Engineer, educator and philanthropist Arvind Gupta is a man on a mission. For thirty-five years he has travelled around India and the world preaching a movement he calls Toys From Trash. Motivated by both the poverty of much of his homeland and the deadening way science is so often taught to kids, Gupta has a vision to create a universally accessible way for all children—no matter their nationality, creed or class—to both create and learn by repurposing the things we usually throw away. “It’s about getting science into the children’s domain. All children want to do is mess around,” says Gupta. “They want to make things, and they want to break things.” In fact, Arvind’s motto is “the best thing a child can do with a toy is break it” then create another, even better one than before.
Go to Gupta’s website and you’ll find hundreds upon hundreds of DIY toys, all of which can be made at home using regular household items. Under Gupta’s guidance, paper bags, empty drink bottles, cups, straws, safety pins, old magazines and so much more are converted into a dizzying array of toys, models, devices and experiments. Some are silly, some are baffling, and some are surprisingly complex. One of Gupta’s favourites is a motor built from two safety pins, a rubber band and a 1.5-volt battery.
“I remember my own joy when I worked that one out. For almost a month I would get up at night for a pee, and then run the motor for fifteen minutes. Is it still working? That’s the kind of excitement I want to create!”
The way Gupta sees it, toys are, by their very nature, scientific. Even if children can’t put the concepts into words, through play they come to understand something more about how the world works. It could be centrifugal force; it could be fluid dynamics; it could be energy storage, astronomy, convection or structural integrity. “Without being taught, children learn a great deal,” Gupta says. “We don’t call it science or math, but it’s always that.”
When it comes down to it, though, Gupta’s philosophy is simple. “We live in a junk society, a kind of impermanent society, which wastes so much. So, pick up this junk and make something joyous. The cleverest toys are always made with your hands. It’s a labour of love and it’s the best toy on earth because a child has made it.”
ARVID GUPTA’S ICE-POLE STICK BOMB TOY
Hold three ice-pole sticks together at one end, with B at the bottom. Spread A and C as shown in the diagram.
Insert a fourth stick, D, over A, under B and over C, as shown.
Insert the last stick E, under A over B and under C, as shown.
The assembly of the 5 icy-pole sticks will hold together.
Throw it up in the air or against a wall. When it lands, it will explode and the sticks will fly in all directions.
For more great parenting, head over to our article on How Not to Raise a Jerk by the very funny Zoe Foster Blake, or check out How to Talk to Kids About Climate Change.
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