Hacker Scouts Provide Alternative After-School Activities

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After the kids come home from school there is this vital period between snack time and dinnertime when crabbiness and boredom are pretty much guaranteed. Instead of accepting the imminent suffering of your entire household, you might try to fill that time with some fun activities. This can be a tricky endeavor. Like Indiana Jones in the opening scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark, you have a bag of after-school activities that just might be enough to counterbalance the three pounds of solid gold sanity you’re about to steal for yourself. You really have to do it right to avoid your own personal tantrum-y boulder careening towards you.

I’ve seen the effects of an ill chosen after school activity in the past while teaching gymnastics. You can spot the poor little would-be painters, guitar players and Ultimate Frisbee champs a mile away. Their parents have decided it’s time to try gymnastics because “for the love of God I can’t take one more moment of stir craziness and hey! Gymnastics! That’s something kids do!” There is sleeve tugging and crying. Some kids scream while others explicitly and eloquently state that they would really rather be at pottery class, Mother.

We all know that after school activities are beneficial. They reduce the risk of substance abuse and delinquency. They help kids develop good social skills and get better grades. They give the grown ups time to work, clean, nap, watch a quick episode of Downton Abbey (Don’t judge. You know you love a good British period piece as much as the next guy.)

The tough decision isn’t if children should participate in an after school activity or two, it’s which one(s) they should participate in. There are some parents who enroll their child in everything, systematically dropping activities as they narrow down their kid’s interests. Some try a catchall endeavor where kids might get to experience a wide range of activities with a dash of survival skills thrown into the mix. We all need to learn survival skills both social and otherwise, should we find ourselves trapped in the arctic tundra with only some flint and steel to our name. But maybe we don’t want to learn how to use a Swiss Army Knife. Maybe we aren’t that into Thin Mints… or vests. Assuming that your little guys are as nerdy as you are, I wanted to point out a scouting option that’s better suited to our nerdy progeny.

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In 2012, Ace Monster Toys, a hacker space in Oakland, CA, began a new youth program called the Hacker Scouts that helps children develop skills in a variety of areas they might be interested in. This program was designed with modern survival in mind and is run by AMT members Chris Cook and Samantha Matalone Cook. Under the motto: Make – Learn – Hack – Build – Rule the World, kids learn about technology, a term that covers things like paper crafts and sewing as well as video game creation and robotics.

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The term “hacker” doesn’t scream wholesome after school activity, but the Hacker Scout website defends the term:

There are some who associate the term with illegal activity. Hacking is simply taking something — like an object or idea — and modifying it to fit one’s own need. At Hacker Scouts, making isn’t enough. We are hacking what education can look like. We are hacking activities so that families get the most information and skills out of them. We are hacking new things out of old things because it not only changes the way kids see the process of how things are built and used, but it changes their world view from a conservation point of view. We are taking back the word “Hacking”!

The focus is really on how to learn something online and make it manifest in the physical world. There are 46 badges including a forager badge, solar engineer badge, and a zoologist badge. Activities range from stop animation to cooking to building rockets. The Hacker Scouts aim to be, as their statement of core values mentions, “an all-inclusive group [that] focuses on the open-minded search for knowledge.”

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Hacker Scouts fills the need for technological education that’s not yet in place in many school curriculums. It’s a group that encourages understanding through doing. Adult mentors help scouts tackle projects that you’d think a kid would never be able to understand much less master. In fact, I can’t build a talking stuffed animal or a weather-checking robot out of found materials. Guess I won’t be receiving my hardware hacker badge anytime soon.

Hacker Scouts currently has two programs: Open Lab and The Guild through Ace Monster Toys, but no worries if you have a little hacker at home and home is not Oakland. As hacking/maker groups increase their online presence, the Hacker Scout movement is also spreading in the non-virtual world. Seattle has a group called “Geek Scouts,” and Milwaukee and Charleston, S.C. have the “Maker Scouts.”

If the scouts haven’t reached your hometown yet, feel free to start it as a family activity by visiting http://hackerscouts.acemonstertoys.org/ or https://diy.org/.

Happy hacking!

 

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