What do earmuffs, swim fins and Popsicles have in common?
Kids are creative thinkers with their own ideas for tackling problems. Going through the invention process — identifying a challenge, designing a solution and testing to see if it works — is empowering, said Tim Pula, an invention/innovation specialist at the Smithsonian Institution.
By leaping from what is to what if builds your “creative- and critical-thinking muscles,” said Jayme Cellitioci, a strategist with the National Inventors Hall of Fame. “Invention is more of a process than one ‘Aha!’ moment,” she said. You learn about different ways of thinking, that good ideas can come from anywhere and that failure is simply a new opportunity to achieve success — important life lessons for everyone, not just inventors.
For kids who are comfortable with problem-solving and risk-taking, “the future is a world of possibilities,” Pula added.
The future looks bright for the Leschinsky siblings of Mahwah, New Jersey.
Mark Leschinsky invented a self-disinfecting hazmat (protective) suit for health-care workers when he was 9 years old. It earned him a place in the National Gallery for America’s Young Inventors in 2015. The next year he was joined by his brother, Gary, who invented an allergy-alert watch when he was 8.
Both products have received U.S. patents, protecting the boys' rights as inventors. Because they were too young to file the applications, their dad did it for them.
“I want to make a difference” by helping people, said Mark, now 15. “If there's a problem that can be solved, I want to be involved.”
Gary, now 14, has a personal tie to his invention. “Like millions of kids, I struggle with food allergies on a daily basis,” he said. Children with allergies often are unaware that a reaction has started, Gary said. So he created a watch-like device with sensors that measure itching, sweating, heart rate and other body responses.
A severe attack can quickly become life-threatening. Gary’s watch has a built-in alert for a parent or guardian and a lifesaving drug injector.
Watching her brothers has inspired 12-year-old Barbara Leschinsky. An inventor since age 7, she created a toothbrush that gives a reward when used properly. Now she's working with Gary and Mark on a face shield that cleans itself with germ-free air. “It's cool that you can make something that makes others' lives easier,” said Barbara, who hopes more girls and women get involved in innovation.
“Kids are the best inventors,” said Mark, who started a young inventors’ club at a local library. “Their imagination is limitless.”
With in-person visits on hold, here are two invention museums to explore virtually.
Draper Spark!Lab (invention.si.edu/about-sparklab)
This Smithsonian Institution website lists dozens of prompts for at-home activities for ages 6 to 12. Examples include designing a lunchbox, making a rocket and inventing a fitness device. Be sure to download an inventor's notebook in which to chart your progress
Rocket scientist Yvonne Brill, and Stan Honey, who came up with the idea for those virtual first-down lines seen on football broadcasts, are just two inventors honored. Check out Camp Invention, a week-long, summer program for kids in kindergarten through sixth grade (in-person, virtual or self-led). This summer, campers will build marble arcades and explore asteroids. Tuition starts at $245.