Making robots out of recycling… and Legos!

We’ve been on a robot rampage in our house since early March. Reading about robots (nonfiction)… making Lego robots… drawing robots… looking up pictures of robots… brainstorming what we’d do if we HAD a robot… reading about robots (fiction)… and the list goes on.

This is a perfect example of why I’m convinced the best education for Sarah is (a) individual and (b) flexible. She had an interest, and when given the time and the freedom, she not only pursued it, she really owned the topic and all sorts of things that came with it. If someone had told her in December, “OK, we’re going to study robots this week, and we’re going to write a report about how robots are used,” I guarantee she would remember nothing by now. But, as it stands, she’s followed this interest for a full month, probably knows more than me about robots and how they work, and has had a good time doing it.

I’d mentioned the Lego robots (non-“functional” because we can’t afford the $300 working robot kit from Lego) in an earlier post. The thing with these is, Sarah was very specific with each of them about where their sensors are, what they’re used for, where they’re effective, and all sorts of other details.

Building robots out of LEGO bricks

These are just a few of the smaller ones. She’s got moon and Mars rovers and some other larger ones she designed up in her room, but they’re not terribly portable for Mom’s photo shoots. Of these, her favorite is the little monopod in the front center (we learned that monopod means “one foot”). She would tell you that the two in the middle row at right are from the same factory; you can tell by their round front sensors. Many of these are household robots – used for things like cleaning, amusing pets (so they’re not lonely while you’re at work), cooking and more. The one in the middle row at left has a trap door on the back; that’s where it puts the litter it picks up.

Speaking of being environmentally friendly, Chris had found, a few weeks ago, a kit from a company called MAKEDO that gives you reusable connectors designed to help you turn your recyclables into things like dogs or robots. We’d been saving up boxes of various sizes, and Sarah bought a little bag of wheels and washers at our local Rescue Mission store for about 50 cents, so today we put those things together and made some recycled “friends.”

Originally, she wanted to make all robots, but her creativity as she was putting some of the pieces together led her in other directions.

MAKEDO recycled car

I had mentioned before that cars – especially race cars – are now an interest of Sarah’s too. No surprise, then, that a car was the first MAKEDO creation she built. Those blue pieces are called “re-clips” and work kind of like reusable zip ties. They’re made of nylon, too, again in keeping with the whole environmentally friendly thing. (Sarah LOVED that concept, so we talked a lot about it.) She liked using her wheels and washers from the Rescue Mission store, one of my Mary Kay boxes, and some of the stickers from the robot kit.

MAKEDO recycled bird

This guy is a bird. (Or an airplane. But probably a bird.) He’s got the MAKEDO hinge pieces for wings and re-clips for feet and a beak. The re-clips are also holding on two large white washers for eyes. His body is a breadcrumb container.

MAKEDO recycled monster

This is a “monster.” A friendly one, though. He’s made from a Mary Kay box and a Silpada jewelry box (and a mouth cut from one of our spaghetti boxes. His “eyebrows” and “mustache” were a completely great Sarah idea: Squeeze together the padding that was inside the box for the jewelry, and glue them on. She also figured out how to punch the eyes out, and how to fit the mouth in place where she wanted them.

MAKEDO recycled submarine or tank

This is some kind of tank or submarine with a periscope. (Or, as Sarah tried to describe it, “the military thing with the spy place on top.”) Waffle box, another breadcrumb container, and the lid off a used-up can of spray paint. Two neat things here: First, the periscope piece spins all the way around, because of how we used the re-clip to attach it. And second, when we tried to punch a hole in the top of the spray-paint can lid, it punched it out too big, but Sarah was quick to say, “Oh, we can just put a washer there!”

MAKEDO recycled flower or windmill

The last creation was a simple one with some of our remaining parts – it’s either a flower or a windmill (you can tell that Sarah likes to leave her options open!) That’s the lid from the jewelry box the monster’s head was made out of, and, you guessed it, a toilet-paper roll, attached by a re-clip.

Other than providing some help punching holes, I tried to completely stay “out” of the planning stages for these and just see where Sarah wanted to go.

She had a great time, though I fear I’m going to have to buy more of the MAKEDO kits because she’s not going to want to take these apart to make more stuff, and we’ve used all our pieces. It’s a shame I didn’t know that BEFORE her birthday last weekend, but, hey, there’s always Christmas.

A few other bits of random learning today:

  • Sarah worked more on her Jimmie Johnson fan fiction story.
  • Around 10:30 p.m., I was browsing through some free printable ideas and worksheets at Teachers Pay Teachers, just to see what’s available, and Sarah looks over my shoulder and says, “Does that say the Declaration of Independence???!” as if I’d suddenly discovered the Holy Grail. We got an easy-to-read copy there, but she wanted to see what a signed copy looked like, so we found one of those and printed it out as well. Then, she found this website from ushistory.org, which lists the signers by state (as well as a ton of other stuff; very useful). THEN, Chris says, “Hey, Sarah, if you’re interested in who signed it, I think I have a little book of all the people.” Sure enough, he comes upstairs with a, like, 1950s booklet put out by Prudential Insurance, listing all the signers. (Benefits of having an ephemera hideout?!) Sarah sat and read from that – aloud – for about a half-hour, complete with phrases like “a special committee be appointed to draft a declaration dissolving allegiance with the mother country.” I have a feeling we’ll be hearing more on this topic tomorrow.
  • Sarah and I took another walk around the former golf course; two miles in almost exactly an hour. We found a huge spread of wild-growing mint, which smelled great; examined the cattails and saw some fish and frogs around the pond (Sarah was able to come home and correctly identify the fish, which were bluegills.)

Tomorrow is our homeschool association’s curriculum fair. I can’t wait to meet some other local homeschoolers, but I go making this vow: I will not buy the shiny curriculum. Even if it’s used and cheap. I can’t promise I won’t pick up books here and there, but I will strive to do so ONLY if they catch Sarah’s interest. (Or, if, being a mom, I just can’t resist thinking, “But I know she’ll love that!”)

As we browse, I’m going to try to remember today, and all the awesome things Sarah decided to discover on her own, and hopefully I’ll walk out with only the things that will help meet that goal I mentioned earlier of individual and flexible learning! One of the things I’ve learned already is that those traits aren’t a given in homeschooling. There are plenty of inflexible or “mass-market” homeschooling solutions out there, the same as there are in public or private school. I can’t and won’t say that any of those are bad, but I can say they’re not what we need. Now wish me luck sticking to that!

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