Introducing Kids to Repair: It’s Easier Than You Think

You cringe as you hear it—the horrendous crack as the iPad slips from a pint-sized hand and falls to the floor. The children gasp; the lamentations begin. The iPad is dead! They’ll never get to play Angry Birds again! Holiday road trips will be torture! Then the inevitable question: “Can we get a new one?!”

We all hate when our devices break, but instead of instantly replacing a dead product—why not take the opportunity to teach your kid about repair? Tinkering and fixing is a great skill for kids to develop. It fosters independence, technical competence, and creative problem-solving.

Kid doing repair with a parentGever Tully, creator of Tinkering School, puts it like this:

Even if you don’t know what the parts are, puzzling out what they might be for is a really good practice for the kids to get the sense that they can take things apart. And no matter how complex they are, they can understand parts of them. And that means that eventually, they can understand all of them. It’s a sense of knowability—that something is knowable.

All kids should be fixers. We’re not suggesting your six-year-old take on the iPad repair alone, but there are many ways to get your kid interested in repair. Follow these tips to inspire your kid to be a kid-fixer:

  1. Engage:  Kids are capable of repair, so don’t be afraid to get them involved. Don’t believe us? Just watch these cool kids troubleshoot and fix a bad fan cord! Even if a repair requires heating elements and sharp tools, with supervision, your child can repair and innovate! Ask your child to be your assistant on a weekend project. Even if they’re just handing you wrenches, it’s a great opportunity for kids to get comfortable around tools. Try visiting thrift stores and junk yards to find things your kid can take apart and fix for fun. Kids can even take apart their old toys—or you can introduce them to toys designed to get your kids tinkering, like LittleBits, GoldieBlox, or the Electronics Skill Kit 101.
  1. Educate: Inviting your child to help with fixes will get them thinking about the 4 Rs: reduce, reuse, repair, recycle. Once they become fixer kids, they’ll realize that almost anything can and should be fixed. This is a great time to discuss how your family can avoid contributing to throw-away culture and e-waste. Talk to your kids about repurposing, donating, and properly recycling waste and electronics in your home. The Electronic TakeBack Coalition has some resources on how to to get the conversation started.
  1. Explore: Showing your kid you aren’t the only one fixing things will convince them that repair isn’t just sustainable, it’s pretty cool too! Visit a Maker Faire, Maker Space, or Repair Café in your local area. Children’s museums often have repair and tinkering themed exhibits, as well—like The Tinkering Studio at San Francisco’s Exploratorium or the exhibit Broken? Fixit! at the Long Island Children’s Museum. There are even entire summer camps—like Tinkering School and Maker Camp—that teach kids how to build and fix.

    Inspiring kids to repair at a Maker Faire
    This is the kind of stuff you see at a Maker Faire. What kid wouldn’t be inspired to make, build, tinker and repair after this?