Maker Break

On Saturday we made a break to the Maker Faire at The Henry Ford Museum. We missed it last year, and I was bummed. Actually, I didn’t know how bummed I was until it was over, and I learned what we missed. I thought the kids would have enjoyed it. There was no way that was happening this year.

Honestly, none of us really knew exactly what to expect. We’ve been to many events at The Henry Ford. But none like this. More than 300 maker exhibits of all shapes and sizes are set up in and out of tents in the main parking lot and also in the (air-conditioned!) museum.

Maker and hacker.

Those terms are flying everywhere. Makerspaces, hackerspaces, hackspaces, or hacklabs, they’re all the same kind of place: spaces where people come together to build and create things. Some of these places are in community centers, high schools, warehouses, you name it. Some have tools, machinery and technology, while others have a more artistic and rather avant-garde focus. Based on what we saw today, they are all unique and pretty much anything goes.

A 16-year-old's school science project

This was built by a 16-year-old for a school science project.

Apparently, these makerspaces are all over the place. Some exhibitors come from far and wide, and others are local to Michigan. When one exhibitor told us about the hacklab he is part of in Kentucky, I’m pretty sure my 9-year-old son was drooling. For a boy who keeps a box of disassembled computers, electronics and household appliances in his room in a bin labeled “spare parts,” he was all in. He was seeing some cool stuff made out of just such treasure.

Makers inside and out

Makers were inside and out

The fair has a fun carnival atmosphere. There’s a fire-breathing dragon and pony (yes, pony), folks and companies who make things using the highest tech, and others who make things using old technology, just in new ways. There’s music, theatrics, and demonstrations from cheese making to laser cutting. There is also a lot of hands-on activities for the littler set. Five-year-old Lillian got right into the spirit by assembling a 3-D hippo from laser-cut recycled corrugated cardboard. (Hey, there was glue involved.)

Building a laser-cut hippo

Building a laser-cut hippo.

We watched an awesome spectacle of physics and fun with the Life Size Mousetrap that was trucked all the way from San Francisco. That gathered a huge crowd and really was a sight to behold. Kind of a junkyard version of the Mouse Trap game. Entertaining for sure.

A favorite space for my kids was set up by a group called Cirque Amongus. They have trapeze, a tightrope, and all kinds of wheeled contraptions for riding.

Getting some exercise

Getting some exercise

The six-person bike, (well, seven, since Lillian fit conveniently in the center) was fun our whole family could enjoy. (Lillian wondered if you could ride that on Mackinac Island. Since it doesn’t have brakes, that would be questionable on some of those island hills.) I think we spent an hour and a half or more in that area alone.

At different displays, the kids made superballs and some artistic creations. They set off Mentos and Coke powered race cars, built laser-cut puzzles and rode clown bikes.

Making superballs

Making superballs

I’m sure my son Henry’s favorite take-home is the marshmallow shooter made of pvc pipes. The hands-on activities inside and out are great, offering a good balance with the other more technical exhibits. And, folks from The Henry Ford are manning some cool educational and fun exhibits mixed in with the makers both inside and outside.

Building a marshmallow shooter

Henry learns about building a marshmallow shooter from one of the makers.

But, here’s the best part: sometime during the fair, something magical happened. Inspiration.

As we went from exhibit to exhibit, the enthusiasm of the exhibitors became infectious. Whether high schoolers displaying their impressive robotics and problem-solving devices; companies like Gumshoe, Ford and Compuware; all-natural candle and granola makers; makers planning the first transatlantic helium balloon flight in October (which now we’re geared up to follow on twitter); open studio art programs; contact microphone and air horn creators; those displaying edible or wearable goods; or the volunteers there from the museum, they were are all truly inspired.

And I watched that rub off on my kids.

Operating a high school robotics project

Henry and Mary Claire use an iPad to operate the Grosse Pointe high schools’ robotics project.

The magic moment came when I asked Joe Hudy, a 14-year-old from Arizona displaying his extreme marshmallow cannon, why he made that thing. His answer? “I was bored.”

It was like a switch.

The message my kids heard was instead of being bored, make something. From that point on, I found myself tagging behind Henry as he lead me through the remaining exhibits inside and again back outside, making sure he didn’t miss a thing. Thankfully, my husband kept the others busy.

I was sorry when we had to call it a day, since it almost felt like we were just getting started. And maybe we were. When we came home, Henry went right to his spare parts box, and started digging.

Spare parts heaven

My son in spare parts heaven.

Kristine Hass
Guest Blogger

Moms and dads, a few tips. In addition to the makers selling food products, there are vending wagons where you can purchase things with tickets. There are spots to buy food and a covered area to sit down and eat what you buy or brought. Also, some of things you can make cost a few bucks here and there. And there are some really beautiful and cool things for sale associated with the Maker Faire inside the museum: crocheted glass bead necklaces, knit wear, handmade brooms, and other fun gadgets and unique things. If I had known that, I would have been brought some cash, because there was a pretty blue beaded necklace there calling my name and a few items I would have loved to have bought as gifts for my girls. Website info for ordering from the makers was available, but it’s good to know that you can buy things right there.


Good balance is key

Good balancing is the key.

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  1. Carole says:

    I have to admit, I had my reservations about this faire, making fun of it as a wife of a geek and mother of two geeks in training. We had a blast! It was hot, but there were so much to see and do I honestly think we missed some. Most incredible family fest out there. I think we are in information overload! It really sparks the kid in everyone. I highly recommend going if you have the opportunity! Everyone, from the vendors to the visitors were just the best, kindest and patient folks around!! So much to see and do and learn. Fun for ALL ages.

  2. Linda Hanson-Burns says:

    What a great ‘re-living the day’ you have shared with us! I was excited just reading about it! Great event.

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