Fixer Lab and the Importance of Empowering Kids

BY JENNIFER TREUTING 

Kristen McGregor and I are creative partners at Squirrel Friends, a children’s media production collective, specializing in short, research-driven programming focusing on creative and/or comedic problem solving.

Courtesy: Fixer Lab

Courtesy: Fixer Lab

With Fixer Lab, we wanted to make an awesome science and engineering short that would drive curiosity, so we did what no US network would (or probably could, given strict safety standards and legal departments): we gave three elementary school kids a broken box fan, a box of power tools, and let them figure out how to fix it all by themselves, with cameras rolling.


Fixer Lab is unlike anything else out there for kids right now in the United States.


Spoiler alert: they did it! And no one was hurt! (Kids can usually be trusted with a lot more than most adults would give them credit for.)

This is how it happened:

Early on, Kristen and I began discussing filming a group of kids to see if they could fix something, if they were provided with the right resources. We were curious about what their guessing and testing process would be like — could a group of kids do a simple repair on their own, with minimal interference from adults? Going to events like Maker Faire inspired us; we wanted to provide an environment and opportunity for kids to prove what they could do, outside of the world of overly cautious adults and today’s culture of helicopter parenting.

The Brooklyn Robot Foundry and Fixers Collective were great partners, both of whom we met during visits to the New York Maker Faire. Our three awesome kids came from the Brooklyn Robot Foundry’s after-school classes and workshops. Knowing this, we could assume that our kids had a base level of tool and repair knowledge, they just needed something to fix, and the Fixers Collective was happy to help with this, suggesting a dusty old box fan.


The sense of accomplishment and pride on their faces when the fan turns on for the first time was real: they owned that moment.


It was great to see how naturally collaborative our fixers were: as you see in the video, Thomas showed Hannah and Georgia how to use the power drill, but they also took turns with the other tools, each making sure they all got a chance and cheering each other on. (There were so many high-fives and exclamations of “You got this!” throughout the morning!) Our fixers seemed to sense when they needed an adult and called for Christal whenever they made a major discovery, had a question about a tool, or seemed stumped; however, they did all of the real work themselves. The sense of accomplishment and pride on their faces when the fan turns on for the first time was real: they owned that moment.

As awesome maker and fixer girls ourselves, it was important for us to have girls fixing things! We loved that Hannah, Georgia, and Christal were so involved in the process (and of course, Thomas was incredible as well!). Girls are underrepresented in children’s media and we don’t want what we make to be part of any stat that keeps girls away from the awesomeness of the maker movement.

Courtesy: Fixer Lab

Courtesy: Fixer Lab

After shooting, we partnered with an amazing designer and animator, Luis Nazario, who really helped set the look of Fixer Lab with his playful animation. We discussed a few key moments where we wanted graphics, and then let him add additional animation anywhere he wanted. Jim Stauffer, our audio engineer and composer, did an amazing job with the music. It felt like the music you’d hear in a quirky workshop.

Fixer Lab is unlike anything else out there for kids right now in the United States. It would be amazing to provide more episodes and inspire kids everywhere to explore the world around them, learn how things work, and become more self-sufficient. They’re totally capable — just look at Thomas, Georgia, and Hannah. In fact, they’ve done something that most adults I know wouldn’t be able to figure out!