One of the biggest dangers for kids who have tablets is screen fever. Leave a child to their own devices (or device) and they’ll get sucked into an endless variety of games and apps. A little screen time goes a long way, but it shouldn’t take the place of social interaction and connection with the physical world. Here’s a way to merge kids’ art projects and screen time in a way you wouldn’t have imagined.

Adam Kumpf, a graduate at MIT, has invented a kit that lets you create unique art projects with your little ones, while folding their best electronic friends into the mix. He has created instructions for building an iPad inventor’s kit on the Instructables site for makers and hackers. See it here.

“While it’s super fun to invent your own futuristic iPad gadgets, it’s also an engaging way to explore the fundamental concepts of mechanical systems, physics, basic electronics, interface design, and engineering,” says Kumpf on his Instructables page.

The inventor’s kit costs around $15 to make, and consists of materials that you’ll find at your local stationery store, and perhaps lying around in the basement or shed. You’ll be looking for random scraps of wooden blocks, pieces of foil, pencils, and so on. They’re the same kind of thing that you’d use for kids’ art projects without an iPad present, but this kit is designed for some serious electronic enhancement.

The Instructables site includes some project ideas, including making a stylus for drawing with (putting a piece of foil around a pencil turns it into a stylus for your capacitive screen), a wooden ruler for drawing straight lines, and even a wooden ‘knob’ that you can use to turn things on the screen.

All of this is incredibly low-tech, but it can produce some inspiring results. A while ago, Kumpf made a real-world wooden piano out of clothespins, that could be used to play an iPad keyboard.

Aside from the fact that it’s cheap to produce, the advantage of all this stuff is that it can work on any tablet, or even iPods, at a stretch. That means you’re not locked into any one ecosystem by an expensive app.

Kids’ art projects like this are the modern equivalent of the old joke: children love presents, but what’s really interesting is playing with the box. With some parental encouragement, it will get them to think about screen time in more interesting ways.

Kumpf has some suggestions for projects using the inventor’s kit on the Instructables site, including creating something with more than one contact point so that you can zoom on the screen, or a compass that you can draw a curve with. Or how about a wooden slide to control – well, something that needs sliding?

The only downside here is that kids have to work with the software that they have. Developing software designed to be manipulated like this will be beyond most young peoples’ capabilities (and most adults’, come to that) but they can still have a jolly old time developing hardware objects to manipulate apps that they already have. Apps that focus on drawing and painting would be a good way to start.

The idea here is to get kids thinking about physical ways to interact with digital technology. We do a lot of kids art projects with our young ones at KTN, including family painting sessions,. This is a neat way to bridge the gap between tech and non-tech with some geeky crafts, though – and to produce something pretty awesome along the way.

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