My daughter divides her free time into making comics, playing Minecraft and Lego building. She’s obsessed with these activities. Adults may not always “get” childhood obsessions with Minecraft, duct tape or Legos, but what’s important is creating a space where all kids can learn, fail, experiment, and take risks through the passions they value.
This concept led Vimeo founder Zach Klein to build DIY, an online community and app with over 400,000 young users where kids can nerd out and gain badges in skills like astronomy, beatmaking, game development, meme hacking, sailing, urban design, and yeti. That’s right. Your kid can be a yeti expert.
“My objective with this wide-ranging set of skills, and involving the community so closely in their development, is to give kids the chance to practice whatever makes them passionate now and feel encouraged –– even if they’re obsessed with making stuff exclusively with duct tape,” said Klein in a recent edsurge post called How Minecraft and Duct Tape Wallets Prepare Our Kids for Jobs that Don’t Exist Yet.
“It’s crucial that kids learn how to be passionate for the rest of their lives. To start, they must first learn what it feels like to be simultaneously challenged and confident. It’s my instinct that we should not try to introduce these experiences through skills we value as much as look for opportunities to develop them, as well as creativity and literacy, in the skills they already love.”
Parent Co. contacted Chalon Bridges, Director of Learning and Partnership, to learn more about DIY Camps. Bridges hires all DIY counselors and works with them to design dynamic curriculum and learning experiences. She also dedicates much of her time to forging alliances with school partners and youth organizations likes 4H, identifying possibilities for ways the app could be used with different communities of kids to learn.
Parent Co: A few of us at Parent Co. are using DIY Camps with our kids. We look for something a little different that’s not only a safe place for kids to be, but teaches them skills they’ll need for the future. My seven-year-old daughter thrived with Lego Master Camp last month. She’s starting Film Director Camp this week!
Chalon: Good! Oh, that’s so great!
Parent Co: Absolutely! We’re both thrilled DIY doesn’t end after the summer.
Chalon: DIY Camps and diy.org are both year-round. We’ve had a bunch of schools that love the tools that we have created, and their teachers will be using to create their own version of camps this fall.
Parent Co: Can you tell us a little bit about how DIY Camps work?
Chalon: Fundamentally, it’s about participatory learning and kids learning by doing. Every morning, a counselor posts a new video. There are three different categories of videos from counselors: challenges, how-to and pro tips.
Challenges are creative prompts to do and try something. Often it’s something they’ve never done before. We’re trying to create a safe place for them to experiment and try.
How-to videos teach basic techniques that help kids learn new skills. Pro tips are more advanced techniques.
Over the course of a month the rhythm of a daily post from the counselor sparks kids to post their video response. That starts a communication thread where the counselors can provide mentorship and feedback, and where kids within the community can also provide feedback and encouragement to each other.
We hire the world’s best mentors, no matter where they live on the planet, who are passionate about the topics that they’re leading, and pair them with kids who are interested in that topic. Kids emerge with a new skill set plus, hopefully, with some new friends.
Parent Co: It’s a really exciting time for education and online learning. I think something like DIY really opens a new door, that it’s modeling what the future of learning and education could be.
Chalon: I spent the first twenty years of my career in formal ed. Teachers remain my heroes, and there are so many teachers who are trying valiantly to innovate within the system. But change is sometimes slow, and it’s going to take time until we get all schools really preparing kids to be creative and innovative. I feel like there’s this amazing opportunity in informal education to solve that problem now, to move fast, and to figure out how to make passion-driven learning possible for kids immediately. It’s a really nice complement to all of the innovation efforts that are going on within schools today.
Parent Co: It’s fascinating to watch my seven-year-old use video and social media tools for the first time. She gets really excited when she gets a comment from another kid or a counselor, and she loves giving feedback to others. I’m curious, what have you learned about the way kids interact with video and social media from DIY?
Chalon: In my first week, when I joined forces with Zach, we sat down and did an analysis of the comments and what kids are saying within our community. What was most striking was that we had a 99.8% kindness rating on our comments, which is stunning. That just doesn’t happen in a lot of online social communities.
I credit Zach for creating the rules that established such a kind community. First, kids only share original creations and work. There’s a level of respect and appreciation for each other’s work, and it breeds kindness in the comments they post.
Second, we have a “no jerk” policy. If somebody is unkind they get warned or suspended – and we toe the line on that in order to establish a safe space for kids to be creative.
Parent Co: What else makes DIY Camps different from other online learning spaces for kids?
Chalon: It’s free-range learning. There are no grades. It’s really fascinating to see what kids opt to do when it’s just about what they want to learn.
We have a really unique approach to using technology. That is, most apps try to get kids hooked on the screen. We almost do the opposite. We send them back into the real world, and the bulk of their learning actually happens from them responding to our challenges in the real world. They use our app to share the results of their challenge with the community. It creates this interesting interplay between technology as a tool to help you interact in meaningful ways in the real world.
Finally, we’re ad-free, so kids get a safe space to learn about social media without being exposed to ads.
Parent Co: What does the future hold for DIY Camps?
Chalon: We’re hoping we’ll have hundreds of camps within the next year. We’re a small company right now. We have twelve people on staff. Since launching DIY Camps, I’ve hired nineteen counselors, and we think we’ll go up to sixty by next year. We want to make sure that our offerings for camps span a wide array of topics and interests for kids. What you’re seeing today is really a starting place, and it’s far from the ending place that we’re imagining.
Parent Co: That’s incredible!
Chalon: The other thing that we really love is that we’ve got a lot of international kids within our camp. In one of our private beta camps early on, we had in one session a kid from Australia, another from Ireland, another from Chicago, etc. It creates this great learning environment and global connection between the kids. About 25% of our kids right now are international, so I think there’s room for growth there.
Parent Co: What a great way for kids to engage with others around the world. Well, we’re loving what we’re seeing at DIY and can’t wait to see what the future holds!
Each DIY Camp lasts four weeks. Instructors post daily videos, and kids can post as little or as often as they like. First camp costs $10. Subsequent camps cost $39. Parents can track progress and view projects, and kids names are kept private. There are no chat options on this site. Kids can also earn digital and real-life skills badges in the mail!