I’ve decided that we are either hardwired to be consumers from the day we are born or that consumerism is, very possibly, a highly communicative disease.
Now, before you accuse me of being self-righteous and suggest that I be careful not to trip and fall as I step off my soapbox, I assure you, I am not gearing up for a rant against Elmo or to look disapprovingly on as you stand in line at the toy store with a Barbie doll and a Caillou book.
I’m only amazed that even a child who never watches TV can often be heard begging for this stuff. How does that happen? It’s easy to overlook the extent to which products are geared towards kids. We know there are commercials and those dreaded Happy Meal toys. Kids’ clothes are decorated with iCarly. Kids products are placed at their eye level so while you’re on the phone trying to ascertain from your significant other just what is on the grocery list you left on the table, your little one is face to face with a box of Finding Nemo fruit snacks.
Yes, there are cures. Getting on board with the bourgeoning D.I.Y. movement is one of them. I like D.I.Y. projects not because I am a mini Martha Stewart. I cannot knit, and I definitely cannot, out of a pantry containing only ketchup and a cotton swab (no, I don’t know why there’s a cotton swab in my pantry) make a five-course meal. I like the D.I.Y. because it makes me feel like a superhero. Super Self-Sufficient Sarah (yeah, I’m working on a better name) can fix her broken side-view mirror in the blink of an eye! She can make a skirt! Grow her own scallions! And who needs to buy birthday cards? Not this girl.
D.I.Y. speaks to the rebellious part of me, the part that screams “I don’t need you! I can do it myself!” I think this is also why it resonates with kids. Kids are, after all, natural rebels. Even if they do their homework, help with the dishes and will probably be nominated for sainthood before they hit age 11, they still live in a world dictated by adults. Rebellion in children can simply mean they are trying to assert or explore their independence.
It’s why our kids all act like tiny graffiti artists — drawing on the walls, drawing chalk hopscotch games on public sidewalks. I myself took a chalk rock to a neighbor’s car once. That was a bad idea.
No matter their canvas, imaginative play has a role in developing a kid’s sense of importance, self-sufficiency and autonomy. So how do you get your kids to tap into that spirit of do-it-yourselfness without decorating your walls?
The book D.I.Y. Kids is a good place to start. Authors Ellen and Julia Lupton encourage kids ages 7-12 to embrace the “design-it-yourself” spirit of homemade arts and crafts. Both authors know their stuff when it comes to the science of D.I.Y. Ellen Lupton is a curator of contemporary design at the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum and the director of the graphic design MFA program at the Maryland Institute College of Art. Julia Lupton is a professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Irvine.
“The D.I.Y. movement is in part a response to hyper-consumerism and to the increasing technologization of human relationships. It’s not simply a reaction-formation, though. D.I.Y. uses technology, including social media as well as digital design and self-publishing tools, to create new opportunities for peer enskillment, deterritorialized or “post-place” community formation, and micro-marketing of new goods and products.”
So D.I.Y. is not simply a protest against branding, marketing and technology, but a way for creative, thoughtful people to insert themselves in new ways into the vast but surprisingly variegated economy of signs and experiences.
D.I.Y. Kids puts this academic language on a very kid-friendly level. The book uses basic design principles and recycled materials to help readers create more than 80 imaginative projects that are rated by difficulty, time, mess and cost. It is divided into four sections: Graphics, Toys, Home and Fashion. Each section has ideas for making T-shirts, party supplies, pop-up cards, bracelets, stuffed animals and other useful items. The projects have step-by-step instructions and colorful photographs of designs and the kids who made them.
The book aims to trigger imaginative play. It tries to create a better world not only for, but also with, the next generation. It speaks to the sidewalk-chalking graffiti artists in all of us who want to make their mark by exercising the art of design.
“For kids, I think it’s really important that they help shape the visual look of their parties, that they develop hand skills and a design sensibility, that they learn how to “brand” school activities and social initiatives, and that they see themselves as contributors to, and not simply consumers, of the larger culture and on-line worlds in which they live.”
What better way to get them to reconsider their “need” for that Justin Bieber sleeping bag than to get them thinking “Hey! I could make something like that and mine will be even better!”
You can pick up D.I.Y. Kids here.