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For Kids With GIANT Dreams Who Dare to Act on Them

by Azadeh Jamalian 12 days ago in stem

Founding a creative hub for kids in pursuit of my own happiness...

GIANT debut event at Maker Faire

Kids have a special place in my heart. Sparkles in their eyes are real. Their thoughts are genuine. Their emotions are raw. Their ideas are ambitious. We rarely give them true opportunities to act on those ideas, so in pursuit of my own happiness, I set my mind on creating a space for kids with GIANT dreams who dare to act on them! I called it The GIANT Room...

In less than a year, The GIANT Room has reached thousands of children through our programs. We partnered with the world's most prestigious institutions and schools, became affiliated with TED ED Clubs and Ford Foundation’s STEMIE Coalition, and brought our voice to big stages like TED, SXSW, CBS, and Education Forum. The year after, we launched our own creative hub in New York City, partnered with renowned artists such as Herve Tullet, John Bergerman, Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya, and Lexy Ho-Tai, reached thousands more children, and even brought our programs online and expanded beyond New York City.

This is how it all started...

In September 2018, my cofounder and I took the idea of The GIANT Room to Maker Faire with an open invitation for families: To give courage and means to every single child to act on their most giant dreams!

To build a happy world for all, I believe we need to energize and encourage our youth to act on their silliest, biggest, most impossible ideas. I want to remind them that the future is theirs and empower them to own it today.

We arrived at Maker Faire with a dream - to build a giant city together with kids out of our collective imaginations. But looking around at the other booths, we quickly noticed we were the only ones at the faire without any projects to show. Our booth was a blank canvas waiting for kids to join us and make their own inventions. All we had was papers, markers, scissors - LOTS of scissors - cardboard, pom poms, googley eyes, and other random craft materials.

It felt rather daunting. We had no idea if kids would actually participate. What would they do? What would they make? How would they work together? Would different ages, genders, and backgrounds come together to build the city? Would they be engaged and actually enjoy the experience? Would they respect each others’ contributions? Would they add to each other’s creations or would they act in silos? Would they have fun building together or would they get frustrated?

The Faire started. A two-year-old showed up. His favorite color was red, so we gave him a red marker and he started drawing on the white streets of the city. He didn’t go inside; he drew on the edges.

Our very first GIANT Dreamer!

Then two other kids came by, saw the scissors and boxes, and thought the city needed some houses.

More kids joined... they grabbed papers and scissors, cut, taped, cut, glued, cut, paint, cut, fold, cut, and built cars, playgrounds, more houses, towers, and citizens.

Scissors, lots of cutting, and making!

And then more kids joined... all scissors in hand. Cut, cut, cut, fold, tape, fold, glue, cut, doodle, paint, cut, cut, cut, connect, fold, build. They thought the city needed a candy store and a hot tub; an army of kittens with torches in hand, fish in the pond, and turtles on the wall! The playground needed slides, swings, and trees. It needed a garden to grow veggies, an airplane to go to other cities, and trees with lights on top to help us navigate around the city.

Kids dreaming and building together

We had 1-year olds coloring white foam mats, turning them into oranges for the supermarket that was being built by a 6-year old, to be placed beside a shiny building with solar power built by a 13-year old.

A 10 year old felt the city was too happy and needed to be more realistic. So, he grabbed a scissor and built a "shut down" version of Toys R Us to remind the city that not all things work out. Another child thought our city was so pretty and that we needed a big camera to take pictures of it. She invented a satellite camera out of cardboard into pieces by a sharp scissor. Another thought to build up beyond the boundaries of our mats and connected a string from one side of our booth to the other, so birds could fly over the city.

The city continued to grow with each kid that stopped by. Soon enough, our city had a solar system, a bottle of love, and a place to throw birthday parties. It even had a shop of shops where you can buy other shops, but you could only get into it with a helicopter on a speed of 500 miles per hour. And of course, it wouldn’t be a functioning city without a doctor's office, hospital, church, ambulance and even a mayor.

A Dream City imagined and built by kids

There were a lot of places to have fun around our city, including many playgrounds and party rooms. There were things replicated from real life, like a cable car to Roosevelt Island and fantastical things, like an unusual tree with eyes or a flying monster to watch over the city. We brought security to the city powered by electronic building blocks, and lights to many buildings in the city with simple LEDs and batteries.

Along the journey we had remarkable observations:

1- Take kids seriously and they will play their part very well

World Maker Faire is the biggest “show and tell” event in the world, and we arrived without having anything to show. We trusted kids to dream with us and build a fantastic city from our blank canvas, and to innovate something worthy of showcasing at the faire. We took them seriously and counted on them as our collaborators, rather than our visitors. We assigned them an important role, and they played it beyond our expectations.

2- Give freedom to kids and you’ll have a kid zen space

World Maker Faire is boisterous event, with more than 800 vendors and makers showcasing their projects. There are talks, music, large interactive installations, and demos happening everywhere. Needless to say, it’s a very loud event. However, our booth was surprisingly very quiet! At any one time, we were packed with more than 15 kids and grownups in a 10x10 space, and despite materials thrown everywhere, everyone was heads down focusing on their inventions and helping each other out. One parent even said, The GIANT Room booth feels like a “Kid Zen Space” - adding that her daughter had felt overwhelmed earlier by the faire, but here she was relaxed and calm.

3- Kids love to cut!

Seriously, they do love to cut! Some are even obsessed with cutting tools from regular scissors to “wiggly” ones, from paper punchers to laser cut! Try giving a 3-year-old a pair of scissors and paper, and watch them how focused they’ll be cutting, cutting, cutting, and making! Try taking away scissors from a 6-year-old while they’re working on their next project, and I promise you they’ll ask for their scissors after 3 minutes! Give kids and adults of all ages, a pair of scissors and random materials they can cut, and you’ll be amazed what they will create.

At Maker Faire, we dreamed and built a magical city side by side with the kids. Both kids and parents joined our dream, and together, we had the most amazing time making. We let kids own a booth at Maker Faire and they surely didn’t disappoint.

We brought these lessons with us when we launched our creative hub in New York City a year after. Scissors everywhere, cutting tools all around the studio, sewing machines in sight, lots of materials to cut and build with, and a big faith in kids and their ideas… I find happiness in every single idea that is brought to life through their hands. And, know that if a child walks in The GIANT Room and doesn’t know where to start, cutting is surely the answer!

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Azadeh Jamalian
Azadeh Jamalian
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Azadeh Jamalian

Azadeh (Azi) Jamalian, PhD, is founder of The GIANT Room, a TED speaker, former head of education strategy at EdTech company littleBits, and co-founder of learning company Tiggly. She has a PhD in cognitive studies from Columbia University.

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