During my busy season helping families meet Virginia's annual evidence of progress requirement for homeschoolers, I enjoy seeing all the resources parents use to help their children learn. This year, one of the resources a child was most excited about was DIY.org.
At DIY.org, children can choose to complete challenges for different "Skills," earning both virtual and real embroidered patches, and developing a portfolio of videos and photos showing when challenges are accomplished.
For instance, the second grader I was working with -- let's call her Becky -- had achieved the Gardener Skill. Among the challenges she completed for the achievement included growing seedlings, planting an outdoor garden, and making compost, all challenges listed on the DIY Gardening skill page.
Using her mom's iPhone, Becky showed me pictures of her garden and other challenges she had completed along the way to earning her Gardener patch. Most amazingly, she had video of her compost pile, and the narration of the video was Becky herself, explaining the value of compost, how to develop a compost pile, how composting works, and how she will use it on her garden.
Becky went on to explain to me how she is inspired by "following" other children's work, seeing their art, photos, and videos as they complete skills to earn patches in such diverse skills as acting, game design, front end development, baking, cooking, geology, genetics, history, hacking, landscaping, mechanics, oceanography, solar engineering, writing, and more DIY skills.
The online "following" Becky does is made possible by avatars and screen names -- privacy is carefully protected, comments are allowed, but trolls aren't. Becky's mom said she had nothing but positive experiences with the sharing aspect of the website, and we discussed the fact that using this kind of made-for-kids website actually gives kids the opportunity to learn responsible use of the social aspects of the internet with guidance from their parents.
Becky was delighted to show me the positive comments her art work and projects had received, along with some of her favorite DIY friends' work.
Right now, you can use DIY from an iPhone app, Mac, or PC; an Android app is in the works. Becky was clearly excited by the ease with which the tools worked together -- her projects were hands-on, but she had videoed them from her mom's iPhone and used the app to upload them, and now here we were viewing them on the phone as well. She easily navigated her own profile, which was a video and photographic history of all the skills she had achieved, showing her personal work on various challenges to earn the patches. She could also show me the skills she has "in progress" -- the ones she has begun work on but not yet completed enough challenges to earn a patch.
Each skill has a lower number of challenges to earn a patch, but also extra challenges at a higher difficulty level, for which you can earn "mastery."
Becky, at 7, is definitely on the lower age range for DIY.org. Many of the challenges are much more appropriate for older children who can handle more complex projects, and many or most will require help from an adult for things such as acquiring materials or arranging certain experiences.
The parent page of DIY.org actually does the best job of explaining the overall concept of the program, which seems like it would be an amazing fit for many homeschooling families, and something you could use to organize your homeschooling instead of traditional curriculum.
In fact, homeschool parents may want to consider the possibility of forming a DIY.org club, so families can work together to help kids earn their patches and enjoy documenting their work. In this sense, DIY can function in some ways like a scouting group. There is social motivation in a once-a-week, twice-a-month, or once-a-month gathering to hike together, build something, look at the stars, or hunt for fossils.
DIY.org provides an approach that is a middle road between a learning agenda set totally by parents and nondirected learning. Children can have autonomy in which skills to work on and which challenges to complete to earn their patch in that skill -- but they're still learning to follow a framework if they want to earn a patch. And if they don't care about the patches, they may be motivated by the online documentation and sharing.
And, as Becky's mom and I discussed, kids and parents are motivated by DIY.org to do projects they would not otherwise think of tackling, with real benefit to children's learning.
On the iPhone, Becky proudly showed me the picture of her homemade book that she had uploaded to her DIY.org profile. Then she sat at the picnic table in the park and read to me from the very book she had created -- a rich story about a puppy, illustrated with lush full-page pictures she had drawn to go with the story.
Just as her DIY.org patch for that skill proclaims, Becky is indeed a writer.