Kids in my workshop (by )

Kids are fascinated by my workshop. It's a separate building, at the end of the garden. Through the window, you can make out the shape of shelves full of strange tools. Half-finished projects loom on the workbench (and all over the floor, alas). It's clearly a place where something happens.

But it's also a place of danger; our kids are firmly instructed never to go into it without an adult. Even Mary, who has little respect for boundaries and rules, lurks nervously on the threshold and calls out to me if she needs me while I'm in there. She has been in here, but usually only when carried in my arms. Jean gets to come in on her own two feet, but only when accompanied, and she asks if it's safe first, if I'm already in there and she comes to join me.

But kids love the process of making things (and the related process of taking things apart to fix or improve them). They love seeing inside things that are normally firmly in one piece with No User Servicable Parts. My welding, nailing, screwing, brazing and gluing is a much more awesome form of them making stuff out of Lego.

I've been teaching Jean TIG welding. Many years ago, I promised her I'd teach her to solder when she was seven, and to weld when she was ten (both conditional on her being responsible enough to be trusted with the tools involved by that stage). She did some soldering, and enjoyed making electronic circuits work, but it didn't seem to really grab her that seriously. Welding, however, has been a different matter; after I taught her the basics, she got her own welding gloves and mask for Christmas (thanks to a really lovely local welding supplies company who were inspired by seeing her in my oversized gear on Twitter). So far, she's made a shoe rack for her school and made two boot scrapers out of horseshoes; we're really limited on me having time to sit and help her design and implement stuff (she's a bit scared of the angle grinder, plasma cutter and chop saw, so I need to do all the cutting for her to weld together), as she has plans for things to do with the rest of the big box of horseshoes she has under the workbench...

I consider it my workshop, because I am responsible for it, and I am the biggest user of it. It's set out the way I like with the tools I want in it, but the rest of my family is in no way excluded from using it. I made a little footstool for the TIG welder's control pedal so it's at a good height for Jean; I was fine with it on the floor because I have long legs, but it's set up so that we can both use it, because that's a part of the workshop that she shares (along with the space her box of horseshoes sits in, and the section of shelf set aside for her welding equipment). And I really love that I share part of it with her. She's a lot neater at welding than I was at her stage (and I couldn't weld at all at her AGE); combined with the kinds of interests she has, I think she has a future in making sculptures and practical things that look nice, the kinds of things a modern blacksmith does. Mary, at age 5 as I write this, is far too young to have an argon plasma hotter than the Sun at her fingertips, but she's really enthusiastic about building things out of Lego, and she's obsessed with tools and "fixing things". From her interests and mentality, I have a hunch she's going to be quite interested in mechanical engineering; cogs, pistons, motors, that sort of thing. I wish I had a metal lathe I could teach her how to use (not that we have space for one); I'll just have to hope that Cheltenham Hackspace manages to get one at some point, because I think turning metal will blow her mind. I'm hoping electronics might catch that complex-system-building spark I see within her, because that's something I do have the tools and skills to help her with.

But do you know what breaks my heart? People saying it's a shame I don't have a son to share the workshop stuff with. As if Jean's enthusiasm for fusing metal into interesting and useful shapes is somehow insufficient, a pale imitation of the true appreciation of metalwork that somebody with a penis could have. How do the people saying things like that think it makes my daughters or my wife feel about their interests in technology?

I'm sick of the sexism about this kind of thing. I've never seen one shred of evidence that gender differences in interests are anything other than people reflecting what they've been told they should like; in my experience (as a parent and as a Cub leader), kids' interests have little to do with their gender, but they're very sensitive to social pressures, and end up denying their interests (or trying to turn them into "gender-approved" forms in some way). That's such a waste, and I've seen it cause a lot of pain.

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