the children when they do in traditional youth groups. Parents are often locked out of the group activities to prevent them from taking over their child's project. In Junior Sprockets, the adults get their own projects to work on while the children do theirs with only essential supervision.
They can have the fluffy and the froo-froo
along with the hard core jet packs and laser ray guns
and automatons where sometimes, it's the children supervising and taking over the adult's project!
And they have such fun at it when adults and children all work on similar projects together.
They mingle at all age levels, sometimes, it's the younger ones who help the older ones, and sometimes, they all turn to an adult. Junior Sprockets is not just for the children (although it's focused on the children), it's for the entire family.
They are watching us:
And they really want a super-duper all-the-bangs-and-whistles mad scientist kit - and the badges, and pins, and rewards that go along with being all geeky and nerdy and mad scientisty and tinkering with gears and steam engines and propulsion fuels and all the other things society has recently deemed too dangerous for children. They love S.T.E.A.M. (science, technology, engineering, arts, mechanics) education, and we punk it up so they have even more fun.
In Junior Sprockets, we don't leave the children to all this dangerous stuff alone. Oh, no. We pull the whole family in, and add in professors and tinkering adults, and more.
The most recent internet learning @ school journal just came out, and it had an entire article on how important make spaces were in libraries and other places where children learn. Junior Sprockets is ahead of that curve, leading the trend.
Junior Sprockets is not affiliated with any other organizations, religious groups, businesses, or political agencies. It is inclusive. It is educational. It is fun. It has no other goal than to play and make and earn badges. We aren't expecting our little mad geniuses to grow up to be model citizens. We expect them to grow up to be challenging citizens, filled with ideas and tinkerings and "fix it" notions. We want them to ask questions and seek answers, to be curious and adventurous and to take risks. They won't be docile, and their discipline will develop from within through experience and observation.
Junior Sprockets: putting the punk in STEAM with smiles and weird robotic devices.